Belfast Telegraph

Stormont bends its rules as it allows MLAs to pay tribute to football heroes

By Noel McAdam

The feel-good factor over Northern Ireland's historic football victory spread to the Assembly yesterday.

Northern Ireland finished top of their European Championship qualifying group for the first time and are on their way to the 2016 finals in France.

Yesterday MLAs gave up points-scoring to praise the goalscoring abilities of Michael O'Neill's squad.

Stormont took time out yesterday for the Green and White Army.

Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin even had to bend the rules to allow Stormont to join in.

"On these matters, I have to be mindful of precedent at a time when we have so many people in so many sporting disciplines doing us proud on the sporting field," he said.

"However, I have made an exception on this occasion, given the nature of the achievement and the fact that it has been 30 years since the team has qualified for such a prestigious tournament."

Alliance's Chris Lyttle, who raised the result as an official Assembly 'matter of the day', said the achievement should show that when the people of NI work together "we can achieve what seem like impossible dreams".

UUP chief Mike Nesbitt - who said that as a former broadcaster he was the last man to commentate live on Northern Ireland at a major championship final, against Brazil in Mexico on June 12 1986 - said celebrations in Belfast last Thursday demonstrated such events are about "social inclusion".

Sinn Fein's Cathal O hOisín said "soccer is not my sport" but the good work of the IFA "at grass-roots level" had to be recognised and the sporting achievements of the weekend should "again outline the discussion that should be happening on an all-Ireland team."

The SDLP's Colum Eastwood, said he congratulated manager Michael O'Neill, the team and supporters "for the fantastic way that they have approached this tournament so far".

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "If the Irish Republic qualifies, so much the better.

"I look forward to Northern Ireland having the opportunity to prove which is the better soccer team on this island."

Belfast Telegraph

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