NORTHERN Ireland’s deputy first minister has backed Black Cats star James McClean after he received death threats on Twitter.
Martin McGuinness has told critics to lay off the Sunderland AFC winger after he was sent messages threatening to have him shot and containing sectarian abuse.
It followed a decision by the former Northern Ireland U-21 footballer to play for the Republic of Ireland at the Euro 2012 finals next month.
“If a young fella decides to opt for the North or the South, I don’t think anyone should interfere politically with their choices,” said the politician, who was born in the same city as the star.
“If they believe their career is best served by whatever team they play for, we should support them.
“Why should we be down on young people who take a decision to play for the North or South? We should admire what they are doing and let them get on with it.”
Mr McGuinness, who would prefer to see an all-Ireland football team, said that he sees the Derry-born player as a modern day hero.
McClean was recently named by national manager Giovanni Trapattoni in the squad.
He has been subjected to abuse from unhappy Northern Ireland fans since he declared for the Republic, having been brought through the ranks by the Irish FA.
The 23-year-old has previously only been capped once at senior level for the Republic as a substitute.
But after a meteoric rise on Wearside, he was tipped for Euro 2012 success by Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill, who had a career as a Northern Ireland international.
McClean took to Twitter to share his joy regarding the squad selection.
He said: “Absolutely honoured and couldn’t be happier to have been called up to represent my country at the euros. No better feelin!”
However, among the messages of congratulations, were posts including threats to kill and sectarian abuse.
One Twitter user, with the account ‘RobbieLittle@PotKettleBlack3’, posted abusive name-calling and also said: “i’ll make sure you get shot when you set foot back into God’s country”.
The message has been deleted and McClean is no longer on Twitter.
Black Cats chief executive Margaret Byrne said: “Any incidents of this nature are treated with the utmost seriousness and the club is looking into this matter.”
Northumbria Police confirmed they have received no complaint, while a spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: “If we receive information that a person’s life may be at risk, we will inform them accordingly.”