Nick Royle (Times Ireland)
Angus Fraser, the Middlesex director of cricket, has backed plans to classify Ireland internationals as overseas players in English domestic cricket from 2019.
The England and Wales Cricket Board previously viewed Ireland internationals as de facto homegrown players, but will now treat them as overseas players following Ireland's promotion to Full Member and Test status in June 2017.
From September 2019, even Ireland internationals with UK passports will be categorised as overseas players, a move which will drastically reduce their chances of securing a county contract.
English county sides are allowed only one overseas player in championship and 50-over matches, and two in the Twenty20 Blast competition. The ruling means Irish players will have to give up their county contracts and move home if they want to play international cricket for Ireland.
Cricket Ireland, Irish cricket's governing body, say they are comfortable with the ECB regulations, and hope the return of their England-based internationals will boost their own domestic inter-provincial competition.
However, many in Irish cricket are less sanguine, and believe talented young Irish-born players will continue to sign for English counties to avail of their more established development programmes, and superior facilities.
Middlesex in particular has been a traditional finishing school for Irish cricketers, with Ed Joyce, Andrew Balbirnie, Paul Stirling and the Dublin-born England white-ball captain Eoin Morgan all graduates of the county's academy.
Fraser accepts Irish players face a difficult choice from 2019, but says the ECB are right to insist Ireland face the same regulations as other Full Member countries.
“You can't have your cake and eat it, you are either an international side or you are not,” Fraser, who played 46 Tests and 42 one-day internationals for England between 1989 and 1999, said.
“And if you are an international side, why should you be treated differently to Zimbabwe or the West Indies?
“I know some of the Ireland players have UK passports, but you can't have different rulings for different players.
“There has to be a clean divide.”
Fraser is unsure whether Stirling, Ireland's 2017 Player of the Year, will choose to stay at Middlesex after the 2019 season or return home to play for Ireland.
Stirling, 27, has played for Middlesex since 2009 and is settled in London, but is unlikely to be offered a contract as an overseas player from 2020.
“For Middlesex over the next two years, we carry on as normal,” Fraser continued.
“It is only in 2020 that things obviously change.
“We will chat next year to get a feel of where he is at, how things are going and where he might go.
“But it will affect our recruitment to some extent if he continues playing for Ireland, and he is not available for our Championship and 50-over games as anything other than an overseas player.”
The Ireland selectors will announce their team for next week's historic first Test match against Pakistan this Friday.
Ireland head coach Graham Ford has no new injury worries ahead of the five-day game in Malahide, which starts on Friday, 11 May.
Captain William Porterfield and Ed Joyce have both recovered from the knee injuries they suffered during Ireland's unsuccessful World Cup Qualifier campaign in Zimbabwe in March, and will be fit to face Sarfraz Ahmed's side.