Former race ace Eddie Irvine has branded dissident republicans who’ve brought terror back to the streets of Belfast as “clowns and idiots”.
The ex-Formula 1 star who has invested millions of pounds in businesses says the idiots won’t win.
Irvine, 47, was speaking at the launch of his acquistion of Race Ireland school at Kirkistown only hours after republicans had firebombed a sports shop in the centre of Belfast in the wake of a bomb attack on the busy Cathedral Quarter a few days earlier.
“Every country has idiots like them parading under different banners,” said Irvine.
“They are clowns who can’t be successful at anything. They won’t win but they will cause disruption and it’s really bad for Northern Ireland because that’s what you really get noticed for even though the place has moved on with a very good education system and infrastructure.”
Irvine still has his roots and family in Northern Ireland — his teenage daughter goes to school in Holywood — but he has a number of homes in Florida and in the Bahamas where he owns an island named Little Leaf Cay but which he calls Kathleen Cay after his mother.
“Yes that is kinda my home now,” he told me.
“But that is very much a personal thing. It’s not a business. I have a marina there as well which is something I am developing but it’s hard because labour there is such an issue.”
Eddie admitted that his life on the other side of the Atlantic had few drawbacks.
“It is pretty glamorous, I have to say.”
Eddie has said the proximity of the island to the States is a major bonus.
“I can be on the island two hours after leaving my house in Miami and the sand and the water are simply the best.”
Kathleen Cay is so remote at the end of a chain of islands that it doesn’t attract tourists
and Irvine said he can go for days without seeing anyone else.
He recently told a magazine called Private Islands that he’s building a number of houses on his paradise retreat on the Bahamas whose other famous residents include Eddie Murphy and Johnny Depp.
“When I visit with friends from around the world we hang out, cook, scuba dive and spearfish,” he said.
“If you want the high life, you’re in the wrong place — it’s about the simple beauty of the island. Sitting there at night watching the birds flying around is spectacular. Island living teaches you to focus on the smaller things.”
Living the dream in the Bahamas also means he’s not living what was for him the nightmare of constant media attention.
The Conlig man, who counted Baywatch Babe Pamela Anderson among his girlfriends, was never far from the headlines or the paparazzi lenses as newspapers followed every move of the playboy whose lifestyle was just as fast off the track as on it.
“I never really liked that,” he told me. “I just liked doing my own thing. So now I can just
keep a low profile and live my life the way I like to live it.”
Golfer Rory McIlroy is the ‘new’ Eddie Irvine for the tabloids.
And Eddie Irvine admitted he was a big fan of the Holywood man, though remarkably he said he had never seen him hit a shot.
“I don’t have a television on the island,” he said. “And I’ve never seen him in action, though my father says he has an amazing swing.
“I listened on the radio when he won the US Open and it was great. It’s brilliant to have someone who sets us in a good light along with Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
“It’s a shame that we’re not better at spinning the story however.”
Eddie said he was so proud of their achievements that he bought a large signed painting of the triumphant trio.
He has also turned his back on motor-racing and doesn’t miss it.
“I raced for 20 years. So it’s a case of — next.”
He said he barely followed the F1 season in the newspapers.
“I know Vettel is winning everything but I don’t know why and I don’t really care. I think the sport has lost its way especially when they stopped going to great circuits like San Marino which had history and which the fans loved.
“It’s bizarre that they now have F1 races in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. It’s all about money but what about the sport? And as for changing the points system, the whole thing is complete insanity.”
The only exception to Eddie’s rule about shunning Formula One is the Monaco Grand Prix. And that’s because his sister Sonia has an apartment there.
He revealed that he had turned down the chance to become a TV pundit.
“It never really appealed to me because you really don’t make a lot of money, even though it consumes the same amount of time as racing. I said I would do a couple of races a year but they all wanted more.
“I have no interest in giving up my weekends to head off to far flung parts of the world to talk about something that I’m not really into any more.”
Even though he loves the good life — and the heat of Florida and the Bahamas — Irvine insists he does hanker after Northern Ireland.
“I like it here. We have a lot going for us. I don’t play but look at the golf courses we have here and they are so cheap. The reason I am in the States is that the opportunities are far greater there for making money for me.
“But I do have business interests here — with Eddie Irvine Sports here in Bangor and I am also involved in Jenkins shipping in Belfast.”
The expansion of his interests here with the take-over of Race School Ireland at Kirkistown is for him a vote of confidence in Northern Ireland on a business level and on a personal level it’s a natural progression for Eddie. He was one of the first pupils of the 30 year old school when it started at the County Down track which is celebrating its 60th anniversary in business.
He’s never been tempted to get back into an F1 car.
“When I stopped racing over ten years ago, I knew I could never be as good as I was so there was no point in trying other sorts of motor sport.”
It's safe to say that I’ll never give Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton any sleepless nights. For as far as Formula One goes, I’m the pits.
So it was a racing certainty that there’d only be one winner in the showdown between Grand Prix guru Fast Eddie Irvine and the grand prat that is slow-drivin’ Ivan Little.
And so it proved last week as I took on Irvine in a fast but not so furious Formula 1 encounter. Not in Monaco or Monza. But rather at the lesser known Balloo Industrial Estate in County Down….on a simulator at the Eddie Irvine Sports complex.
I wasn’t in any oul banger in Bangor. Oh, no I was behind the wheel of a Ferrari, though a Ferrero Rocher is more my mark and it was a mismatch from the moment the flashing lights went out and my brain disengaged from my feet, leaving me pole-axed in pole position.
Ignoring all the advice Eddie had given me in a warm-up lap, I faffed and fluffed my opening lines and struggled to get off the starting grid as Irvine flashed past me in his Ferrari.
Eventually I roared off — at 30mph while Irvine looking ultra-cool in his designer shades never let me see the light of day, lapping me at 150mph over the virtual venue of the Spa circuit, home to the Belgian Grand Prix and epic races of the past.
This was not one of them. For once I got up to speed, I went off the straight and narrow, so to speak, at the places where I should have been turning. I had more crashes than the stock market; more bumps than an ante-natal class, missed more corners than Joe Hart and there was more spinning than in a party political broadcast.
Officials from Eddie’s centre politely offered me the chance to have a go at go-karting, just one of the many facilities on offer ranging from paintballing to football and snooker.
But in true journalistic fashion I made my excuses and left but on the way home a fanatical F1 friend rang to see how I’d fared in the fast lane.
Unashamedly, I told him that I was runner up to Irvine, forgetting to mention that I was second in a two horse race. And that I’d been lucky to even do that.