19/06/2006

FIFA overturn NI player passport ruling

Irish Foreign Minister, Dermot Ahern has today announced that FIFA has decided to overturn its decision that Northern Ireland players must carry British passports when going abroad.

The issue was raised with the European football authorities over the past few weeks, saying that footballers from Northern Ireland should be given the option of using either a British or an Irish passport.

Mr Ahern said that he believed that his lobbying had helped to have the resolved and added that FIFA would accept that Northern Ireland players could hold either passport and travel on these as long as the Irish Football Association (IFA) certifies the eligibility of the players involved.

He continued: "It looks as if administratively they have now gone along and accepted the whole premise on holding passports under the Good Friday Agreement."

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, one of the first to draw the foreign Minister's attention to the issue, today said that he was happy that it now appeared that FIFA are to recognise the demands of the Good Friday Agreement.

In a statement the IFA said: "The Irish Football Association is pleased to announce that following regular and ongoing dialogue with FIFA a solution has been reached which will allow players holding an Irish Passport to continue to represent Northern Ireland.

"This will negate the need in future for those with Irish Passports to require a British one for administrative purposes in order to represent Northern Ireland and to satisfy match commissioners.

"The administrative detail of this is being finalised with FIFA, which will take a short while, but there is agreement to the principle of the information contained in the statement.

"Once further details on that administrative process are finalised they will be made public."

The Secretary of State, Peter Hain, today welcomed the announcement that FIFA had relaxed their ruling.

He said: “I am delighted by this news, which is clearly a victory for common sense and for all football fans in Northern Ireland. It is a great achievement for the Irish Football Association to have persuaded FIFA to this pragmatic outcome.”

The Secretary of State also confirmed that he had discussed the issue with Dermot Ahern at the recent British Irish Council and had asked his officials to work to support the IFA in its endeavours.

He added: “The right of people in Northern Ireland to choose to identify themselves as Irish, British or both, is fundamental to the Belfast Agreement.”

(EF/SP)

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