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James Nesbitt tried to stop God Save The Queen at cup final

 

Jimmy Nesbitt
Jimmy Nesbitt

By Christopher Woodhouse

Actor Jimmy Nesbitt has revealed he tried to stop God Save the Queen being played before the 2018 Irish Cup final.

The devoted Coleraine fan and club sponsor said the National Anthem was "nothing to do with football" in a match which saw his side beat Cliftonville to lift the trophy.

In a candid interview the Cold Feet star also despaired at the "sectarian politics" of Northern Ireland and called on people to take over from politicians.

Speaking about the tradition of playing the anthem before the cup final, the 54-year-old actor told The Irish Times: "It was incredibly incendiary, it was a day of celebration and actually there was no real need for it.

"It was a little thing, but I felt it really put back where we're trying to go because it gave a voice to a small minority rather than giving the voice to the majority.

"This was on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and I suppose it made me think that this is unending. I thought about what has been achieved, and that's when I began to think, something has to change."

Cliftonville officials had asked that the anthem not be played ahead of the match but the Irish Football Association decided against it.

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James Nesbitt
James Nesbitt

The club's players bowed their heads as it was played and there was booing and jeering from Reds supporters.

Speaking about the state of Northern Ireland since the signing of the agreement, Mr Nesbitt said the stalemate at Stormont was "unbearable".

"The Good Friday Agreement promised that there was going to be a new future for the islands, that there were going to be new relationships built, new institutions. That doesn't seem to have happened, frankly," he said. "Clearly there are people on all sides who have found the dormancy of Stormont just so unbearable, unpalatable, almost embarrassing, frankly, and terrible to renege so heavily on what these people voted for 21 years ago. Now is the time to have that discussion."

He added that a border poll is "coming at some point" but said the phrase united Ireland needed to be changed, preferring the term union of Ireland.

"Even those words, 'united Ireland', have to be changed, because those two words put together carry such a political connotation, and a connotation which is really about division and about sectarianism," he said.

"I think one of the great challenges and actually one of the great opportunities is to start getting away from language that is incendiary."

Mr Nesbitt, born in Broughshane, Co Antrim into a Protestant family, said many of his friends from the same background would be open to the idea. "Among my friends, who are all boys who are Protestants - well, men, we're all 54 - they would really consider now what the notion of a new union of Ireland might look like, and I think there's a lot of people that think that," he said.

Mr Nesbitt is also part of the group Connected Citizens which pushes for an "informed discussion" about the future of Northern Ireland.

"I'm someone who lives in England a lot of the time, I have a degree of success and wealth, and all of that," he said. "I'm well outside it, but we go back to the fact that there is a five-year-old from Broughshane in here who actually wants to come back home and would love the notion of somehow being a very small pebble in the wall that actually begins to change who is allowed to be involved in terms of deciding the future of the relations between these islands."

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