Friday 15 February 2008

Lord Laird's interest in rugby

A letter in today's Belfast Telegraph draws attention to the recent storm-in-a-teacup that John Laird (ex Stormont MP, made a lord for God-knows what reason) has been trying to stir up.

In a nut-shell, Laird is trying to insist that the Irish rugby team, whenever it plays in Belfast, should play under the British flag, and sing the British national anthem. His point appears to be that the Irish team represents two jurisdictions, one of which remains part of the UK, and that this fact is not being given adequate recognition.

But is this really his point? Is his gripe really about recognition of British symbols, or is he trying to use an ostensibly reasonable issue to further a longer-term political objective?

If Laird was a reasonable man, he might call upon the two ministers responsible for sport in Ireland to come together, under the north-south arrangements already in place, to discuss the creation of new and neutral symbols that all Irish sports fans could unite under. In that way, a common identity could be created for rugby, cricket, hockey, athletics, and other sports organised on an all-Ireland basis. And who knows, maybe even soccer a bit further down the line. If he made this suggestion, he would be pushing against an open (or at least unlocked) door in the south.

But Laird does not suggest the creation of neutral all-Ireland symbols. Instead he tries to insist on British symbols, knowing that they are unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of players and supporters of most sports organised on an all-Ireland basis. He is doing this in the knowledge that such a demand is unacceptable to the majority, because he is counting on that resistance, so that he then can call for the partition of the sporting bodies, and thus contribute even more to the partition of the country.

Laird's interest is not sport – he is on record (BBC radio Talkback programme) as saying, when asked if he supported the Ireland rugby team or the Scotland rugby team, that he unequivocally supported Scotland. His interest, as it is on so many other issues, is as far as possible to divide the north from the south, and to obstruct all areas where north-south cooperation and co-existence are the norm. He is a wall-builder rather than a bridge-builder.

So far, happily, the IRFU, the governing body of Irish rugby, has largely ignored his provocation.

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