Senior Coroner blasts Irish road racing safety

'The question must be asked whether it is acceptable in the 21st century to have motorcycle races on public roads?'

THE FUTURE of road racing in Northern Ireland could be in jeopardy after a senior coroner questioned its safety in a damning letter sent to the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL).

In his letter, John Leckey questions whether the sport is still “acceptable” given the difficulty of ensuring spectator safety. Leckey's letter also highlights the unpredictable nature of mechanical failures in road racing, and its direct impact on spectators.

“The question must be asked whether it is acceptable in the 21st century to have motorcycle races on public roads?” wrote Leckey.

The Coroner’s letter continued: “I am anxious that as much as possible should be done to reduce the risk of any misfortune occurring to anyone whether competing, assisting or spectating. Many children attend such events.

“I recognise that if it were not for the efforts and enthusiasm of unpaid volunteers none of these events would happen. I am advised that Motorcycle Clubs have limited financial means and in the case of the Tandragee 100 the race organisers did not consider obtaining professional advice in relation to the construction and layout of the chicane.

"However, this letter is not a plea on behalf of motorcycle clubs for funding to assist in staging these events but rather a flagging up of my real concerns in relation to the adequacy of present safety precautions at circuits and my desire that everything possible should be done to reduce the risks of participating in and attending what is recognised to be a dangerous sport.”

But further inspection of Leckey's letter, unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act, by The Befast Telegraph, shows that spectator safety is his major cause for concern:

“It should not be forgotten that whilst many racing teams and their riders are professional with large budgets, the organisers are amateurs, albeit keen enthusiasts. My principal concern, however is how spectator safety can be ensured when spectators are allowed to be positioned so close to the racing.”

A DCAL spokesman said: “The department recognises that roadracing is part of the sporting and cultural fabric of Northern Ireland. There is an expectation that event promoters and the governing bodies will take their responsibilities seriously to ensure events are as safe as possible for both spectators and competitors.

“Roadracing events, such as the NW200 and the Ulster Grand Prix are strategic events for both the sport and tourism industries in Northern Ireland.

“Funding alone will not resolve all the safety issues. Responsibility for health and safety at motorsport events is a matter in the first instance for the promoters of the events and governing bodies.”

Is spectator safety adequate at road racing events? Would you take your kids to watch one?