Cliftonville players bow heads during God Save the Queen at Irish Cup final

Cliftonville players bow heads during God Save the Queen at Irish Cup final

SINN FEIN'S Gerry Kelly has commended the actions of Cliftonville players during the playing of God Save the Queen at today’s Irish Cup Final.

The club had asked the Irish Football Association (IFA) not to play the national anthem of Great Britain and Northern Ireland before kick-off.

The governing body refused, despite having refrained from playing it on previous occasions when Cliftonville had reached the final.

In response, the players bowed their heads at Belfast's Windsor Park while the anthem was played, although it was booed by sections of their support.

Cliftonville, based in the north of the city, has a predominantly nationalist fanbase.

'Dignified protest'

Kelly commended the players, saying the IFA was sending a negative message to Irish nationalists.

He said: “Today Cliftonville players bowed their heads in a dignified protest at Windsor Park as the British national anthem, God Save the Queen, was played before the Irish Cup Final.

“This protest came after the IFA board refused a request by Cliftonville FC not to play the British national anthem before the final.

“In 2013 Cliftonville reached the Irish Cup Final and the British national anthem was not played. The IFA at the time said this decision was about fostering a ‘politically neutral environment’.

'IFA's negative message'

“It would seem the IFA have made the decision that a ‘politically neutral environment’ at Windsor Park is not for them.

“Today the message from the IFA to Irish nationalists is very negative.

“Windsor Park should be a venue where everyone is welcome no matter what their community background.

“Sinn Féin is calling on the IFA to review this position and return to its previous position of 2013.”

On the pitch, Cliftonville lost to 3-1 to Coleraine, their first success since 2003,

There was a missed reaction to Cliftonville’s pre-math protest.

Many agreed with Kelly’s view that the response was dignified.

Former UUP leader Lord Kilclooney meanwhile, who himself has courted controversy this week, was among those to criticise the club.