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It's Casement or nowhere for rugby showpiece: Ni Chuilin

By Noel McAdam

Published 09/02/2016

Caral Ni Chuilin
Caral Ni Chuilin

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has accused MLAs of being "anti-GAA and anti-west Belfast" as the row over the Casement Park redevelopment project goes on.

The Sinn Fein Minister also insisted the only potential venue for the 2023 Rugby World Cup is the Andersonstown Road venue.

Her remarks came as she again clashed with DUP MLAs in the Assembly, including Nelson McCausland, chairman of the committee which monitors her department.

But his party colleague Peter Weir asked, in light of recent problems with Casement, whether the GAA is seeking an alternative venue.

The Minister replied: "I am not aware of any alternative venues, and there should not be any. The member and some others in his party are in the awful position of lobbying for the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, and there are other members who are anti-GAA, anti-Casement Park and anti-West Belfast, and they do not want the investment going into that area.

"Not only am I completely unaware of any other venue, but if it is not Casement Park, it is not anywhere."

Drolly, Mr Weir commented: "It is good to see that a wide range of alternatives is being considered."

His comments came after Mr McCausland asked when the minister became aware it may be necessary to purchase and demolish houses adjacent to the west Belfast stadium to allow for emergency exiting following redevelopment. Ms Ni Chuilin said it had been alleged that she and department officials had been aware of a requirement to buy houses as far back as the summer of 2012.

But she added: "This is utterly untrue and unworthy of belief" - ahead of an expected return to the committee to give further evidence.

"As the design team for the project was not formally appointed until September 3, 2012, there would not have been any design information, even preliminary sketches, available for discussion prior to its appointment," she said.

Mr McCausland argued that was not a full answer, and asked Ms Ni Chuilin to acknowledge, "that she should have been aware of the serious issues around emergency exiting when the then chief executive of Sport Northern Ireland, after one year in post, had a full-page interview in the Belfast Telegraph in which she referred specifically to serious issues about emergency exiting?"

Ms Ni Chuilin replied: "All those allegations have been countered by a sequence of independent reports. That article has been referred to on at least two other occasions.

"I would assume, as the Member, indeed all Members, should assume, that anyone working with the Department, particularly around these alleged safety concerns, really should have brought them to my attention, and they did not."

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