In Monday’s Irish News a Co Antrim mother called for the removal of the British National anthem from the Milk Cup (SuperCup NI) opening ceremony.
This parent stated that her son felt “unwanted” by virtue of the fact that the anthem is played at the opening ceremony.
Sport and politics should always be separate. I played in the Milk Cup myself circa 11 years ago. I found the tournament to be genuinely cross community, multicultural and multi national. Nationalists from Short Strand played alongside me and we got on the very best and developed lasting friendships.
I am quite sure that the organisers would not wish to make anyone, regardless of their political persuasion or status, feel unwelcome at the Milk Cup. To exclude anyone based on their politics, religion or nationality would run contrary to the ethos of the tournament and furthermore would cast a dark shadow over Northern Ireland football in general.
It is disappointing that the Milk Cup has been drawn into a political debate and now finds itself in an almost impossible situation, stuck between the two traditions in Northern Ireland.
In my personal opinion the calls for the removal of the anthem is little more than a contrived and malicious political agenda. Many of the online arguments made by Nationalists on this subject contained a familiar theme- that the Belfast agreement provides for dual nationality and their Irish identity should be held in parity with those of us who identify as British.
This argument purposefully uses the ambiguous language of the Belfast agreement to conflate national identity with national sovereignty and territory. The right to dual nationality, copper fastened by section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, does not have any bearing upon the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.
Therefore due to the principle of consent- agreed to by the majority of Nationalists- Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the United Kingdom. The right to dual nationality does not alter this. In this regard God Save the Queen remains the national anthem of Northern Ireland and the Union flag remains the sovereign flag.
Some made the argument that the Irish anthem should also be played due to the dual nationality principle contained in the Belfast agreement. This fundamentally misunderstands the architecture of the agreement- which, ironically, I oppose- because to conflate dual nationality with national sovereignty and the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, would actually undermine the principle of consent. The Irish anthem belongs to a foreign jurisdiction and has no more status than the Polish, American or Turkish anthem.
This does not not stop Nationalists self identifying as Irish or British or both, nor does it stop all citizens- regardless of how they identify- being treated equally.
In short, it is sad that football- especially as the Northern Ireland team have had such a successful Euro 2016- would be reduced to petty politics. Sport should always be free from politics.
Dropping the national anthem would be a capitulation to such malicious politicking and cause gross offence to the majority of people within Northern Ireland.