As we mark 50 years of its membership in the European Union, it is worth reflecting on Ireland’s journey and contributions to the EU from a sporting perspective. Our membership of the EU has brought many benefits and the sporting landscape is no exception.

From the opening of new facilities to the hosting of major international events, the EU has played a significant role in our development as a sporting nation. Those convinced that Ireland’s future lay in Europe showed the courage to imagine a new state with a more confident and optimistic future. Over the decades, European partners have provided the strongest and most steadfast of support to peace and reconciliation on this island through generous EU funding programmes and, more recently, in solidarity with us as we work together to manage the unique challenges in the future.

One of the quickest and most significant benefits of Ireland’s membership in the EU was the development of sporting facilities across the country. In addition to this, the EU has provided opportunities for athletes and sports organisations to participate in major international events such as the European Championships. Membership has also allowed Irish athletes to compete at the highest levels by providing funding and resources to support their training and development. By means of participating in EU-wide competitions and events, Irish athletes have been able to showcase their talents to a global audience, gaining valuable exposure and recognition.

Under 17 Derry City FC coach Donal O’Brien knows all about it and has pleaded for a soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as disputes continue post Brexit. “It will probably work both ways because you will have players who would have to deal with a hard border. Players living in Derry who haven’t made it into the academy there will probably want to go and play with Finn Harps in Donegal while players in Donegal may stay with Finn Harps rather than travel because of a hard border. I suppose we are going to have to wait and see what happens but hopefully there won’t be a hard border but if it happens, we just must wait and see. I do think it could be an issue for players on both sides of the border”.

One of the most meaningful benefits of EU membership for Irish sports has been the access to increased funding. The EU’s support has also provided development for our grassroots sports programs. This is significant especially along the border areas as O’Brien looked at the high costs of making things work at grassroots level. “Trying to bring in players maybe with troubles, they may be reluctant to play in Northern Ireland and live up there. It may stop us from getting players if there is a hard border as well”.

O’Brien added: “Players travelling up from Donegal and further afield might even have an impact on players coming over from England and if there is a hard border it may be an issue again when we are travelling over the border. Do players need a visa to travel down south if they are born in the UK or Northern Ireland as such? The clubs are going to have to pick that up. If the bus is going over the border each day or each week, is there going to be a cost as well for travelling and will there be a tariff? Is is it going to be like a toll? So it could be an issue. Hopefully it doesn’t affect us financially, but we just must wait and see”.

In partnership with the Irish Foreign Ministry as part of the Communication Europe Initiative, our Ireland EU 50 series is a selection of unique stories from writers from Ireland and elsewhere. The CEI was established in 1995 to raise awareness about the European Union and to improve the quality and accessibility of public information on European issues.
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Patrick Sharkey
Patrick Sharkey is a Donegal based student studying Journalism. Passionate about Politics and sport.

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