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Rugby World Cup: New Casement Park will capture the world

NI Executive ups the ante to land rugby showpiece

By Steven Beacom

Published 19/01/2016

On the ball: First Minister Arlene Foster with Brian O’Driscoll and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
On the ball: First Minister Arlene Foster with Brian O’Driscoll and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
World party: Stuart Olding, First Minister Arlene Foster, Brian O’Driscoll RWC 2023 Bid Ambassador, Iain Henderson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Tommy Bowe at the Kingspan Stadium

The Northern Ireland Executive are planning to intensify their efforts to bring the 2023 Rugby World Cup to the island and believe a redeveloped Casement Park can swing next year's vote in Ireland's favour.

First Minister, Arlene Foster MLA, and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA attended Ulster's Kingspan stadium yesterday to offer their full backing to Ireland's Rugby World Cup 2023 bid Board, who were meeting in Belfast.

Should Ireland win the bid against France, Italy and South Africa, matches will take place in the north and south.

The new Casement Park, earmarked to stage games in 2023, is seen as fundamental to Irish success in the process but the reconstruction of the GAA stadium has been delayed due to a number of issues.

The powers that be at Stormont are determined to move the project forward.

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, made a point of stating: "A redeveloped Casement Park is a Programme for Government commitment and integral to the bid for 2023. I remain committed to ensuring that we deliver on that commitment and I am confident we will do so."

Work on the new 38,000-capacity Casement had been due to start in early 2015 but planning permission was overturned in late 2014.

Since then there has been controversy relating to emergency exits and local residents have opposed the stadium.

The Northern Ireland Executive, in conjunction with the GAA, feel this will be the year that obstacles can be overcome and work will begin.

For First Minister Foster, yesterday’s trip to the Kingspan Stadium was her first sporting engagement since taking on her new role.

The Fermanagh lady enjoyed throwing a rugby ball around with Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll, who is on the Bid Board, and was keen to emphasise how Northern Ireland’s ability to stage major events can boost the World Cup chances.

She said: “The Northern Ireland Executive is fully committed to providing all the necessary support required by the Bid Team to ensure  the delivery of a compelling, world class bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“We already have significant experience of hosting major international sporting events here in Northern Ireland including the Giro d’Italia and the Irish Open Golf Championship, with Royal Portrush hosting the greatest tournament in world golf, The Open Championship, in 2019.

“Hosting key events such as these clearly showcases Northern Ireland on the global stage as a destination that can successfully deliver major international sporting events and helps display full confidence for a successful Rugby World Cup in 2023.”

Deputy First Minister McGuinness said: “A Rugby World Cup in Ireland would prove to be a hugely attractive destination for rugby supporters from throughout the world and we would relish the opportunity to welcome them to one of the world’s major sports gatherings, The Rugby World Cup, in 2023. I am confident, with the co-operation already in evidence between both governments, sporting bodies and the public, Ireland would deliver a hugely successful tournament.

“We must all now go the extra mile to bring this sporting spectacle to Ireland in 2023.”

The IRFU has already secured the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup for Ireland, with the semi-finals and the final to be held at Kingspan Stadium and both the Northern Ireland and Republic governments will work together in the year ahead with the IRFU to ensure an even bigger tournament arrives on these shores.

Belfast Telegraph

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