SPORTS Minister Carál Ní Chuilín is encouraging everyone to join in the Paralympic Flame celebrations which take place this week.
The Flame will be lit at the top of Slieve Donard on 22 August. Then, on 25 August, the Flame will be simultaneously sent out from Stormont to eight locations for events to mark the countdown to the Paralympic Games.
The Minister said: “The Paralympic Flame is an opportunity to let the world see our positive side. Unlike the Olympic Flame, the Paralympic Torch is not relayed throughout these islands but the symbolism of our celebrations on Saturday is no less important.
“We are preparing to support more brilliant athletes from Ireland in the forthcoming Paralympic Games. The flame will let us join together in an experience which celebrates sporting achievement, inspirational people and the human spirit.”
With eight days until the 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony, the Minister encouraged people across Ireland to get behind local athletes in the Games and get involved in the Paralympic Flame events taking place at venues across the North on Saturday.
“The 2012 Paralympic Flame events provide us with an amazing opportunity to back all the athletes from Ireland and showcase our inspirational Flame Ambassadors and Torchbearers. I invite communities to come along and participate in their local events.”
The celebrations begin on Saturday 25 August when a Ceremonial Cauldron is lit at Stormont at 8AM. There will be a Flame Convoy around the Greater Belfast area and Belfast’s Flame Festival will take place outside City Hall from 6.30PM.
The communities of Ballymena, Cookstown, Carrickfergus, Derry, Lisburn, Newry and Strabane will also host Flame Celebrations on the day. A Flame Ambassador from each town will travel to Stormont to collect part of the Paralympic Flame and take it back to their community. It will then form the centre piece of the celebration which will have a flavour of the local area and have the Paralympic values at its core.
At 8pm on Tuesday 28 August the Paralympic Flame will start its 92 mile journey from Stoke Mandeville to the Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
It will be carried by 580 inspirational Torchbearers from around the country, working in teams of five over a 24-hour period. Among a number of Torchbearers from the north are Gareth Burton and Niall Dempsey.
Gareth is 18 years old and lives in Coleraine with his family. He is will carry the Paralympic Flame in Westminster. Gareth was born prematurely, at the time his mum was told that he may not survive. But Gareth has challenged the medics, as an 18-year old man he is an active member of his community and campaigns tirelessly for disabled accessibility.
Niall Dempsey, 25, from Belfast, will be carrying the Flame in Southwark. Niall is a Youth Development Officer for RNIB for young people aged 12 to 25 years. As Niall has a visual impairment himself, he is a great inspiration for them and develops confidence in the young people he works with.