Civil Service boss lines out for Rugby World Cup bid in absence of ministers
The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service is to represent the province at a London event which will decide the venue for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Top civil servant David Sterling will join political and sporting figures - including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, former Irish Labour Minister and Ireland player Dick Spring and Irish Women's rugby captain Niamh Briggs - at the Kensington event today to make their pitch to bring the prestigious international tournament to Ireland for the first time.
Mr Sterling will represent the Northern Ireland interest in the bid, given the current lack of a First or deputy First Minister at Stormont.
He was appointed Head of the NI Civil Service in June of this year.
The bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup has been submitted by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), which operates on an all-island basis, as it pre-dates partition.
It is understood that among the sporting venues in Northern Ireland which will be made available should the bid be successful are Ulster Rugby's Kingspan Stadium, Casement Park in Belfast, and Celtic Park in Londonderry - the latter two being GAA grounds.
Writing in the Sunday Independent, the Irish Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, said: "The all-Ireland dimension is key to our success. Irish Rugby is an all-Ireland game.
"Rugby itself is proving a unifying force, not in any territorial sense, but it is helping to bury happily vanishing old enmities.
"The GAA has played a noble role in opening its gates to the IRFU and in its unswerving support of the campaign to bring the World Cup contest to Ireland, North and South."
If today's IRFU bid is successful, it's expected that the tournament will bring almost half a million international visitors to the island to watch the 48 games, injecting £1.3bn into the island's economies.
Although the IRFU bid faces stiff competition from rugby heavyweights like France and South Africa, Mr Ross is optimistic.
"We are quietly hopeful," he said. "We have the infrastructure. We have the stadia. We have the services.
"We know a win will be good for this island for many years to come."