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Sports Minister accused of holding back papers on Casement Park 'dangers'

By Noel McAdam

Published 08/06/2015

Questions: Caral Ni Chuilin at the Stormont committee session
Questions: Caral Ni Chuilin at the Stormont committee session
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has been accused of holding back official papers about safety concerns at the proposed Casement Park project.

The west Belfast stadium controversy deepened as Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said a Freedom of Information request for the release of the documentation was being side-lined.

Officials in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) have asked for another 20 days to consider the Freedom of Information demand, made four weeks ago after safety expert Paul Scott gave evidence to the Assembly committee investigating the project.

Mr Scott, of Sport NI, told the DCAL committee he had been bullied and put under "undue pressure" into passing health and safety plans despite fears the 38,000-capacity stadium could not be vacated safely in an emergency.

Mr Nesbitt said if it were true that Mr Scott had raised concerns about evacuation times more than a year ago, it was "inconceivable that officials would sit on that knowledge. "They would instinctively ensure the minister was told, and they would do so in writing to ensure there was a paper trail to prove they acted appropriately.

"I have asked to see that paper trail via a Freedom of Information request. DCAL have waited until the deadline for response to inform me they need another four weeks, because they say they are 'still considering the information that falls within the scope of your request'."

But the UUP chief went on: "That is nonsense. The proverbial visitor from planet Mars wouldn't need 20 working days to figure out what I'm looking for. It is inconceivable that the Sports Minister was not told of the safety concerns a very long time ago and chose to ignore that information and its implications."

Sinn Fein's Ms Ni Chuilin last night said: "I am committed to delivering the stadia project as part of our Programme for Government commitments.

"I initiated the independent Project Assessment Review on the back of Paul Scott's evidence. I was unaware of the safety concerns at Casement Park, to the extent raised by the Sport NI official, until his evidence to the CAL committee on 30 April."

Sport NI officials Andrew Sloan and Nick Harkness told the committee DCAL was told about dangers at Casement, including the risk of potential crushing.

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