Rugby international sparks anthem row at Ravenhill

THE Irish Rugby Football Union has been accused of refusing to show "tolerance and inclusivity" to its British players and supporters.

The Ireland A international rugby team is playing the Tongan international team at the Ulster Rugby Football Union's Ravenhill grounds in Belfast tonight.

But the parent body – the Irish Rugby Football Union – is refusing to discuss the idea of flying the Union Flag or playing the British national anthem at the game, despite claims that it entered a formal agreement to do just that in 1921.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird said the IRFU stance was all the more offensive, given that it is Remembrance Week and there is a war memorial inside the Ravenhill grounds.

"Why not put the union flag up?" he asked. "This is Remembrance Week and there is a war memorial inside the very grounds of Ravenhill. But we

are still not allowed to fly the Union Flag at it in this week

of all weeks?

"Some 150,000 people from this island of Ireland fought in World War One under the Union Flag," he said.

"It is a refusal to show tolerance and inclusivity to British players and supporters of the IRFU.

"This is despite the fact that there was an official agreement made at the very highest level in 1921 – between De Valera and James Craig – that the British national anthem and Union Flag would be used during games at Ravenhill."

Lord Laird – a lifelong rugby club member – said the agreement had been broken in the 1950s when southern Irish players travelling to play at Ravenhill refused to play if the Union Flag was flown.

He said that the IRFU attitude was that it was more important to keep "southern republican" supporters happy than Ulster supporters.

Former Ireland international rugby player and community relations activist Trevor Ringland previously urged for some compromise from the IRFU in the interests of good relations.

Mr Ringland said last year: "I hope through discussion among friends that we can understand that the really significant gesture would be playing A Soldier's Song in Dublin and God Save the Queen in Belfast and the message that would send out of respecting the two countries that make up the team of Ireland."

But an IRFU spokesman said last night there would be no compromise in recognition of its British players and supporters.

"The policy for the IRFU is that Ireland's Call only is played outside the Republic of Ireland jurisdiction. And inside the Republic of Ireland jurisdiction both the Soldier's Song and Ireland's Call are played.

"The policy is as stated and is decided by all the provincial branches as stakeholders."

On this occasion the Ireland's Call anthem is being played even though it is only the Ireland A international team playing, he confirmed. The reason for this is that they are playing the full Tongan international team, who had asked to be able to play their national anthem.