It’s not often the World Rally Championship is mentioned in the House of Commons – but Wales Rally GB’s omission from the 2021 calendar was raised by North Antrim MP Ian Paisley at Northern Ireland Questions on Wednesday.
Paisley asked the minister of state for Northern Ireland Robin Walker if he would be prepared to help fund a Belfast-based Rally GB in 2021.
Paisley said: “The United Kingdom’s involvement in next season’s World Rally Championship is currently very uncertain: nine of the 11 rounds have already been chosen and GB is not currently part of that choice.
“The WRC promoter has previously spoken about the need to rotate Rally GB into Northern Ireland, where most of the competitors wish to participate.
“Can the Secretary of State save WRC? Will the Secretary of State assist by co-funding the event with the Northern Ireland Executive during our centenary year?”
Walker replied: “The honorable gentleman is a consistent and passionate advocate of hosting a round of the World Rally Championship in Northern Ireland. We can safely say that, if it does come to Northern Ireland, he will have been a driving force.
“In the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement, the Government have already pledged up to £2billion to help the Executive to deliver on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, but I would be very happy to support the Executive to foster closer ties and better collaborative working across sectors of the UK to attract the WRC and a portfolio of other events to Northern Ireland.”
Now comes the task of lifting a couple of million out of that £2bn commitment before the final 2021 calendar is readied for ratification in October and engaging Motorsport UK and WRC Promoter in taking Britain’s WRC round to Northern Irish asphalt for the first time.
The potential for a Belfast-based Rally GB has ebbed and flowed over the past 18 months, with coronavirus thought to have taken the wind out of the sails in the race across the Irish Sea.
Paisley’s high-level support from Walker could be good news for British and Irish fans and the Democratic Unionist Party member should be congratulated for bringing the matter and the WRC to the House of Commons.
Rally GB is in the middle of a three-year agreement with Wales, but as has previously been widely reported, there is the potential for a pause in that deal and Belfast could take advantage of such a break clause in 2021.