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Committee 'in a quandary' over safety issues at Casement Park

Published 04/02/2016

The GAA's efforts to develop Casement Park in west Belfast have been mired in controversy
The GAA's efforts to develop Casement Park in west Belfast have been mired in controversy

An Assembly inquiry into safety issues at a redeveloped Casement Park is in a "quandary" over conflicting evidence, MLAs have heard.

Stormont's Culture Arts and Leisure Committee is looking into issues around emergency exiting plans, including their impact on stadium capacity at the proposed new stadium.

But Democratic Unionist MLA William Humphrey claimed the committee was in a difficult position after evidence from minister Caral Ni Chuilin was last week contradicted by a former chairman of Sport NI.

He said: "What is this committee to do? You expect people come here and what they are telling you is evidence based, factual, so I do think we are in a quandary.

"This is a public inquiry, we need to know what we are being told is accurate. Therefore if there is conflicting evidence, it puts the committee in a quandary."

The GAA's efforts to develop the old stadium site in west Belfast have been mired in controversy, with initial planning approval for a 38,000-capacity venue quashed by the High Court in December 2014 following a challenge by nearby residents.

The Assembly inquiry was triggered a number of months later after safety expert Paul Scott told the CAL committee he feared inadequate provision of exits in the original plans could have triggered a crush in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Ms Ni Chuilin and the GAA have both insisted they acted correctly throughout the design process.

Last week MLAs agreed to recall the sports minister.

Mr Humphrey said: "This committee has been placed in a very difficult position given the evidence where the minister had said to this committee under questioning that she was only aware of the issues that Mr Scott raised when Mr Scott gave evidence to this committee.

"Obviously that's not Mr Scott's contention nor is it the evidence we heard last week, the evidence of Mr (Dominic) Walsh, the former chairman of Sport NI."

Assembly members were told factual evidence such as minutes of meetings should be able to confirm or undermine the evidence.

"This is not just someone's word on someone else's word in conversation," added Mr Humphrey. "These are meetings taken at a highest level attended by permanent secretaries, deputy permanent secretaries and senior civil servants within the department."

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's Cathal O hOisin claimed a number of other witnesses had made contradictory contributions.

He said: "There has been contradictory evidence from day one given to this inquiry. So does that mean the implication of this is that we bring everyone back under affirmation that has expressed some contradictory evidence?"

However the committee chairman, DUP MLA Nelson McCausland, said it was "down to the committee to decide" who attends.

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