My sleepless nights over safety fears for GAA stadium: official
An expert has raised concerns over safety at the new Casement Park GAA stadium, claiming it could lead to a crowd crush.
Paul Scott also said he was put under "undue pressure" to approve the landmark project.
He has made a complaint of bullying against government officials.
The allegations, which have been strongly denied, were made at a meeting of the Assembly's DCAL committee yesterday.
Situated in west Belfast, Casement Park is the city's principal GAA stadium and is among the proposed venues for Ireland's 2023 Rugby World Cup bid.
The stadium is undergoing a £76million revamp as part of a Government commitment to upgrade outdated sports facilities. The GAA wants to build a 38,000-capacity all-seater stadium on the current site on the Andersonstown Road.
Appearing before the DCAL committee, Mr Scott said he had been expressing concerns about the stadium design for two years.
He said there were only two small exits and, if an emergency happened, people could be crushed. "There are a heck of a lot of people potentially trying to get out of a relatively small place," he told the committee.
Mr Scott said people had to be able to get out in eight minutes in event of a fire. "If we did have an incident and there was panic and if people tried to exit... crushing, that may be more a problem than fire," he said. "The people who suffer then are particularly the elderly, children, ladies. These GAA matches are very much family affairs."
Mr Scott alleged he and Sport NI had been under "undue pressure from the GAA and from DCAL about my view of the safety of the Casement Park plan".
Mr Scott claimed the GAA had "made a number of accusations about Sport NI officers" on the Safety Technical Group (STG), a committee set up to supervise safety issues surrounding the new stadium. He said one of the GAA accusations was that the group had treated the Casement project differently to the developments at Windsor Park and Ravenhill.
He said this was an "outrageous and hurtful" allegation.
He added that on Wednesday, he was told he would be removed as chair of the STG.
Mr Scott said he had raised a complaint of bullying and harassment against DCAL officials with the chief executive of Sport NI.
Questioned by NI21 MLA Basil McCrea about the alleged pressure, Mr Scott said he had "spent many a sleepless night" and was also "seeing a stress counsellor".
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin should clarify her position on the safety of Casement Park or resign. "Either the minister makes a full statement to explain why she pressed ahead with a building plan that posed a potentially fatal risk to 38,000 people, or she should go," he said.
Ms Ni Chuilin said she had ordered an urgent review of the project. "All stadiums must be compliant with safety requirements," she said. "There can be no compromise on the safety of the people who use stadiums and those who live in surrounding areas.
She added: "I am aware that a number of grievances were raised at the committee, including allegations of bullying, and they are currently the subject of an ongoing investigation by Sport NI. These allegations need to be fully investigated and I will seek independent advice to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately."
A GAA spokesman said: "The GAA emphatically refutes the allegation that it pressured or 'bullied' any individual or organisation in any way. We have an impeccable safety record within our stadia throughout Ulster and Ireland.
"The GAA is appalled at being brought into a live HR grievance matter within Sport NI. We are also concerned that today's events could prejudice our forthcoming planning application for a provincial stadium project at Casement Park."
Located in west Belfast, Casement Park is named after the revolutionary republican Roger Casement and currently has a mainly-standing capacity of 32,600. A £76m revamp is planned for the ground, which would see a 38,000-capacity stadium built on the site on the Andersonstown Road. The project has been at the centre of a long-running legal wrangle. Last December a judge ruled that Environment Minister Mark H Durkan had acted unlawfully in granting planning permission for the redevelopment following a court challenge by residents. It is hoped a new planning application can be submitted later this year.