Minister's praise for Irish role in world rally event
Ireland's foray into the World Rally Championship came to a successful conclusion yesterday when Frenchman Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena took the top honours.
The pair tackled the blustery weather conditions with gusto to beat the cream of the international rally circuit in the first world rally event to be held in the Emerald Isle.
Thousands of spectators gathered in Sligo yesterday to watch the likes of Loeb, Marcus Gronholm, Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson battle it out for the Irish stage, which had begun on Thursday evening at Stormont.
Last week around 10,000 fans descended into the grounds of the Stormont estate - which had been transformed into a 2km rally track with a specially designed bridge - for the opening of the event.
And around 120 million more people around the world tuned in on their TVs to watch the race, which worked its way from Belfast through the border regions to Sligo for the finish.
The event has been applauded by Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie, who presented the trophy to the winners in Sligo yesterday with Irish agriculture, fisheries and food minister, Mary Coughlan.
"The truth is though, that everyone has been a winner here today. The spectacle that these sportsmen have delivered for the tens of thousands of spectators locally and the millions watching worldwide has been absolutely tremendous," she said.
She said it was a symbol of the value of north/south co-operation and had yielded a tourism dividend.
"This has been a major boost for sport in Northern Ireland and the border region," she said.
"I applaud the hard work and vision by all concerned, in ensuring that the event took place, especially the thousands of volunteers, plus Rally Ireland.
"Most of all, I applaud the drivers, for giving such sheer excitement to millions of spectators. It is an honour and a privilege to present the winning laurels and trophy today."