Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Sports Minister vows to fight for Windsor Park

Stadium will be completed on time

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 20th February 2013 
New Windsor Park Stadium
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 20th February 2013 New Windsor Park Stadium

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has vowed to fight for the future of the new £25m Windsor Park with a judicial review threatening to disrupt the completion of the stadium.

The Sinn Fein MLA has been at the forefront of the £110m sports stadium programme which has seen government promise to upgrade Windsor Park, home to Linfield and the Northern Ireland team, into a modern 18,000 all-seater arena.

The huge investment also provides substantial funds for major revamps of Ulster Rugby's Ravenhill stadium and the GAA ground at Casement Park in Belfast.

While the plans for Ravenhill and Casement appear to be on course, a decision from Crusaders to seek a judicial review into the new stadium developments at Windsor has become an unwanted headache for the Irish FA, Linfield and Ni Chuilin.

Crusaders claim the redevelopment of Windsor represents a form of state aid to rival Belfast club Linfield and could create unfair revenue streams and breach European Union competition laws.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the Sports Minister said she was still planning for the two new stands and state-of-the-art facilities at Windsor to be completed by the planned date of 2015, insisting that she is determined the project will proceed.

"I can't go into the judicial review in too much detail but needless to say I'm going to fight my corner robustly," said Ni Chuilin.

"I am working on the basis that everything is going ahead. I don't know when the judicial review will be finished, but I'm going in with my boots on because I believe in and want the stadium programme to succeed.

"Until I'm told different, I am looking at 2015 for the new Windsor Park to be completed.

"I'm not naïve and understand the impact this decision may have, but I have to say the work of the three governing bodies and the clubs involved has been hugely progressive. I actually think it has been unprecedented.

"In the end not only are we going to have facilities that are the envy of others, but we are going to have relationships built between the three sports and I know those relationships will continue well beyond the stadiums finishing.

"That in itself will bring opportunities that weren't there before."

It wasn't too long ago that a Sinn Fein Minister wouldn't be seen inside Windsor, yet today this one is doing all she can to see the ground brought up to date and into a fitting major footballing arena for the 21st century.

Northern Ireland play Portugal on September 6 in the World Cup qualifiers and after that construction work is due to begin.

Uefa President Michel Platini and Fifa vice-President Jim Boyce have spoken about the possibility of staging the European Super Cup final at Windsor, once all the new developments are concluded.

The Sports Minister added that this project is not just about providing top class sports stadiums, but to help re-generate the surrounding communities.

"I want to deliver world class sporting facilities but the social benefits matter to me as well," she said.

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