The success of the NI team is recognised at Stormont

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It was wonderful to see the Northern Ireland football team being honoured at Stormont on Thursday.

This province has a population of 1.8 million people, which is only a small fraction of the population of Europe (much less than one half of one per cent), and yet we qualified with ease for the Euros.

The national team beat Greece handsomely, by 3-1, and ended up top of the qualifying group, ahead of countries including Romania, a country of 20 million people.

More that a decade ago, Northern Ireland beat England at Windsor Park, one of the most exciting moments in the history of that now renovated stadium. The following year, we beat Spain, which was a reminder of the stunning victory over that country in 1982 when they were the World Cup hosts.

These are thrilling triumphs over countries with populations that are many times larger than ours. But since 1982, there have also been long and bleak moments for the team, as is only to be expected in a team that can draw from a small population.

But its fans have stuck with it and always will. The wider population might not follow every detail but cheer the players on for the big events.

In the Euros, they reached the final 16, with a creditable overall performance including beating Ukraine.

Now our devolved parliament has given them the reception their achievements so richly deserve.

It is no slight on our friends and neighbours in the Republic of Ireland team to note that the SDLP proposal last year for a reception at Belfast City Council is not the way to proceed on these occasions. It seems an attempt to dilute the fact that Northern Ireland is a protected entity within the UK, with its own national soccer team. It would be absurd if each time the NI team was recognised, the Republic team also had to be so.

There was no such contentious proposal at Stormont on Thursday at Stormont and the sporting accomplishment was recognised.