Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein call on Michael O'Neill to withdraw selection comments as 'divisive and unnecessary'

O'Neill said that he hoped he could reach an agreement on players futures

Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney has called on Michael O'Neill to withdraw comments made about young footballers who are recruited to play for the Irish national squad.

In an explosive interview with the Irish Daily Mail, the former Shamrock Rovers boss said he would speak to Martin O'Neill to try and come to some arrangement to halt the practice of young Northern Ireland players declaring for the Republic.

"The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic," he said.

"I don't have a problem with James McClean. He was 22 years of age, he knew what he wanted. I have a problem when it's a 16, 17 or 18 year old having to make a decision on his international future.

"I can list you 10 players who have made that decision and have never represented the Republic.

"I hope that Martin and I can get some sort of gentleman's agreement whereby if a young boy has represented Northern Ireland at age 17 to 21, the FAI don't ask him to change."

Foyle MLA McCartney said that it was up to the players which country they represent.

"Michael O'Neill's comments concerning football players from the north representing their country on the Irish squad are both divisive \nd unnecessary," he said.

"The Good Friday Agreement protects the right of every citizen in the north to assert their own identity and citizenship.

"Irish footballers in the north who are afforded the honour to represent their country should not be subjected to comments of this nature."

He called on the IFA to reject O'Neills comments.

"If Michael O'Neill is concerned with the inability of the IFA to attract Irish players, he must first acknowledge its chronic lack of accommodation for the Irish identity," said Mr McCartney.

"Irish players are denied their national anthem, their national flag, and are often the subject of fan chants in Windsor Park which target Irish players and their identity.

"I am calling on the Irish Football Association (IFA) to publicly refute Michael O'Neill's comments.”

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