Martin O’Neill has apologised for his use of the pejorative word “queer” during an onstage interview in Cork last week, admitting the remark — intended as a joke — was “crass” and “inappropriate”, and said that he accepts that people were fully entitled to criticise him for it.
O’Neill and Roy Keane were being interviewed during the a public pre-Euros event at the city’s Opera House when, referring to the pair’s having attended this year’s Super Bowl together, the Ireland manager joked that he didn’t want to leave people with the impression that they were “queer”.
The remark drew strong criticism from gay and lesbian rights activists and, yesterday, O’Neill took the opportunity of a briefing with football journalists at the FAI Training Centre in Abbotstown, to offer an apology.
“I apologise now for the comment, it was inappropriate,” he said. “I would say crass now at the end of the day.
It was an inappropriate comment for which I definitely apologise, a genuine apology if it has upset people.”
O’Neill said that he had no difficulty with accepting the criticism he has received for making the remark. No, absolutely not. Not at all, if I made the comment you are entitled to (criticise). That’s what I said, absolutely. Almost the minute I had said it, I realised that I should not have said that. Absolutely. Should not have said it.
“It was inappropriate. I could not be genuinely more sorry. That’s the case.”
Recalling that he had himself played at Norwich and Notts County alongside one of England’s first openly gay footballers, Justin Fashanu — “So far as I’m concerned, if he was scoring a goal to win us a game, I’d be delighted,” he said — O’Neill said he would be glad to endorse gay rights groups who have called on him to support their efforts to make football an all-inclusive, non-homophobic sport.
“I’ve no problem saying it, absolutely not. Not at all. I will do. First of all, if it helps the apology, and secondly, if it’s taken in the right spirit, I will definitely do it.”
O’Neill, who tends to sprinkle his public utterances with dollops of humour, had previously gotten himself into hot water with a sexist gag about the Irish players’ wives and girlfriends.
Yesterday, he indicated that there will be “no more” jokes from him from now on.
“Well I’ve got to say that somewhere along the line I’ve got to draw the line. If it’s the last time I’ll make one — I suppose I’d be genuinely amazed if it is, knowing me — but I’ll tell you that I’ll make every effort now to improve my behaviour.
“My inappropriate behaviour — you’ll probably pull me up for something and be quite right but I will genuinely attempt not to do it again.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved