The Northern Ireland soccer team may be forced to ditch “God Save the Queen” as its national anthem for the Euro 2016 tournament this summer if the British parliament votes to compel the England soccer team to use an England-specific song for its anthem rather than the UK's anthem as they currently do.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, President of the Irish Football Association (IFA) Jim Shaw believes that Northern Ireland would be duty-bound to discontinue its controversial use of the UK anthem if England was to first do so.
“The national anthem debate is one of the most divisive in our history,” Shaw said.
“We’ve been debating it for years. If we keep it, we annoy people and we know if it goes, there will be plenty of angry supporters.”
Many have previously questioned the use of “God Save the Queen” by the Northern Ireland team, claiming that it ostracizes players from nationalist backgrounds who feel the anthem does not represent them.
This argument is somewhat backed by the decision of the Scottish and Welsh governments to use an alternate anthem on coming to power, with some insisting that Northern Ireland should do the same. There is a long-standing tradition for international sporting events that the Scots rise for “Flower of Scotland” while the Welsh stand to attention for “Land of our Fathers.”
Others would prefer to keep “God Save the Queen” as they are proud of standing for the Queen.
“But it’s not for the Irish FA to decide what the national anthem of Northern Ireland is,” Shaw continued.
“That is for the devolved government at Stormont. The Scots and Welsh governments decided to change when they came into power. We didn’t.
“I think it would be very difficult for us to continue using ‘God Save the Queen’ if the English decide they want a new anthem. I think we would be duty bound to follow suit.”
The IFA (a different body to the FAI, which oversees soccer in the Republic of Ireland) has so far been reluctant to change the anthem, especially as an investigation by legendary Northern Ireland footballer Gerry Armstrong recently revealed that the use of “God Save the Queen” did not affect the decision of players from Nationalist communities to play for the Republic of Ireland. The overwhelming response to the investigation was that a change in anthem would not affect their decision as to whether to play for Northern Ireland.
The hand of the IFA may now be forced, however, as Chesterfield Labour MP Toby Perkins is set to bring a Bill to the UK parliament on January 13 that will question the use of “God Save the Queen” as the English anthem.
Although acknowledging the song as an anthem of the United Kingdom and of the British Isles, Perkins believes that England should follow the example of Scotland and Wales in having their own England-specific anthem.
“I have nothing against ‘God Save the Queen’ but that is the national anthem of the United Kingdom,” Perkins said.
“England is a component part of the UK, but it competes as a country in its own right and I think a song that celebrated England rather than Britain would be more appropriate.
“There has been much talk about the union in recent years. I am English and I am British and I am proud of both of these things but they are not the same thing.
“And so I think part of the new settlement for Britain in these times of devolution is to more formally recognize that England and Britain are different entities and, just as we have different flags, so we should have a discussion about having a song for England.”
Although technically a change in the English national anthem does not affect the anthem of Northern Ireland, Shaw admits that to continue with its use when it is not used in England would be unlikely.
“God Save the Queen” is not the national anthem always used by Northern Ireland teams. During the Commonwealth Games, athletes from the north are heralded with “Danny Boy,” a common choice among soccer fans who wish for the change
If the decision is made in England to replace “God Save the Queen,” the alternative will be chosen by public consultation.
The Belfast Telegraph reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has already chosen “Jerusalem” as his favorite replacement while others feel that “Land of Hope and Glory” should be used. It is not known whether the Bill will receive much support once brought to parliament.
The Northern Ireland soccer team, managed by Michael O'Neill, is currently preparing for their first ever appearance at the European finals this year after qualifying at the top of their group. They will face Poland, Ukraine and world champions Germany in Group C.
The Republic of Ireland team under Martin O’Neill also qualified for the finals in the playoff stage, defeating Bosnia for a place in the international competition.
The Irish rugby team, which represents the island of Ireland (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), has also addressed issues relating to a suitable flag and anthem in the past. The tricolor and flag of Ulster (to which the six counties of Northern Ireland belong) was used by the team at the 2011 Rugby World Cup and at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, while a specifically composed song “Ireland’s Call” is used as the team's anthem while they are playing away from home. The song has also since been adopted by Irish Hockey, Cricket, and Rugby League teams.
If you could pick an anthem to be Northern Ireland specific, what would you chose? What do you think the Northern Ireland soccer team should play as their national anthem. Let us know in the comments section, below.