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Sports minister denies knowledge of Casement Park safety concerns

Published 08/02/2016

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

The sports minister has told MLAs she strongly refutes an allegation she was aware of Casement Park safety concerns before a whistleblower went public.

Caral Ni Chuilin faced Assembly questions on the claim levelled by a former chair of Sport NI that she was briefed about the issues related to the proposed stadium redevelopment in west Belfast almost three years prior to them being aired at a Stormont committee.

Ms Ni Chuilin has long insisted she only became aware of the concerns when safety expert Paul Scott told the minister's scrutiny committee in April 2015.

Mr Scott said the stadium envisaged in plans could not be emptied safely in an emergency and warned of a similar situation to the Hillsborough tragedy.

Last month, former chair of Sport NI Dominic Walsh told the same committee the minister was told about the issue at a meeting in the summer of 2012.

During Assembly question time, Ms Ni Chuilin rejected the claim.

"Sport NI - either the previous board, the current board, previous chief executive, current chief executive, previous chair, current chair - no one at Sport NI did at any stage make me aware of any concerns they had around emergency exiting at Casement Park," she said.

The minister told MLAs that Sport NI was part of the Stadium Programme Board which she chaired.

"That is the place for those issues, if they have concerns to be raised, and they never raised any issues of this nature around emergency evacuation," she added.

"As I said, and I will repeat again, the first I was made aware of any such allegations or concerns was when they were raised by Mr Scott at the CAL committee in April 2015."

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

The Culture, Arts and Leisure (CAL) committee launched an investigation into the redevelopment plans after Mr Scott informed members of his safety concerns.

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

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