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.
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.
Extremely dignified protest from Cliftonville players to IFA’s decision not to ensure a politically neutral environment for today’s Irish Cup Final pic.twitter.com/TZnovaEKHu
— Conor Maskey (@conormaskey) 5 May 2018
GSTQ has no place in football in the north of Ireland. The north east is a contested place with two national identities, playing the anthem of one nationality is not keeping in with parity of esteem. Fair play to #Cliftonville players & fans for their protest!
— Aaron MacDaibhéid (@AMcD1916) 5 May 2018
— Sinéad Ennis (@EnnisSinead) 5 May 2018
What the IFA said in 2013 re: The Irish Cup decider between Cliftonville and Glentoran. In the interests of fostering a "politically neutral environment" God Save the Queen would not be played.
Question: What happened to fostering a "politically neutral environment" in 2018?
— Brendan Crossan (@CrossanBrendan) 3 May 2018
TBH, I thought the Cliftonville did a very respectful show of their dislike. Not 100% sure, why they were put in that position. We should make these events as neutral as possible.
— David McCann (@dmcbfs) 5 May 2018
Former UUP leader Lord Kilclooney meanwhile, who himself has courted controversy this week, was among those to criticise the club.
Great victory by Coleraine and Cliftonville should be ashamed for trying to politicise a football game!!
— Lord John Kilclooney (@KilclooneyJohn) 5 May 2018
This shows you how to respect a National Anthem (even if it’s not yours). Very disappointing from Cliftonville. pic.twitter.com/RWACqVOXbe
— Cllr Peter Martin (@petermartindup) 5 May 2018
I respect all National Anthems in the same way I respect my own. It’s only common decency & neighbourly. I also respect special sporting events & their traditions. Shame on Cliftonville FC for making this an issue when clearly they should have been concentrating on the football! https://t.co/MftRKlgpsl
— Paul Frew (@paulfrewDUP) 5 May 2018