Tour de France bid should be revived to build on momentum of Casement Park and hosting Euro 2028 - The Irish News view

We want a Stormont executive that is ambitious and forward looking

The annual Tour de France is the world's most famous cycle race and Ireland is hoping to host its opening stage in 2026 or 2027. Picture by Thibault Camus/AP
The Tour de France is the world's most famous cycle race. Stormont economy minister Conor Murphy wants an all-Ireland bid to host Le Tour's opening stage

We want the Stormont executive to be ambitious and forward looking, to develop and implement policies which not only enrich all our lives but which also promote this homeplace on the world stage.

In this spirit, economy minister Conor Murphy’s announcement that he wants to revive plans for an all-Ireland leg of the Tour de France is both welcome and enormously exciting.

Stormont officials and their counterparts in the Republic had been discussing a joint bid to host the Grand Départ, the showpiece opening stage of the race, but these ran out of road last summer, yet another victim of the DUP’s bungalow-brained boycott of devolution.

Now that power-sharing is back, Mr Murphy has wasted little time in asking for that dialogue to be reopened.

He accepts that there will be a cost involved in bidding for one of world sport’s most prestigious events. At a time when “we are very, very challenged financially in terms of the funding available to the executive”, Mr Murphy correctly says that investment will have to be “weighed against the benefits”.

These ought to be significant. We have a template of sorts already. The Grande Partenza, the opening stage of another of cycling’s Grand Tours, the Giro D’Italia, was a cross-border affair in 2014.

That was hugely successful and widely acclaimed. Speaking in the Assembly on Monday, Mr Murphy noted that the Grande Partenza had generated “around £2.5 million in economic activity, £12.7m in tourism impact and around 227,000 visitors”.

Cartoon of Conor Murphy cycling
Conor Murphy (Ian Knox)

What those figures can’t fully capture is the feel-good factor of the buzz around an event which showcased our wonderful scenery and people to a global audience.

In this respect, securing Le Tour would offer a similar opportunity to positively promote Northern Ireland as that offered by the Euro 2028 football tournament.

Our participation in that hinges on whether Casement Park will be funded and built in time. Uefa officials are in Belfast this week and they will need urgent assurances that the wrangling around the stadium will be resolved so that Casement can host the five matches allocated to it.

Building momentum is essential; the more of these world class events we bid for and take part in, the more likely we are to host others. It’s a virtuous circle.

It’s outward-looking and horizon-lifting, too. “All these events would tend to have a longer-lasting economic, economically beneficial outcome and certainly in terms of tourism, which is a growing market for us and the key part of our industry here,” says Mr Murphy.

The north holds enormous untapped potential. We hope that this new executive will have the energy and foresight to put us firmly in the peloton of modern, peaceable and confident societies.