Voices of reason as McIlroy debate tees off on NI radio


TIME WAS in Northern Ireland when Rory McIlroy’s unrepudiated quote that he has “always felt more British than Irish” would have triggered some serious gloating from those of a unionist persuasion – and some hard-edged ripostes from the nationalist camp.

There was plenty of debate yesterday on the Northern Ireland airwaves as people tried to sort out where they stood in relation to McIlroy’s attempt to walk a cultural and national identity tightrope – but for once the engagement was pretty reasoned.

That’s an indicator of just how much the sportsman is loved, regardless of which side of the political fence people stand on.

On BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme, Dr Stephen Martin offered something of an Irish solution to a British-Irish conundrum. “He’s from Northern Ireland,” said Dr Martin, who in his sporting day captained both the Ireland and Great Britain hockey teams.

“Well, he’s from Holywood, he’s from Co Down, he’s from Ulster, he’s from Ireland, he’s from the UK because he has a British passport, he’s European, he’s a global superstar,” he added. Which seemed to mean that such is McIlroy’s universality that he could play for just about everybody on the planet.

Dr Martin has a gold medal from the 1988 Seoul Olympics playing for Britain, but as chief executive of the Olympic Council of Ireland he too has had to steer a tricky course. He reminded his interviewer that McIlroy has not made a decision about which flag he will play under in the next Olympics, stating: “For an Irish team to have Rory in it would be unbelievable. The most important thing is, it’s his decision.”

Former Ireland rugby international and unionist politician Trevor Ringland told the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster that McIlroy “plays for all of us”, while also acknowledging that being from the North can lead to peculiar shifting of national allegiances.

“Like many sportspeople from here, we can adopt different identities at different times when it is appropriate,” Ringland offered. “It is an ability to move between different identities and I think sport is a great example of how we can do that and be relaxed about it.”

The Nolan show can attract some sectarian and passionate callers but almost everyone appreciated McIlroy’s dilemma. Peter Rafferty, a unionist and captain of the loyalist-attracting Linfield soccer team in the 1970s, felt McIlroy should declare for Ireland in the Rio Olympics because he had “represented Ireland in his junior days, and he has gone out with Graeme McDowell for Ireland in the World Cup”. One caller, Edgar, also a unionist, felt most people would like to see McIlroy playing for Ireland – and that from a tourist point of view Northern Ireland would get “more out of it”.

“It’s up to him,” said another caller, while broadcaster Gerry Anderson said that, when Rio comes around: “If I was Rory McIlroy, I would say, ‘To hell with the lot of you, I am going to the Caribbean’.”

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