Transcript from the Offiicial Report (Hansard)
Mr Speaker: Mr Robin Swann has been given leave to make a statement on the death of a Northern Ireland fan in Nice, which fulfils the criteria set out in Standing Order 24. If other Members wish to be called, they should rise in their place and continue to do so. All Members will have up to three minutes to speak on the subject. I remind Members that I will not take any points of order until this item has been finalised.
Mr Swann: It is with sadness that I make this statement this morning. Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal. We were all in shock and sadness this morning when we heard of the death of a Northern Ireland fan in Nice, young Darren Rodgers who was 24 years old. He was a young man who went, like many others, to France to support his team and his country at the football. He was a young man whose life was in front of him but has been tragically cut short.
The town of Ballymena is numb due to the news that is slowly filtering out, and Northern Ireland fans in France are trying to understand the loss of one of their own. It puts things into perspective. I ask the fans who are out there, and those intending to go, to look after one another and themselves and to stay safe. The thoughts of the House, as with the other matter of the day, are with Darren’s family and friends as they come to terms with the loss of a friend and a loved one.
Darren’s is the second fatality to occur in my constituency this morning. There has also been a death from a road traffic accident in Ballymoney. There will be two homes this evening in North Antrim that will have empty chairs and it is right and proper that we reflect on that and think of those families at this time.
Mr Storey: In life we are in the midst of death. How sad it is for Members of the House to have to come again and be reminded that there is but a step between us and death. None of us know, when we rise in the morning, who it is that will prepare our body for the shroud. When Darren went to France, none of us knew or thought that the celebrations that we would have as a nation would be tempered with such sadness.
We extend our sincere sympathy to his family, friends and his community. As with the families in Orlando and families across the globe who, because of a variety of issues and problems, face death. It is good for us all to take a moment in the Chamber and remember that we are all mortal and that there will come a day when each of us will pass from this scene of time to eternity. Where is our comfort in the midst of sorrow? The psalmist David penned it well when he wrote:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
It is sad that there are those who believe that death — the taking of innocent life — is sometimes justifiable, whether it is in the sick mind of someone filled with the hatred of his cause under the banner of religion, such as we saw in Orlando, or for some political cause. This little country of ours has seen too many funerals, too many sad days. I trust that, as we move forward as a society, the one thing that we can do collectively in this House is stand together to say that there should never, ever again be any justification for death.
I say to Darren’s family and the wider football community, and to Superintendent Goddard from the PSNI, who is there at this time, that our thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Mr McCartney: Ar son Shinn Féin, ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clann Darren Rodgers, a fuair bás aréir. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I offer our sincere sympathies to the family of Darren Rodgers, who died last night in a tragic accident in Nice, in France, in what was obviously a time of great joy, a festival of football. I know that Paul Frew knew the man personally and that he played for Braid United, so he was obviously a passionate soccer player and, indeed, soccer fan.
At a time of great joy, to have this type of tragedy visited upon himself and his wider family, our thoughts and prayers are very much with them. I hope that there is some consolation in whatever efforts can be made to ensure the safe and speedy return of the body because, sometimes in these tragedies, it can take a long time for people to be repatriated. I hope that his family can get a speedy return and have some solace in what are tragic times for them and the community in north Antrim.
Ms Hanna: I would like to associate our party with the comments of others and add our sincere condolences to this young man’s family and, as others have said, to the wider footballing family.
It was obviously a trip of a lifetime. He probably saved up for it, and the memories would have sustained him and his mates for years to come. It is devastating that an accident of this nature has happened. They will take a long time to get over it, particularly at that formative age. I hope that they look after one another in the coming weeks, during the rest of the trip and in the years to come.
I am no footballing expert but, like a lot of people, I have been so encouraged by the positivity of fans of both the teams on this island, in particular how they have related to each other and to other teams as well. They know that, other than people who obsess about the politics of football, it is about people getting together, using their best endeavours, going out and putting on a show for the benefit and enjoyment of the people who watch.
I had my first trip to Windsor Park a couple of weeks ago to watch Northern Ireland in their last match before heading off. I was very taken by the positivity and warmth of that fan base, of which Darren would have been one, and he was probably there. We send our deepest condolences to his family and to all his friends as they come to terms with this.
Mr Ford: On behalf of the Alliance Party, I also extend our condolences to the family of Darren Rodgers. It was a matter of great shock and sadness for those who thought that, this weekend, we could celebrate the result of a rugby match in South Africa and at least a creditable performance on the football field in Nice, and to then hear that there are things much more important than sporting achievement, which will have deeply affected not just a family but a circle of friends.
As was said, Darren was not just a football fan but a football participant who enriched the life of Braid United. By the remarks already on social media, which refer to him as a true gentleman who contributed a great deal, he was clearly well respected. I understand that the green and white army will pay tribute to him at the Ukraine match. That is appropriate, but it is also appropriate that, in this place, we remember his friends and family at this time.
I suppose that it is particularly disappointing after all the positivity that surrounded the match. The fact is that it is not always the case that, at football matches, supporters of the two teams can go to a match together, can come away from it together and can celebrate together in a constructive and positive relationship, and that perhaps makes it even more poignant that there was a tragic end to that night for one particular individual. We can assure the family, the friends and the playing colleagues of Darren Rodgers that he will be in the thoughts and the prayers of all of us at this time.
Mr Allister: I thank Mr Swann for bringing this matter to the House, and I join in expressing condolences to the family of this young constituent. It is a reminder of how quickly joy can turn to sorrow, and none of us anticipated that we would be standing here today speaking in these terms about the joyous visit of so many to France. The football fraternity are a very close fraternity, and their enthusiasm knows no bounds. No doubt they all set off to France with unbounded enthusiasm and joy, and, today, many are devastated. One of my colleagues, Alderman McDonald of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, is very much involved in the football fraternity and was with Darren yesterday. He was talking to him, and little did he or anyone think that today we would be mourning his passing.
I join with those who have made an appeal to the authorities to make sure that there is speedy return of the body. We do not want this tragedy compounded by delays in that regard. The family in Ballymena who are so grieving today need to know that all possible is being done to help. Our thoughts also need to be with the football fraternity, over whom this dark cloud now rests in the rest of this campaign, because it will be a difficult time, while they seek to continue to enjoy themselves, to realise that one who was with them is no longer with them. Therefore, no matter what way you look at this, this is a profound tragedy in which we commit to our thoughts and prayers all who are affected by it.
Mr Speaker: I thank Members for that.