Speaking in the Seanad today, Fine Gael Dublin Rathdown Senator Neale Richmond called on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Trade, Shane Ross, to work with his Northern Ireland Ministerial counterpart, as well as the FAI and IFA, to initiate the creation of an all-Ireland soccer team.
“Like every football fan on this island, I am delighted to see both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland competing in this year’s UEFA European Championship,” he said.
“Qualification in itself was a massive achievement, but it is great to see both teams playing well, although we still await the first win.
“It is my belief however that merging the two teams would have huge benefits for all involved in the sport across Ireland. I can’t help but think how much stronger an all-Ireland Football Association and team could be with the likes of Kyle Lafferty and Shane Long playing alongside each other.
“It would also be hugely beneficial to the game at grassroots level, as it would mean a pooling of resources in a united effort to get more boys and girls off the couch and onto the sports field.”
Speaking from his own lifetime experience of being involved in various sports, Senator Richmond said he has seen first hand the benefits of cross border cooperation for sporting bodies. He also believes the behaviour of both sets of fans gives hope to his dreams of seeing an All Ireland team.
“The exemplary behaviour of both sets of Irish fans has been heartening against the background of hooliganism in Marseille and Lille,” he said.
“Furthermore, the tribute paid by fans at the game against Sweden following the tragic death of Ballymena man, Darren Rodgers, was not just fitting but very moving, and it shows how far both sets of fans from across communities have come since the dark days of the troubles.
“Days when my Father and his friends were afraid to cheer Gerry Armstrong’s goal against Spain at the 1982 World Cup in a Dublin pub for fear of abuse, or when Republic fans dreaded the sectarian chants from sections of Windsor Park. Thankfully those days are long gone.”
Before making his request, Senator Richmond noted that the idea of an All Ireland football team was raised in the last Seanad by Senators Catherine Noone and Paul Bradford.
“With a new Government now in place, I ask Minister Ross, a keen football fan himself, to engage on this matter with Northern Ireland Assembly Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and the CEOs of both Football Associations,” he said.
“Such a move would build on the progress of the Setanta Cup and follow the example of the GAA’s International Rules team; the Irish rugby, hockey, cricket and table tennis teams amongst others. This is a real opportunity for the island of Ireland to fulfil its true potential in the beautiful game and indeed any other sport where separate teams still exist.”