The SDLP assemblyman for East Derry, John Dallat, began the debate by hitting out at the attitude of the Irish Football Association, Northern Ireland’s governing soccer authority, for playing the British national anthem.
“Playing ‘The Queen’ at Northern Ireland soccer games is well beyond the remit of the IFA. They should come into the real world and stop behaving like ostriches pretending sectarianism isn’t poisoning sport,” he said.
“The British anthem has been used as a vehicle for bigots to engage in catcalls and howls once it is finished and the tiresomely predictable addition of the extra line [‘No surrender] has to be insulting to the dignity of the British national anthem.”
Ulster Unionist assemblyman Michael McGimpsey, who, while minister, was responsible for sport as well as culture, blasted suggestions that the British national anthem should not be played at future Northern Ireland soccer internationals.
McGimpsey said: “There is absolutely no substance to this notion and by peddling it, Mr. Dallat reveals that he is in reality a closet anti-agreement nationalist. He should remember that under the terms of the agreement, the principle of self-determination and consent is upheld.
“Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and the national anthem is a legitimate symbol of the country. So too is the union flag. It is Mr. Dallat’s agenda which is divisive in his latest diatribe.”
Dallat responded, saying “This is an issue which can be addressed successfully without the kind of emotional outburst we experienced from McGimpsey. The reaction of the IFA is even more disappointing given that they believe it to be nonsense and a subject not up for discussion.
“This surely begs the question as to what planet are they living on and how do they hope to achieve equality of esteem given that they are interested in promoting a National Stadium which will, presumably, be paid for out of public funds?”
Not to be out-done, another Ulster Unionist took up the fight. The assemblyman for East Antrim and soccer supporter Ken Robinson said “I resent being labeled a bigot simply because I have pride in my national anthem.”