Bairbre de Brún’s comments about Windsor Park show there are those unprepared to leave the past behind

Recent comments by Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún on a local television talk-show demonstrated an eerie inability by some of those in power to acknowledge that things are moving on in local sport and society. During a debate on the saga of the national stadium de Brún, originally from Dublin, reached levels of surrealism which even the most foolhardy and entrenched local political supporter may have had a problem deciphering any logic in.

The merit of her argument – that Windsor Park is akin to the Maze H-Blocks in terms of political symbolism – must have left many mouths ajar on both sides of the community. Windsor Park admittedly has a chequered past and has played host to some of Northern Irish football’s darker days: the disgraceful assault of Jimmy Jones in 1947 by thugs purporting to support Linfield, the attack on the Italian international Ferrario in 1957 and the sectarian chanting which reached an apex in February 2001 with the booing of Northern Ireland captain Neil Lennon who had recently joined Celtic. However it is puzzling how de Brún can, with any integrity, find an emotional tie between these adverse events surrounding football and the H-Blocks which housed so many political prisoners.

Her reason for not feeling welcome at Windsor goes back to a visit there for a game between two of Belfast’s great rivals, Cliftonville and Linfield. She reportedly feared that she’d never get out of the ground alive. This would strike many as being naïve in the extreme, presumably having occurred during an era when day to day life in Northern Ireland was often volatile: a phenomenon that local football could not transcend. Instead of bringing such a negative anecdote to the table which then led to her making crass, offensive and misinformed parallels, she could perhaps have taken the time to acknowledge the success that Cliftonville had in hosting Linfield at Solitude (not always a ground that has honoured the definition of its name) in front of the Sky Sports cameras back in September – a match which correctly drew many plaudits from across the water. The return fixture at Windsor is on January 7th, and once again Sky has decided to provide live coverage. Perhaps Bairbre de Brún should be invited along to see the hard work that the IFA has put into turning the local game around.

Until blasé and culturally snobbish attitudes such as those of de Brún’s are transcended in society and politics we may yet have cause to despair about the future of this country.

Source: Belfast News Letter, December 2007

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