NORTHERN IRELAND’S DEPUTY First Minister Martin McGuinness attended Windsor Park for the first time in nearly 50 years this week and marked the occasion by expressing his wish to see a single football team represent the island.
The 61-year-old, who contested last year’s presidential election in the Republic, attended the stadium as a guest of Linfield FC and looked on from the crowd as the home side squandered a late lead to draw with Setanta Cup rivals Derry City.
Speaking to Good Morning Ulster, McGuinness described the evening as “a pleasant experience” and “a sign of changing times” before suggesting the island could benefit from the unification of its two national squads:
“It’s wonderful that Peter Robinson and myself are able to give leadership and clearly show that we want to see sport being unified and see community relationships built up though sport… I think we should do everything possible to take the politics out of it.
“Talking as a sports fan it is my very strong view that soccer on the island would be much better served it we had an all-Ireland league and one international team.
“But that is a matter for the footballing authorities, that’s only my opinion as a true sports fan.”
In addition to courting political controversy, McGuinness emphasised his support for the Republic of Ireland’s national team. It’s an allegiance he believes consistent with both his republican heritage and official office.
“I think everybody that understands the mindset of the republican community clearly understands that the vast majority of the people give their support to players south of the border,” he said.
“In my perspective you can absolutely give your support to the team that plays south of the border as I do, I was at the last Ireland match just a few days, but also give support to ordinary footballers who come from different parts of our country, who make their own decisions to play for a particular team.”
Neither of the “footballing authorities” in question, the FAI and the IFA, were immediately available for comment at the time of publication.