Football is not a subject usually debated by councillors, but on Tuesday night the popular sport took centre stage, in what one party described as a ‘divisive’ debate.
There were two motions on the table at Tuesday night’s Corporate Policy and Resources committee, the first from DUP Alderman John Finlay who called for Council to ‘note the incredible achievement’ of the Northern Ireland football team in qualifying for the European Championships in France next summer.
Speaking on the debate, the Ballymoney man told those present that he had been present in Windsor Park the night Northern Ireland qualified for the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
He said that the exploits of the current Northern Ireland squad, topping their qualifying group was ‘quite an achievement’ and should be marked by the Council.
This motion was carried.
In a second motion, on the same subject, UUP councillor Aaron Callan, called for Council to host a ‘celebratory event’ to mark the achievements of Michael O’Neill and his team.
However, after some debate, an amendment to the motion, calling for the Republic of Ireland team, and their manager, Kilrea man Martin O’Neill to be included in any celebratory event, was put forward by SDLP Alderman Maura Hickey.
On being put to a vote, the amendment was carried by six votes to four.
This decision will now go to Tuesday night’s full council meeting at Cloonavin to be rattified.
Speaking after the meeting, UUP councillor Aaron Callan said he was ‘disappointed’ by the lack of support from members.
“The fact that DUP councillors didn’t vote to support a reception for the Northern Ireland Football Team is extremely disappointing.
“Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors unfortunately, and not for the first time tried to make the debate sectarian and negative. My motion was a positive one to celebrate the success of a team who have achieved qualification to a major tournament for the first team in thirty years.
“The fact that Coleraine is the home of the Super Cup NI (previously known as the Milk cup) where many of the current stars started their careers, and where Michael O’Neill started his football career it would have been fitting to have a reception here to mark the success of the NI team.”
Deputy Mayor, councillor Darryl Wilson: “Our aim was to have a reception with a difference, we wanted to invite Michael O’Neill and his team to Coleraine Showgrounds where local children and youth sports clubs could come along and meet their heroes.
“I hope councillors will reconsider their position and support a reception for the Northern Ireland team by doing the right thing for the people of the Borough by taking divisive politics out of this decision .”