Taoiseach remains optimistic about 2008 soccer bid

THE Taoiseach believes the joint Irish-Scottish bid to host the 2008 European soccer championships is on track despite the fact the GAA still has not agreed to make Croke Park available for the competition.

The Government wants the GAA to indicate that it will open Croke Park, before UEFA selects the successful bid on December 9.

Mr Ahern was speaking about the progress of the bid after a meeting with Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell in New Lanark.

"Based on information we are getting, there are a few strong bids but I think the Irish-Scottish bid is a very good one," he said.

"I don't see any difficulty about us fulfilling our obligations. I think we will and I think we have a few technical issues to resolve over time, but we have spelt out how that can be done," Mr Ahern added.

First Minister McConnell said he had complete trust in Ireland's commitment to the bid and dismissed suggestions that it was a weak point.

"They have not been perceived as a weak point. Bertie Ahern's commitment has been absolute from day one and that is why I have been so confident that we will put forward our best bid in December," he said.

And the Scottish Football Association (SFA) said last night any immediate moves by the GAA to open up Croke Park would be helpful.

"We understand that Croke Park is a private stadium. We have made a request to the GAA and if anything were to happen on this soon, then that would be very positive.

"We also realise the GAA has a general congress early next year," SFA Euro 2008 campaign director Simon Lyons said.

However, GAA grassroots yesterday urged the organisation to immediately end the ban on soccer at the 80,000 seater stadium.

The coach of Kilcummin in Co Kerry, the local club of GAA president-elect Sean Kelly, said there is widespread support among players and supporters for the Euro 2008 bid.

"I think that GAA players on the ground have an interest in all sports and these rules have more to do with political entrenchment than sportsmanship," Sean Counihan said.

GAA officials in Sports Minister John O'Donoghue's constituency also came out strongly in favour of making Croke Park available for the 2008 soccer championships.

"This organisation was founded to end discrimination when the native people weren't allowed play sport.

"We have held rock concerts and boxing matches there in the past and this is something that young players especially want," said Christy O'Connell, South Kerry GAA Board chairman.

Minister O'Donoghue, a former chairman of Caherciveen GAA club, St Mary's, wants the organisation to make a positive signal about opening Croke before the bid is decided.

But the organisation says only the General Congress next spring can relax the ban on soccer.

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