All-Ireland World Cup bid gathers pace after governments commit
Refurbished Ravenhill, Casement Park and possibly even the new Windsor Park will play a part in Ireland's bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The tournament may be nine years away but another step closer has been taken with government ministers from both sides of the border confirming that work on preparing a bid is proceeding full throttle.
An independently chaired working group, comprising both governments, both tourist boards and the IRFU will now be formed with a remit to examine how best to take the proposal forward in preparation for a formal bid being submitted in two years time.
With a dozen stadia of varying sizes required, Gaelic Games and football will almost certainly be involved in providing venues, bringing Casement and possibly Windsor Park into play along with Ravenhill.
In view of the success of last year's Belfast-hosted Police and Fire Games – and with the Giro d'Italia due in town in May – there is genuine belief that Ireland can land the RWC, with Ulster playing its part in full.
Yesterday morning in Armagh, Minister for Arts, Culture and Leisure Carál Ní Chulín, her Republic of Ireland counterpart Leo Varadkar, Northern Ireland Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster and Michael Ring, Junior Sports Minister in the Dublin government met at the North South Ministerial Council Joint Secretariat.
Afterwards they spoke as one in expressing their commitment to Ireland staging the 2023 RWC.
Sports Minister Ní Chuilín, close to succesfully delivering the £110million three stadium in Belfast, said: "This is something that the whole island will put its shoulder to to make it happen.
"We can do it; we have put on huge sporting and cultural events across this island now for a couple of years. We are building up a momentum in terms of what we have to offer, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of co-operation and in terms of seeing the value of sport and the power of sport in tourism and as an economic driver.
"It's all there, it's been done before, albeit on different scales. I think the appeal of Ireland competing against other nations to bring this to our shores is huge and it's not lost on any of us."
Minister Foster, who confirmed that the bid must be submitted by May 2016, said: "It's quite a lot of time, actually, to get the bid going. "I think that's a good thing because we want to build the momentum – both here at home and internationally as well – that we're going to do this. There will be competitors (would-be hosts) looking at 2023; we want to be the strongest bid in the race and that's why we're starting so early."
Minister Ní Chuilín interjected: "And I'm confident we will be the strongest bid."
Confirming the Stormont Executive's total support and willingness to be involved in an all-Ireland global showpiece, Minister Foster added: "Actually we'll be very excited about the prospect. We have had a number of very big events come to Northern Ireland and I think it sends out a very strong message about where we are.
"Also, from a civic pride point of view, it gives people who live here a real sense of pride in the place where they live and I think that's very important for us in particular to engender that pride.
"I think rugby has been a unifying sport and we are very pleased that we are going to put forward this bid."
The working group will report back to both governments for agreement.
Minister Ní Chuilín added: "The island of Ireland has a lot to offer the global rugby family and there would be a lot of benefits to be gained by hosting such a prestigious event.
"The Executive is investing £110million in upgrading stadia in Belfast which includes the re-development of Ravenhill. While we would have world-class venues to host the Rugby World Cup, there is a lot of work required to get us into a position to make a successful bid."