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Casement Park delays 'give bad impression' over Rugby World Cup bid

Published 12/01/2016

Plans for Casement Park have been effectively stalled since the High Court overturned a decision to approve a 38,000-capacity stadium in 2014
Plans for Casement Park have been effectively stalled since the High Court overturned a decision to approve a 38,000-capacity stadium in 2014

Delays to the redevelopment of Casement Park give a bad 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 McAllister, who said hosting the global event would be a "brilliant spectacle for the entire island".

He said: "The ongoing delay and circumstances surrounding Casement Park creates a fairly bad optic and a poor background for those putting together the all-island bid for the Rugby World Cup."

Revisiting the contentious issue during her first Question Time of 2016, Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin offered assurances that a new facility would be built.

She said: "I will also give assurance that this Executive, which has a Programme for Government commitment, will do (everything) to ensure that Casement Park is redeveloped, but more importantly that the people in west Belfast who are waiting on the redevelopment of Casement Park will get Casement Park.

"It just needs to happen.

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

In 2014 residents living close to Casement Park won a legal challenge to block redevelopment plans.

Mr Justice Mark Horner identified a number of serious flaws in the decision to give the proposal the green light 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 Stormont scrutiny committee and an inquiry was subsequently launched.

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

She added: "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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