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All Ireland soccer team

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Dermot Ahern the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs think the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association should be merged for the good of the game. Mr Ahern said the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and its the north of Ireland counterpart, the Irish Football Association (IFA), should merge and thereby have a single all Ireland international soccer team.

Mr Ahern mentioned the success of the all-Ireland club competition, the Setanta Cup, and welcomed both organisations co-operating on hosting the UEFA under-21 European Championships in 2011. He said the governing bodies should take their lead from rugby, in particular, which is organised on an all-island basis and can claim to have arguably the most successful team in any field sport in Irish history. Mr Ahern told the annual dinner of the Soccer Writers Association of Ireland: "Many of the sports which have been divided by the Border have turned the clock back to a time when one organisation represented the whole island. The decision to establish the FAI in 1921 and its split from the IFA which was founded in 1880 was one made at a time of immense turmoil. But it is a totally different Ireland today."

Referring to the unveiling of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 next Tuesday, the Minister said "an unprecedented multi-billion euro investment programme" would "benefit people, North and South". The plan will lead to better infrastructure, including transport links improving cross-border journey times. "An all-island league would generate greater revenue for clubs and help further develop the game. It would in particular also enable the island to punch its full weight internationally, something that real sports people have long yearned for."

Other sporting bodies were also unifying as the political climate has changed in recent years. Gaelic games, hockey and golf are administered on an all-Ireland basis and cycling has recently followed suit. Efforts are also being advanced for athletics bodies North and South to merge.

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