THE management of the Easter Stages Rally, which was due to get underway in Lisburn and finish in Ballynahinch this weekend, have been forced to cancel the event.
The decision has been made in light of the hardship being faced by residents in the area, and the heavy snow.
The rally was to use a number of roads in the Dromara Hills, around Slieve Croob, which are buried under snowdrifts of up to 12 feet. Clearing efforts are expected to make some progress by the weekend, but the forecast of continued low temperatures - in the midst of the ongoing difficulties being experienced by residents and farmers of the area - have caused organisers to take the decision.
Bobby Willis, spokesman for the event, said: “People in the area, particularly farmers, are facing critical issues at the moment, including the loss and death of livestock. Therefore, the management team has decided unanimously that it is inappropriate for the rally to continue.
“As well as conveying sensitivity to people in the area at this time of hardship, our fear is also that the road closures that are necessary for the rally to run, may further hamper what has become crucial access in the area. The rally could also put additional pressure on emergency services, which are already stretched.”
He added: “We are currently exploring alternatives to run the rally at a later date but, whilst we have had a huge setback, our sights are now firmly set on the Circuit of Ireland 2014 and returning the European Rally Championship to Northern Ireland.”
The one-day Triton Easter Stages Rally was set to replace the Circuit of Ireland Rally in 2013, which was postponed due to insufficient funding.
A huge number of entries have been received for the event, which was to feature as round two of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and round three of the Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship.
“We are all disappointed and for sure the competitors will be too,” said Bobby, “but we must remember that this is a sport, and right now there are more pressing issues in the area. The farmers and residents are having a terrible time and we should definitely be thinking of them.
“We would like to thank everyone who has assisted and supported the rally to date. Over the next week we will have a clearer vision of where we go from here and we will let everyone know.”
Minister for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, was due to attend a press event at the Millbrook Lodge, Ballynahinch, on Thursday March 28 for the unveiling of the studio from which the rally’s innovative internet channel, Circuitofireland.tv, was to broadcast. This has also been cancelled. All rally competitors, staff, marshals, sponsors, and event partners are now being contacted, and a full announcement of the future plans will be made in due course.