String of events to mark Olympics
Northern Ireland events linked to this year's London Olympics could involve up to half a million people, the Culture Minister has claimed.
Caral Ni Chuilin pointed to a range of sports, cultural and music events in the pipeline, plus the arrival of the Olympic flame, before it also visits Dublin.
Over recent years there have been complaints that local government was slow to capitalise on the forthcoming Games, but the minister set out her ambitious prediction for the numbers that could benefit from planned events.
Chinese gymnasts, Australian boxers and Ireland's Paralympian team will train in Northern Ireland, while cultural highlights include the Land Of Giants, a dance and music extravaganza which is expected to draw an audience of 20,000 to Belfast's docks. And while large numbers of people will be involved in the tour of the Olympic torch, officials said a string of other events include a major art installation around the Giant's Causeway.
The minister said: "Looking forward to 2012 we have the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and I am determined to ensure that the benefits of this event come to people in the north of Ireland. The arrival of the torch, which is travelling across Ireland, provides a chance for us all to share in the spirit of the Olympics.
"I estimate that over half a million people will be involved in some aspect of the Olympics, with 35,000 young people already engaged with some level of sport connected to 2012. We have also secured three Olympic Pre-Games Training Camps in 2011 and to date we have hosted three qualifying tournaments." Ms Ni Chuilin added: "In the spirit of these games the arts are important too.
"Over 300,000 people have been inspired to participate in more than 350 arts activities in the Cultural Olympiad since 2008 and, as we look forward to the Games, there will be over 200,000 opportunities for people to celebrate our cultural place in the world in our Festival for the Olympic Games across the north of Ireland, including our largest ever outdoor arts spectacle - Land of Giants."
The minister said the Olympic torch will visit all 26 council districts, which she said would be part of a curtain-raiser for the Olympics, helping to "showcase the best of our people, communities, landscape and iconic places literally across the world". Live sites have been set up in Belfast and Londonderry where the public can watch the games unfold on big screens. Major concerts planned for both cities will also, said the minister, coincide with the wider attempts to link the arts to the Games.
Ms Ni Chuilin said her department had introduced a series of successful initiatives in 2011, while culture and sport helped lift spirits in a time of recession and economic pressure. The minister also promised plans to improve boxing facilities, arguing that the sport offered opportunities to young people across the religious divide.
Ms Ni Chuilin also pointed to the continuing success of her Irish language programme, Liofa 2015. "This campaign is aimed at broadening the appeal of the language and an initial target was set to get 1,000 people on board. In just 15 weeks we exceeded this target. The Irish language has been on a journey and today its appeal is broader in the north than it has ever been."