Old Firm Urged to Back Ulster Peace Moves - Film Star Branagh's Appeal to Football Clubs

Evening Times, 6 March 2003
By Gerry Braiden

Movie star Kenneth Branagh wants the Old Firm to join the Ulster peace process.

Belfast-born Branagh, star of the recent Harry Potter film, has agreed to head the One Small Step campaign. Cold Feet star James Nesbitt has also been approached.

Organisers hope Celtic and Rangers will be able to use their influence in both communities to bring down barriers. Among the proposals is one for a combined Old Firm side to play an Irish League select side. The plan comes as elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly were delayed following three days of intensive negotiations.

Tony Blair and Irish leader Bertie Ahern hope the delay will give enough time to break the deadlock over sanctions and decommissioning weapons. The decision followed a 17-hour negotiation session at Hillsborough where an attempt was made to agree a deal on an outline plan. Sanctions being demanded by David Trimble's Ulster Unionists, which would have Sinn Fein expelled from the power-sharing executive at Stormont if the IRA carried on their military campaign, are also being resisted by party chiefs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. The poll had been due to take place on May 1 and Mr Blair said the proposals to be submitted next month would not be up for negotiation.

As the talks appeared to stutter, hopes were high that the One Small Step campaign - set up by Northern Ireland's trade unions and voluntary organisations - would have a measure of success.

Peter Quigley, the campaign's main organiser, said: 'One Small Step is about encouraging people to put out the hand of friendship and build relationships. 'We hope Celtic and Rangers will support it. It's well known they both back Nil By Mouth. 'We believe One Small Step will have resonances not just here but in Scotland as well. 'I think fans are unaware players are often the best of friends and if we can extend this notion to the fans then One Small Step is doing its job.'

Branagh said even though he had moved from the city more than 30 years ago he was still happy to lend his support. He said: 'It's important that all the organisations involved encourage everyone to do their bit for a better future for all. 'This campaign builds on the work of many organisations in Northern Ireland towards a peaceful future.'

Both the Glasgow clubs said today that they would consider the proposals. Celtic said: 'We look forward to hearing from One Small Step.' And Rangers added: 'We will wait to see the invitation before commenting but we look forward to seeing the proposals.'

During the 1960s the Old Firm often played together under the banner of a combined Glasgow Select side and would play pre-season friendlies against English clubs. Both teams also joined forces after the 1971 Ibrox Disaster to raise cash for the families of those killed.

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