Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Joint reception for Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football teams proposed again - five months after plan axed

By Suzanne Breen

A historic Belfast City Council joint reception for the Northern Ireland and Republic football teams is to be proposed again - just five months after unionists opposed holding such a ground-breaking event.

SDLP councillor Declan Boyle said that in light of both teams' "tremendous success" at the Euro 2016 finals, his party will raise the issue again at a council committee meeting today.

Mr Boyle told the Belfast Telegraph: "It is amazing that both teams are through to the last 16. We will never see the likes of this again.

"The SDLP previously called for a joint reception in City Hall to celebrate their success in qualifying for Euro 2016. Now our two teams, led by managers from Northern Ireland, have surpassed even that achievement.

"Unionists opposed our motion last time but surely they can see the merit in it now. I am urging them not to be churlish and to agree to host this event."

The SDLP will attempt to raise the matter at today's Strategic, Policy and Resources Committee meeting.

However, unionists have vowed to again oppose the plan and have accused the SDLP of engaging in "a cheap publicity stunt" and causing division.

Mr Boyle denied that his party was playing politics with sport.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "Just look at the fans of both (countries) mixing and mingling in France.

"During the game against Sweden, the Republic's fans paid tribute to Northern Ireland supporter, Darren Rodgers, who fell to his death in Nice.

"In the 24th minute of the game, they sang 'Stand up for the Ulstermen'. The fans are leading the way with their tremendous attitude and it is up to politicians here to play catch up."

Mr Boyle added: "People here support both teams. The Titanic fanzone is full of Northern Ireland fans one night, Republic of Ireland fans the next night. We must recognise that reality."

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said: "There simply isn't going to be a joint reception. When both teams are knocked out of Euro2016, their players will be heading off on their holidays.

"After that, they will resume training with their clubs in preparation for the new soccer season. When the SDLP raised this before, it caused nothing but problems and divisions. It is very depressing that they are choosing to go down the same route again."

Traditional Unionist Voice councillor Jolene Bunting said: "If there is to be a reception at City Hall then England and Wales should be invited too."

When the SDLP's proposal came before the council in January, the DUP said that while they welcomed the success of the four teams from the British Isles, it would be wrong to hold a joint reception for the Northern Ireland squad and a team from a foreign country.

DUP councillor Lee Reynolds last night said: "The DUP's position on the issue remains unchanged."

In January, Sinn Fein along with SDLP and Alliance councillors voted for a historic joint reception with unionists opposing the resolution.

The proposal is unlikely to get off the ground without unionist support.

Belfast Telegraph