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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 13:17 GMT
Anthem 'abused' at internationals
The Irish Football Association plays the anthem before NI international matches
A decision by the Irish Football Association to continue playing the national anthem at football matches has been criticised by an SDLP assembly member.

John Dallat said the anthem, God Save the Queen, was abused by bigots and deterred Catholics from attending Northern Ireland international matches.

The East Londonderry member said more must be done to stop sectarianism in sport.

"I would encourage the IFA to grasp this one, indeed I would say to all sporting organisations you have an important part to play in this healing process," he said.

"The playing of the anthem can be reserved for formal occasions

The national anthem is a legitimate symbol of the country
Michael McGimpsey
Ulster Unionist MLA

"I don't think a football match is the place for it."

Mr Dallat added:"For those who believe I am some sort of bigot, I was the mayor of Coleraine last year during the Jubilee. I met the Queen and I stood for the Queen and I had no problem with that."

However, his comments have been criticised by unionist politicians.

Ulster Unionist assembly member Michael McGimpsey accused Mr Dallat of being "a closet anti-Agreement nationalist".

The former Stormont minister with responsibility for Sport and Leisure said: "Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and the national anthem is a legitimate symbol of the country.

"So too is the Union flag.

Fierce opposition

"It is Mr Dallat's agenda which is divisive in his latest diatribe."

Belfast Democratic Unionist councillor Nelson McCausland described the suggestion as "ludicrous".

"It is the general practice throughout the world for national anthems to be played at the start of international sporting events," he said.

Northern Ireland Unionist Party assembly member Norman Boyd said any attempt to scrap the anthem would be met with fierce opposition.

He said such a move would be "blatantly anti-British".

Meanwhile, 10 MPs have called on the Irish Football Assocation to continue playing the national anthem at Northern Ireland's home ground Windsor Park.

A motion says the anthem represents all the people of the UK and should be retained.

The motion is supported by the UUP's David Burnside, Martin Smyth, Roy Beggs and Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader Ian Paisley and party colleagues Gregory Campbell and Peter and Iris Robinson, and Tory members Andrew Hunter and Peter Duncan.

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