Bid to ease bike race scheduling
A proposed law change to allow more scheduling flexibility for motorcycle road races in Northern Ireland has been put on a fast track through Stormont.
The potential amendment to legislation is aimed at preventing another race having to be abandoned outright due to the weather.
Racing at the showpiece North West 200 has been called off in two of the last three years due to heavy rain. The law as it stands does not allow organisers who need to apply in advance for required road closures to restage the event in the following days.
Regional development minister Danny Kennedy had asked MLAs to forgo some of the traditional Assembly scrutiny stages to grant the law change accelerated passage.
Mr Kennedy said the move was needed to get the flexibility introduced ahead of next year's racing schedule.
"Once dates have been approved, they are cast in stone, as the existing legislation does not provide any flexibility to alter them," he said of the current law.
"Consequently, where there is torrential rain that renders racing treacherous, such as was experienced at this year's North West 200, race promoters have only one option, which is to cancel the event."
Urging MLAs to grant accelerated passage, he said not to do so would mean the law would not be changed in time for the 2014 race programme.
"Consequently, in the event of further race cancellations occurring as a result of bad weather, major sporting events such as the North West 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix could be placed in jeopardy," he said.
"I understand from one of the race promoters that a major sponsor may reconsider its support if more cannot be done to ensure that racing takes place.
"Road racing events have real value and are an asset that contributes not only to local economies but to Northern Ireland as a whole, through direct spend and the positive international media coverage arising from them. It would be a very poor reflection on the functioning of both the Executive and the Assembly if we did not move quickly to address the potential risk to these truly unique sporting events."
While the majority of nationalist and unionist MLAs voted for Mr Kennedy's request, there was not universal support.
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister said he had concerns on the potential impact on churchgoers if the North West was moved from a Saturday to Sunday and said it should be subject to full scrutiny.
He noted there were four churches on the route of the North West 200.
"However, it is not just about churches; it is about the rights of the entire churchgoing community that lives on the North West circuit," he added.
"Many churchgoers do not attend those four churches but, to get to their church of choice, they must travel the public roads, which means that, if Sunday is a contingency day, they are also placed at a disadvantage."