Threats put end to Ulster peace tie

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A FOOTBALL team from nationalist west Belfast pulled out of a cup match with the RUC because of intimidation, Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan claimed yesterday.

Donegal Celtic reversed an earlier decision to go ahead with tomorrow's game at a neutral venue in Newtownards, Co Down, after coming under pressure from Sinn Fein and other nationalist groups.

Mr Flanagan said he was saddened and disappointed by the decision. "I'm aware of how much the match means to the players, I know how much they wanted to fulfil this fixture."

He said it was hard to come to any other conclusion than that the players pulled out because of intimidation. In a lengthy statement, the club said it had come under "unbearable pressure" and the match had become a source of controversy and division.

"The decision obviously caused annoyance and upset to a great number of people, especially within our community and patrons. Regrettably therefore Donegal Celtic has come to the conclusion that the only sensible course of action is to withdraw from this proposed game against the RUC."

John Taylor, the Ulster Unionist deputy leader and an active football supporter, blamed Sinn Fein for the decision. He said: "This reversal has obviously happened because of the campaign by Gerry Adams and others to make sure this match did not take place and regrettably intimidation has won."

Jimmy Boyce, the president of the Irish Football Association said he was shocked and disappointed by the decision which was confirmed by the club yesterday. "I thought we were beginning to see a change in attitudes. Unfortunately not," Mr Boyce said.

Sinn Fein welcomed the club's decision and said an alternative should be found so they did not find themselves in the same situation again.

nTroop levels in Northern Ireland are being cut by 400 because of the improvement in the security situation. The 16 Regiment Royal Artillery, based in Armagh is being returned to its base in Britain next week.