The British government says it is “well aware” of proposals to relocate the UK round of the FIA World Rally Championship to Northern Ireland next summer.

The Minister of State for Northern Ireland told the House of Commons this morning his cabinet colleagues are happy to make the idea “a reality” if the numbers stack up.

Conor Burns MP made the comments following a question from North Antrim MP Ian Paisley who, along with Rally Northern Ireland promoter Bobby Willis, has been campaigning hard to see the series return here for the first time since 2009.

On that occasion, nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb won the cross-border Rally Ireland event just as he and Citroen Racing team-mate Daniel Elena had done so two years earlier.

Mr Paisley asked: “The Minister will know that sport is an ecomonic driver and he will also know of the World Rally Championship bid to take place in Northern Ireland next year.

“What encouragement can the Minister – and the Northern Ireland Office – give to ensure that is a successful, proactive event that will lead to spin-offs in job creation?”

In his response, Minister Burns acknowledged the efforts Mr Paisley has gone to in the last three years to argue Northern Ireland’s case to host the World Rally Championship.

“The Honorable gentleman has been a huge champion of this project and we are very well aware of the proposals that are being worked up. I understand that the Executive and Tourism NI are looking at them,” said Minister Burns.

“What I would say to the Honourable gentleman is that if they can come forward with proposals that will work, they will find a willing partner in the Northern Ireland Office.

“I won’t commit to how many wheels – or what part of the vehicle we will pay for – but we will step up to make this project a reality,” he added.

Earlier this month, Toyota Gazoo Racing driver Elfyn Evans warned of the implications that could follow if the UK is dropped from the competition next year. 12 of the 13 slots on the 2022 calendar have already been handed out, with the August date currently ‘TBC’.

However, Mr Paisley and Mr Willis remain confident a deal can be struck with the relevant government bodies to safeguard the UK’s place in rallying’s top division.

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