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MLAs fail to oust Nelson McCausland from Casement inquiry

By David Young, PA

Published 09/10/2015

Nelson McCausland
Nelson McCausland
Edgar Jardine
Sinn Fein’s Cathal O hOisin

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have failed in a bid to force former sports minister Nelson McCausland to step aside as chairman of an inquiry into safety standards at Casement Park.

Another motion supported by the two parties for Mr McCausland to appear as a witness to the ongoing probe was also voted down by DUP, UUP and NI21 members.

The DUP MLA's role as chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure (CAL) committee's examination of emergency exit provision in the ill-fated stadium plan has already been the focus of criticism, given his former role as sports minister and previous Press comments he made about the safety controversy.

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 last December after a challenge by residents.

The Assembly inquiry was triggered after an expert 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. The current sports minister, Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin, and the GAA have both insisted they acted correctly throughout.

Yesterday, the committee heard from former Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure deputy secretary Edgar Jardine.

He said his time in office ended in May 2011 and his role was confined to the stadium's outline business case. He told members that details such as emergency exit provision were not focused on at that stage of the process.

"Essentially issues around emergency exiting and exiting in general only become an issue when you get into the detail of the design," he said.

Mr McCausland's time as sports minister also ended in 2011.

After Mr Jardine's appearance, members disagreed on whether his evidence provided grounds for calling Mr McCausland as a witness on the safety issue.

Sinn Fein's Cathal O hOisin, referring to the DUP man's creationist views, said: "I know you are not a Darwinist but I think you are the missing link on this one."

Party colleague Rosie McCorley added: "There has to be a conflict of interest if you are investigating something you had a role in."

However, the DUP's William Humphrey said Sinn Fein's allegations were not founded on fact.

"This is a spurious flying of a kite," he said.

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