Sinn Féin TD Mark Ward has called for an international soccer friendly between Ireland and Palestine as a sign of Ireland's solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Ward pointed out that Palestine has not played a European nation since becoming a member of FIFA in 1998 and said Ireland had an opportunity to become "world leaders" by hosting Palestine in a friendly.
Ward later told IrishCentral that an international friendly between Ireland and Palestine "would send a really strong message of solidarity" to Palestinian people.
"It would send a message," Ward said. "It would say Ireland is going to be the first European nation to play Palestine in an international friendly and I think that would send a really strong message of solidarity to the people of Palestine.
"In 1951, Ireland became the first country to host Germany after World War II. There was probably a bit of political backlash at the time and people probably didn't think it was the right thing to do, but we went ahead and did it. We were world leaders then and we can be world leaders again."
Ward said it would be a "spectacular event" if Ireland managed to host Palestine and said the response he has received so far indicates that it would be "very warmly welcomed in Ireland".
"I think that the color and the festivities at the match alone would be fantastic. There are a lot of historical connections between both countries."
Since Palestine 🇵🇸 became a member of FIFA in 1998 they have not played a European Country.June 29, 2023
Ward said he discovered that Palestine had never played a European nation in the 25 years since joining FIFA while on a visit to the country last November, adding that he thought it was "bizarre".
The Dublin Mid-West TD added that members of the Palestinian FA are set to travel to Ireland in August and are attempting to secure a meeting with the Football Association of Ireland through the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland.
Furthermore, Ward and Sinn Féin sports spokesperson Chris Andrew plan to send a joint letter to the FAI on Monday calling on the Irish soccer body to engage with the Palestinian FA while they are in Ireland.
Ward's initial comments in the Dáil came after former Irish soccer player Robbie Keane was appointed manager of Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Ward has criticized Keane's appointment, describing it as "sportswashing by Israel's apartheid regime".
The Sinn Féin TD added that the recruitment of managers of Keane's stature was an attempt to "gloss over and legitimize the apartheid regime".