The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne today rejected an appeal by the Irish FA against FIFA and the Football Association of Ireland allowing Belfast-born Daniel Kearns to play for the Republic.
Kearns, 18, represented Northern Ireland at under-17 level but switched to play for the Republic this year and played in two European Under-19 Championship matches.
A statement from CAS said: ‘The CAS panel dismissed the appeal and confirmed the decision issued by the single judge of the FIFA players' status committee, which recognised that Daniel Kearns was eligible to play for the national team of the FAI."
Under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish passports can be held by Irish citizens born on either side of the border. However the IFA have been trying to prevent a talent drain of players and have been arguing that players born in Northern Ireland without family links to the south should not be allowed to play for the Republic.
Kearns, who was released by West Ham United at the end of last season, joined the likes of Manchester United's Darron Gibson and Portsmouth's Marc Wilson in switching allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic.
FIFA's players' status committee had ruled that Kearns fulfilled the requirements in that he had never represented Northern Ireland in an official competition at senior international level.
Irish FA president Raymond Kennedy reacted with dismay to the court's decision.
Kennedy said: ‘I am disappointed by today's decision but we will continue to develop our very successful and wide range of 'Football for All' and community programmes in the areas of grassroots, domestic and international football to ensure that anyone available to play for Northern Ireland will want to do so.’
The Irish FA wished Kearns ‘the best of luck’ for his future career but said they would wait to see the court's full judgement before making any further comment.
Welcoming the ruling, FAI chief executive John Delaney said: 'Today’s landmark decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport confirms the FIFA and FAI position on player eligibility. The ruling upholds the right of individual choice on this matter for players born north of the border.
'I would like to thank the many people from all parts of the island who were strongly supportive during this process, and in particular, recognise the determination of Daniel Kearns and his family to uphold his right as an Irish citizen to play for his country.'