Rules for cross-border switches formalised

Footballers from the North who want to play for the Republic will have to meet tough restrictions, it was confirmed today.

They will have to notch up two years’ playing south of the border without interruption or have close family members from there.

World governing body FIFA broke the news to Irish Football Association (IFA) chief executive Howard Wells.

An IFA spokeswoman said: “Fifa have said that if we deem any player called into the Republic of Ireland’s squad ineligible then we can bring that case to FIFA.

“We can appeal if we think they are going against any of those four criteria.”

The issue centred on the Republic of Ireland’s governing body’s assertion that it is allowed to pick Northern Ireland-born players, even if they do not have family ties with the south.

Controversy arose earlier this year when the Irish FA protested after Northern-born Darron Gibson was picked for the Republic of Ireland team.

He was born in Derry but elected to switch to the Republic after representing the north at under-16 level.

Clarification of the row, which has split the Republic’s ruling Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and the North’s authorities, prompted a fresh political fall-out.

Nationalist SDLP Assembly member Dominic Bradley, who represents the Newry and Armagh constituency on the border with the Republic, said it was a ridiculous decision.

“This is totally out of keeping with with the letter and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement (with paved the way for political power-sharing in Northern Ireland),” he said.

“It seems totally ridiculous that somebody born in Newry, Co Down, as an Irish citizen, can’t play for the Irish national team unless they have resided in the Republic for two years.

“They could be playing for Manchester United but would not be eligible to play for their country.”

Keen football fan Gregory Campbell, East Derry MP for the Democratic Unionist Party, said it provided welcome clarity and would regulate any inconsistencies.

“We should be working towards the position where people want to play for Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Hopefully this can draw a line under it.”

A spokesman for the FAI added: “We do not believe there has been any change to FIFA’s stated position that any player from Northern Ireland is eligible to play for either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.”

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