Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny has proposed the creation of an All-Ireland soccer team, to play charity matches against England.
He said the idea could be attractive to everyone and added “It would be a gesture from the sports people that would have a profound impact.”
Speaking at the Joint Sports and Reconciliation Conference, in Armagh, he suggested a 32-county team that would play England every two years with the funds raised going to children’s hospitals and medical research in Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Irish leader said the plan would integrate sports and have a real impact on the hospitals.
He said "We could take on the might of England entirely for charity, for the children's hospitals (of Belfast and Dublin), for the children of the island, for research and development of what can impact on their little lives.
"It is just a thought, it might be something that could become a reality."
On whether England’s Prime Minister David Cameron would be involved he said, “The Prime Minister is a very engaging person but this is for the sporting organizations.
"The sport is about the children of the island. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if we could have an all-island soccer team playing England, perhaps on a bi-annual basis, playing in Ireland and England, the purpose of which would be the development of research and the development of both children's hospitals on the island of Ireland."
He was joined at the event by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Irish Football Association president Jim Shaw told the Belfast Telegraph, "There is no objection to it. It would be very difficult to organize it, to get these sort of players from the two associations.
"It is a difficult proposition but I am sure at some level it can be achieved if the desire is there."
Peter Robinson added that sport can be a "bonding agent" which leaves no barriers.
He said “I want the Northern Ireland of tomorrow to be a place in which everyone can live, where they can learn, work and socialize free from prejudice and free from hatred. Where better to start than on our playing fields and arenas?”
Kenny added that the creation of this team would be down to the sport’s organizations. However, relations between the Football Association of Ireland, in the Republic, and the Irish Football Association, in Northern Ireland, have been strained. Recently a number of high-profile players have defected from the north to the south, including Darron Gibson, James McClean, and Marc Wilson.
Speaking to Sky Sports Martin O’Neill, the Republic of Ireland’s new manager played down the idea of more players making the switch. He said “I don’t think it will be an issue at all to be honest. It doesn’t really matter who is in charge of the Republic in terms of the eligibility question.
“My focus, pure and simple, is to make sure that our young players know what we are trying to do as an association and what we are trying to build with our younger players in terms of giving them the chance of having an international career.”