Bruce gets green light

ALEX Bruce has been given the green light to carry on playing for the Republic of Ireland by FIFA.The Blues defender was among a clutch of players caught up in a row between the Irish Football Association from the north and the FAI in the south about players being allowed to choose between the two countries.

By Derek Davis

ALEX Bruce has been given the green light to carry on playing for the Republic of Ireland by FIFA.

The Blues defender was among a clutch of players caught up in a row between the Irish Football Association from the north and the FAI in the south about players being allowed to choose between the two countries.

Bruce is eligible to play for Ireland through a grandmother from Northern Ireland and holds British and Irish passports.

Although called up at Under-21 level for Northern Ireland he chose Eire and has made seven appearances at all levels, including his senior debut against Ecuador in New York during last summer.

Although not included in the initial squad named by caretaker manager Don Givens for the final European Championship qualifier against Wales in Cardiff on November 17, he is on stand-by.

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The world football's governing body - invited to rule on the issue by the IFA - have suggested that players born on both sides of the border should be able to represent Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

However, IFA chief executive Howard Wells said that the FIFA compromise was “totally inconsistent with the body's own rules which apply to the other 206 countries in FIFA.” Wells added: “I am extremely surprised about this, to say the least - staggered, in fact.

“All we are asking is for FIFA to apply their own rules consistently to all members of their organisation.”

The issue has been brought to a head by the case of Manchester United midfielder Darron Gibson, who was born in Northern Ireland and played for the Province at under-16 level before switching allegiance to the Republic of Ireland.

Gibson, on-loan at Wolves, recently appeared for the Republic in a Euro 2008 qualifier even though he would not ordinarily be eligible to play for Steve Staunton's side because neither he, his parents nor his grandparents were born south of the border.

The Football Association of Ireland believe they are entitled to pursue players born in Northern Ireland under the terms of the

Good Friday Agreement, which guarantees the right of anyone born anywhere on the island of Ireland to apply for an Irish passport.

The Good Friday Agreement was part of the Northern Ireland peace process and endorsed in 1998 by voters across Ireland in separate referendums.

The FIFA proposal would enshrine this right for football purposes, as well as the right of a player from south of the border to represent Northern Ireland.

Given few footballers from the Republic are likely to want to play for the Province, the IFA would have little to gain from agreeing to the recommendation.

But the proposal - which effectively upholds the status quo - has been welcomed by the FAI.

FIFA will listen to submissions from both bodies before a ruling is made by their executive committee, although IFA boss Wells has hinted he will consider legal advice.

derek.davis@archant.co.uk

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