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Funding boost set to provide better safety for NW200 fans

By Kylie Noble

Published 18/10/2016

From left, rider John McGuinness, Ian Paisley MP, North West 200 race director Mervyn Whyte, First Minister Arlene Foster, Communities Minister Paul Givan, and riders Lee Johnston and Steve Plater announce the £124,000 funding package at the front of Parliament Buildings, Stormont
From left, rider John McGuinness, Ian Paisley MP, North West 200 race director Mervyn Whyte, First Minister Arlene Foster, Communities Minister Paul Givan, and riders Lee Johnston and Steve Plater announce the £124,000 funding package at the front of Parliament Buildings, Stormont

A £124,000 cash injection has been announced to improve safety at Northern Ireland's biggest sporting event.

The funding will benefit riders and spectators at the North West 200.

Earlier this year Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was killed in a high-speed crash.

The 20-year-old was the fifth rider to lose his life in nine years at the NW200.

Announcing the funding yesterday, Sports Minister Paul Givan said: "This is the biggest single investment we have made as a government into the North West 200."

Mr Givan was joined by First Minister Arlene Foster and various other elected representatives as he announced the investment below the steps of Stormont,

Current North West 200 safety co-ordinator and former rider Steve Plater, and current riders John McGuinness and Lee Johnston, were also present.

The funding will allow more barriers to be placed around the track and a new warning light statement.

Mr Givan had been urged to provide extra safety support by North Antrim MP Ian Paisley.

Meetings were first held in August, with input from the North West and Coleraine and District Motorcycle Club, which organises the NW200.

Mr Paisley said: "I'm delighted today that we've got a government that actually listens. I'm delighted that when this case was put to them, about road safety, about keeping this tremendous window of Northern Ireland sport in the shop window and there for everyone to see, the government listened to this, and we've had this investment into road safety."

Mr Givan explained that some safety measures will be movable.

"Some of the investment into the North West is portable, so you will be able to take the barriers to be used on some of the other tracks as well," he added.

"When incidents do happen in motorsport, obviously it's a dangerous sport, it brings into sharp focus the sustainability of the sport and we want it to continue, and that's why we've made this investment today."

Since the NW200 started in April 1929, 17 riders have lost their lives on the tracks.

Lee Johnston, a motorcyclist from Maguiresbridge, said safety was paramount.

"At the end of the day, it's our neck that is on the line," he added.

"Obviously the fans are really important to us as well - without the fans there is no money that comes through the gate, so the event can't run.

"At the end of the day, we race for the enjoyment of the fans.

"The most important thing is the fans' safety and the riders' safety so with this increased funding, there's air fences, there's kerb protectors and protection for the fans in different area. It's massively important.

"The scale of the event is massive, it's probably the largest sporting event in Northern Ireland so it can't really be ignored.

"If they want to keep it, health and safety is more important."

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