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Stadium safety fears 'not raised'

Published 11/06/2015

A view of the main stand at Casement Park in Belfast
A view of the main stand at Casement Park in Belfast

An adviser to the proposed redevelopment of Casement Park has said safety concerns were not raised as a serious issue.

Sir Nigel Hamilton, a former civil servant and a senior figure in the Irish Rugby Union (IRFU), said they were never brought to his attention as a "show stopper".

Stormont's Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee is investigating after an expert claimed he feared a crush in an emergency evacuation of the proposed 38,000-capacity stadium because of inadequate provision of exits.

Sir Nigel said: "If there were issues there which were deal breakers or which would have seriously undermined the project then I would have expected that those would be raised at the sponsor board."

The former head of the civil service said he was a representative of the sponsor board, which was set up to advise the permanent secretary of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and to assist and oversee the delivery of the GAA Casement Park project in west Belfast by Sport NI.

He said his role in the process "was advisory in nature". He added he had every faith in the professionalism of those handling the project.

Paul Scott, an expert from the Safety Technical Group, has told the committee the proposed stadium could not be emptied safely in an emergency and warned of a similar situation to the Hillsborough tragedy.

He also told the committee he was put under "undue pressure" by government officials to approve plans for the new ground.

Culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin has insisted she was unaware of Mr Scott's concerns before his appearance before the committee.

She has commissioned a departmental review of the project following the allegations.

The GAA has denied any wrongdoing and stressed it has an "impeccable safety record".

The minister has told MLAs that safety has always been of "paramount concern" to her department.

Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan asked how much Sir Nigel knew about the safety of stadia developments of Casement, Windsor Park football stadium and Kingspan rugby stadium.

He replied: "I don't know anything about safety. The role of the sponsor board was high level advisory, not detailed and technical."

The DUP's David Hilditch said evidence the committee has received showed "difficulty understanding run-of-the-mill exiting against emergency exiting".

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