Fans' Opinion

A tale of two countries

Author: . Published: at 7:45am

Written by: @ciaran_judge

Declan Rice finally decided on his international allegiance in recent weeks by declaring his wish to play for England, despite having represented the Republic of Ireland three times in full international friendlies.

Rice’s decision has sparked criticism from former Irish players and has started a debate on what defines a person’s nationality. In these tumultuous times, such a debate was always going to create an extreme reaction. People’s view point on such matters is often binary, black and white, and if anyone offers a different opinion it’s drowned out by sickening abuse.

Some of the reaction to the announcement has really been shocking to read – people wishing cancer on both Rice and his family, while others use it to refer to the political situation in Ireland.

As an Irish fan, I am very disappointed with Rice’s decision. He is one the best young players in the Premier League and Ireland are short of quality – but what I find even more depressing is the reaction.

Nationality is a much more nuanced concept than simply being born in a country.  The Duke of Wellington was born in Dublin and spent much of his childhood in Ireland, yet he most certainly did not regard himself as Irish. A quote often attributed to him (but was said about him) describes the situation well – “Just because you are born in a stable in does not make you a horse”

Your place of birth is a factor, but your family and your upbringing are also factors in your nationality.

The Republic of Ireland has a wide diaspora. Since the end of the Second World War, Irish people have flocked to England for work and have settled in every major city in the UK. In a foreign country, migrants tend to stick together bound by nationality, religion and culture. There is a possibility that you can be born and live in a foreign country and be brought up feeling allegiance to another.

I am a child of economic migrants who moved to London in the 60’s. I was born in London, but my parents’ social group were Irish. I went to Catholic school, where the vast majority of children were in the same positions myself. Every summer holidays I was shipped “home” to Ireland for the 6 weeks. As my parents were both Irish born (as were two of my siblings), despite my being born in England I was surrounded by Irishness – and my affinity was always going to be to Ireland. Yet I have lived in England all my life, my wife and children were born here; as a result, I have huge affection for England as well.

It is Declan’s grandparents who provide his Irish link – but how are we to know the influence his grandparents had on his life? In his statement Declan stated that he is proud of his Irish heritage and that he is a proud Englishman. As difficult as that maybe to understand it makes it no less possible.

Whether you agree with Declan’s decision or not, people must not lose sight of the fact that he is a 20-year-old man. Declan has simply chosen the England team over the Irish one; he is not making a political commentary nor is he now Oliver Cromwell incarnate. Nationality is a deeply emotive subject, but it is one that is deeply personal to an individual. People are so proud of their nationality and rightly so, but while for some it is black or white for others it is slightly more complicated.

I have seen it said that Rice will be afforded greater commercial success for being an England player and while that may be true, I can’t see it being a factor here. The players now are going to be wealthy beyond imagination anyway. Although being an England international may well bump up any potential transfer fee in the future, Rice would be a “homegrown” player in terms of squad quotas – so that would carry a certain value regardless of the national team he represents.

The problem here is the rule that allows the switch in nationality; it denigrates international football. If friendlies are so meaningless as to not count in this situation, should the caps count at all?

The debate will rage on, but it sickens me to read the abuse. It is ok to just simply agree to disagree and move on. Ireland will survive without Declan and England will benefit, nothing more –  and nothing less.