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5 ESLJ 1 (2007)

handle is hein.journals/entersport5 and id is 1 raw text is: ISSN 1748-944X

This article examines debates concerning the proposed construction
Web Linkof a 'national' stadium for Northern Ireland. In so doing, it
considers both the philosophical issues that are central to these
debates, not least in relation to Northern Ireland's contested claim
to nationhood, and also some of the technical and legal concerns raised by the project, specifically in terms of
questions of ownership and use. In passing, the article also comments of the question of nationality and eligibility
within the context of Northern Irish football. It is agued that whilst debates about the need for a new stadium have
tended to focus to date on political and conceptual matters, it is likely that, in the foreseeable future, legal, financial
and technical difficulties will predominate.
Sport - Politics - Northern Ireland - Stadia - Nationality - National identity
In Northern Ireland, discussions about where to locate and how to fund any major public resource are always
fraught, as indeed they are in any society. In the case of Northern Ireland, however, they are rendered even
more problematic by spatial division. As Shirlow and Murtagh (2006, p. 13) have recently noted, 'within Belfast
City Cemetery there is an underground wall that purposefully separates the Catholic and Protestant dead'. In
addition, 'the disputes that have taken place at Carnmoney Cemetery [on Belfast's northern outskirts]...over
demarcating the graves of Protestants and Catholics seem to confirm that even in death there is a desire to
remain uncontaminated by the presence of the ethno-sectarian other'. This type of segregationist thinking
also impacts upon the use of various leisure spaces, including leisure centres, and inevitably influences debates
about the location of flagship buildings and amenities (Bairner, 2006; Bairner and Shirlow, 2003). An additional
issue has been that of ownership, both real (specifically the relationship between private and public sectors) and
symbolic (in terms of how far one or other of the two main traditions is able to successfully 'colonise' particular
amenities) (Sugden and Bairner, 1993; Bairner and Shirlow, 2003). This article examines debates concerning
the proposed construction of a 'national' stadium for Northern Ireland. In so doing, it considers both the
philosophical issues that are central to these debates, not least in relation to Northern Ireland's contested claim
to nationhood, and also some of the technical and legal concerns raised by the project, specifically in terms of
questions of ownership and use. In passing, the article also comments of questions of nationality and national
eligibility within the context of Northern Irish football as well as on the broader debate on the extent to which it
is appropriate to describe Northern Ireland as a nation.
In October 2001, a ministerial advisory panel (of which the author was a member) charged with considering the  2
future of association football in Northern Ireland was set up by the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the
devolved power sharing Executive. Amongst its numerous findings and recommendations, the panel noted that
'Northern Ireland does not have a sports stadium that meets all the expected standards for hosting international
football' (Armstrong et al, 2001, p. 73). As a consequence, the panel supported the idea of a large venue for
football in Northern Ireland to cater for international games, major European club matches and major domestic
games such as the Irish Cup Final. The panel expressed an awareness of 'previous discussions on the feasibility
of establishing a national stadium'. Indeed, a National Stadium Working Group had been set up under the
auspices of the Sports Council for Northern Ireland in 1999 but no further progress had been made. Thus, the
panel argued that 'Government, in conjunction with the governing body (i. e. the Irish Football Association -
IFA) should act quickly to end the uncertainty by making a firm commitment to establish a national stadium'.

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