There has been some heated debate, and even more heated debate about the situation regarding footballers from Northern Ireland declaring for the Republic of Ireland. The IFA is also confused so it seemed only sensible for Slugger to ask FIFA’s legal department what the exact situation is.Here is the reply received in its totality:
“Your question makes reference to the requirements imposed on players terms of nationality. In order for a footballer to play for his association, he must hold the nationality of the country that this association represents. Once a player has represented an association in an international official match at any age category, he is no longer eligible to play for a different association.
An exception to this rule is contained in art. 15.3 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes. A player whose nationality entitles him to play for more than one association (as is the case with the UK passport) or who is holder of more than one nationality, can apply to change association. This possibility, however, is limited to those players who have not played at “A” international level and who already had the nationality of the association that they are seeking to join at the time of their very first international official match. Furthermore, such a change is possible only once, up to the age of 21 and must be approved by the FIFA Players’ Status Committee.
Therefore, any player who has more than one nationality – as appears to be the case in Northern Ireland – will have the right to change association teams under the strict conditions of art. 15.3 of the aforementioned regulations.
The objective of this provision – allowing the change association teams – is to provide young players who hold more than one nationality the possibility of reversing the choice of association team that they will have made at a young age.
The parent/grandparent rule, on the other hand, seeks to ensure that a player has a sufficient link to the association that he wishes to represent. Therefore, if the nationality of a player entitles him to represent more than one association, the player must show that he, his parents or his grandparents were born in the territory of the association that he wishes to represent or that he lived in the territory of this association for a least two years. Similarly, a player who never played for his former association at international level but who later on obtains a new nationality, must also show that he has such a link to the country of the new association for which he wishes to play for that goes beyond just obtaining the passport (FIFA Circular Letter no. 901). This is the rule that is set out in art. 1 of annex 2 of the FIFA Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players.
The parent/grandparent rule, therefore, is only relevant for a Northern Irish player who is seeking to play for another British association team.
To play for the Republic of Ireland, the player must be a national of the Republic of Ireland and, if he previously played for a youth team of Northern Ireland, he must also obtain the approval of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee to carry out this change.
FIFA dealt with an inquiry concerning the player Alex Bruce in March of this year and that, to my knowledge, our response issued then remains applicable at present. In order for the player Bruce to be able to play for a representative team of the Republic of Ireland, he shall be required to hold a passport of the Republic of Ireland.
This principle is clearly established in art. 15 par. 1 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes. The same article lays down the conditions that must be met by a player who has changed his nationality or who has acquired a new nationality.
For a player who was born outside of the UK, and who is later granted British passport, the principles of the aforementioned art. 15 apply. In addition, the player will be required to fulfil at least one of the conditions set out in art. 1 of annex 1 of the FIFA Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players. As the player will not have been born in the UK, he must have a parent/grandparent who was born in the UK or himself have lived in the UK for at least two years without interruption.”
The relevant Article 15.1 of the FIFA Statute states:
“Any person holding the nationality of a country is eligible to play for the representative teams of the Association of his country.”
So that’s the situation from the horse’s mouth. If you have an Irish passport you can play for the Republic of Ireland so Northern boys can come on down if they want to.