this is from the local Fermanagh paper two weeks ago:
After using Enniskillen as its base for the past three years, the Circuit of Ireland International Rally looks certain to leave Fermanagh in 2006.
In a controversial move that has angered and surprised many, the organisers have apparently decided to move the base of the event to the North West of the Province, with Derry and Donegal being the new likely destination for the Easter event. It was widely understood that there was an agreement in place that would have seen the second round of the Pirelli Irish Tarmac Championship remain at its Fermanagh home for 2006 and 2007, but after fierce criticism of the organising team last season a complete overhaul of their structure has led to their shock decision to shift location.
The Circuit Of Ireland Rally signed a deal to move from Bangor to Fermanagh back in 2001, but with the outbreak of Foot and Mouth that year the rally did not appear until 2003. The rally was still smarting from its smallest ever entry in 2000, but aided by its new Lakeland base it quickly recovered its popularity, with this year’s rally witnessing the largest entry in its history.
While the location of the event had drawn praise from competitors and spectators alike, the dissatisfaction expressed at the organisation of the 2005 rally could have prompted the decision to make some radical changes, and it looks as though Fermanagh will be a casualty of the shake up.
For the past three years the Easter weekend has always seen the town profit from the huge crowds attracted by Ireland’s most famous International Rally, and every year the local hotels, guest houses, restaurants, bars and shops reaped the benefits brought about by the influx of visitors. Many were hoping that there would be a similar boom next April, but it now looks as though that will not be the case.
There has still been no official confirmation of the decision and a representative of the Ulster Automobile Club said he was not aware of any decision having been made, but The Impartial Reporter has learned that barring any late U-turns, it is indeed the UAC’s intention not to return to the county when the event is staged next year.
In recent months a new company known as Circuit Of Ireland Ltd has been formed, and the representatives of that group include the rally sponsor Meteor Electrical, the Northern Ireland Events Company, and the UAC. This group are believed to have indicated that they want the rally to be centred in Londonderry, with some of the stages crossing the Donegal border into the Inishowen Peninsula.
The demise of the Circuit of Ireland from the local sporting calendar will undoubtedly be a loss to the county, but there still remains a brightly shining beacon on the rallying horizon.
The new Rally Ireland event has the potential to grow into something much bigger than anything witnessed in the past three years, and when the event returns in March it will be well on its way to dwarfing any of the Irish Tarmac Championship rounds.
If it goes on to become a round of the World Rally Championship in 2007 then rallying in Fermanagh will have been taken to a whole new level.