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Belfast's Casement Park delays 'hit 2023 Rugby World Cup plans'

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 13/01/2016

Concerns: John McCallister
Concerns: John McCallister

Delays to the redevelopment of Casement Park give a poor impression to the organisers of Ireland's Rugby World Cup bid, MLAs have heard.

Plans for the west Belfast site - a proposed venue for some 2023 fixtures - have been effectively stalled since the High Court overturned a decision to approve a 38,000-capacity stadium in 2014.

Concerns were raised in the Assembly by independent MLA John McCallister, who said hosting the global event would be a "brilliant spectacle for the entire island".

He added: "The delay creates a fairly bad optic and a poor background for those putting together the all-island bid."

Revisiting the contentious issue during her first question time of 2016, Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin offered assurances that a new stadium would be built.

She said: "I will also give assurance that this Executive will do (everything) to ensure that Casement Park is redeveloped. It just needs to happen.

"It is inconceivable that GAA games will not have a facility that is fit for purpose on my watch, or indeed on anybody's watch."

In 2014 residents living near the ground won a legal challenge to block redevelopment.

Mr Justice Mark Horner identified serious flaws in the decision to green-light the proposal and said the Environment Minister had acted unlawfully in granting planning permission.

Later, the project was plunged deeper into controversy when a safety expert claimed he had been pressured by Government officials into approving plans despite fears that the new ground could not be emptied safely in an emergency.

The minister said she was unaware of the concerns before they were raised at a committee.

Ms Ni Chuilin has urged all parties involved with Casement Park to be open-minded and to adopt a "can-do attitude".

She said: "I am fully aware that, in relation to the Rugby World Cup 2023 bid, Casement Park is an integral part of those plans.

"I have met and I know the GAA have met with rugby across the island to not only give updates in relation to the ongoing situation with Casement Park, but also to ensure and give people assurance that everything that can be done has been done and will be done."

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