Belfast Telegraph

New Casement Park will happen and it will be a victory for everyone

By Declan Bogue

Sometime in the future, the diggers, wrecking balls and dumpers will be loaded onto a flat-bed trailer and sent off in the direction of west Belfast.

They will hold the traffic up on the Andersonstown Road as they negotiate the entrance to Casement Park. There might even be a few diehard protesters there to greet them and voice their disapproval to the rebuilding/redevelopment (depends what way you see it) of what will become the new home of Ulster GAA. It will be a final act of defiance, but it will be nothing more than a token effort.

When you study the findings of Justice Mark Horner last week, it becomes clear that once the relevant bodies tidy up their planning application, a new Casement Park will be on its way.

Hailing Justice Horner's decision as in some way a 'victory' for the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents group is to miss the point by some distance. Does stating this mean that we have no sympathy for the residents?

Evidently, they would see this as the case.

Last month I conducted an interview with Hugo MacNeill, the former Ireland rugby full-back who chairs Ireland's bid to host the 2023 World Cup.

An alumnus of Blackrock, Trinity and Oxford, MacNeill is man of considerable pedigree and charm, necessary in the ambassadorial game. But he is also a formidable intellect - his day job is in charge of the Irish wing of Goldman Sachs Investment Bank. For kicks in his spare time, he is a director of The Ireland Funds.

He suggested that a bid for the World Cup would be helped immensely by having another major stadium in Northern Ireland available to host games. The GAA have long promised their stadiums would be made available and MacNeill said that if the World Cup bid was to work for Ireland, it had to work for all of Ireland, therefore a revamped Casement would be "crucial."

The residents group took umbrage with this feature. In a lengthy letter, excerpts of which were printed in this paper, they took me to task. Among the claims in the letter, it was said that rugby fans would not go to Casement Park, 'such is the reputation the media and others have portrayed of this area over the years'.

You can smell the rotting self-defeatism of that sentence.

I was also accused of trying to 'influence the judicial process', and the timing of the article was 'very transparent, not clever at all.' We will let that pass without comment.

Perhaps most heinously, it was suggested, 'Were these articles part of the bargain with Ulster Rugby for letting the GAA use Ravenhill for the Game for Anto?'

Still, the residents do deserve some sympathy. The GAA's reluctance to alter the plans and facilitate some terracing seems to be bullish and lacking in pragmatism.

The new Pairc Uí Chaoimh in Cork city, a development that is experiencing no hold-ups, will have a capacity of 45,000. There will be terracing at both ends.

Terracing would provide a compromise between residents and the Ulster Council, but they remain uninterested.

In a decade's time, a lot of people will look back on this period and admit to themselves that a lot of things might have been handled differently. And better.

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