The people of Northern Ireland have a proud history of sporting achievements gained while representing both the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is for individual athletes, subject to the rules of their respective sport’s governing body, to decide which country they wish to represent. This Government are wholly supportive of this choice being maintained.
The Minister is, as he knows, quite wrong. A young Northern Ireland sportsperson who wishes to, for example, box for the United Kingdom has to move to Great Britain; otherwise, they have to box for Ireland. That is the case in other sports, too. The Belfast agreement said that everyone had the right to choose to be British or Irish. Surely this must apply to sport, and the Minister must do more about this because it is just not fair.
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who I know has taken a passionate interest in this subject; we have talked about it before. She will of course be aware that Northern Ireland has won serious medals at the Commonwealth games for boxing. The issue itself is a devolved matter, and is also an issue for individual athletes and their governing sporting bodies to take up. As far as the boxing association of Northern Ireland is concerned, I suggest that it continues its dialogue with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Does the Minister agree that all sportsmen and women should have the right to represent the country they choose to, as long as they meet the eligibility criteria for that country?
As I say, if people have the merit to represent their country, there is no reason why they should not, subject to the rules of the governing body of their sport.