By Rebecca Black, PA
Ireland - both the Republic and the North - is considering making a joint bid to host the opening stages of the Tour de France.
Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism and Sport, met on Wednesday with Gordon Lyons, Stormont's Economy Minister, to discuss a potential joint bid to be part of the world-famous cycle race.
Ms Martin and Mr Lyons have submitted an expression of interest in the formal bidding process to the Tour organisers.
Officials in both departments will work together to investigate the potential to host the event in either 2026 or 2027.
The Republic hosted Le Grand Depart in 1998, while Northern Ireland hosted a stage of the Giro D’Italia in 2014.
Ms Martin said: “Hosting the world’s greatest cycle race would be an exciting opportunity for the island of Ireland. I was delighted to meet Minister Lyons again during my recent trip to Belfast and to agree to express a joint interest in hosting three full stages for Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France, ideally in 2026 or 2027.
“Our shared experience in hosting major sports events, our co-operative approach in marketing the entire island of Ireland as a tourism destination, and the wonderful scenery and cead mile failte that awaits visitors to Ireland could all combine to create an amazing all-island event.
“This collaborative process has my full support and I will engage with colleagues across Government on this in the coming weeks.”
Mr Lyons said: “Securing the opening stages of the Tour de France would be a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland to feature on the world stage and add to the growing list of major sporting events that have come here in recent years.
“Major events such as this not only bring about huge economic benefits but give us a tremendous opportunity to showcase everything that is great about Northern Ireland.”