Minister refusing to be moved on Windsor plan
Published 31/05/2013 | 02:00
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has outlined her determination to ensure "a huge opportunity" is not lost despite new developments placing the planned £25 million refurbishment of Windsor Park in jeopardy.
The latest twist in the stadium issue came when it was announced that a Judicial Review brought by Crusaders against the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) will be heard in mid-December, which is three months after major construction work to upgrade and modernise Windsor Park is due to begin.
Northern Ireland play Portugal in a World Cup qualifier at the international venue on September 6 with the builders lined up to move in after Cristiano Ronaldo and co have come and gone, but the December court case means that the Windsor project, scheduled for completion in 2015, could face delays.
Crusaders were granted leave to apply for a Judicial Review last week, on the basis of an alleged lack of transparency around the scheme, and that the funding boost represented unlawful state aid for their Irish League rivals, Linfield, who currently own Windsor Park.
Both parties returned to court yesterday to timetable the case's hearing.
It was requested for the High Court battle to be held over three days, from December 16-18, providing the courts can find availability in the diary.
Crusaders have the option, at any stage prior to the hearing, to withdraw but it was confirmed in court the club would continue to seek compensation.
After their AGM on Tuesday night Crusaders released a statement saying all of their members had agreed to push forward with plans to legally challenge DCAL.
The Windsor Park redevelopment is part of a £110 million DCAL package that includes substantial improvements to the Ulster Rugby ground and GAA's Casement Park.
Work has already started at Ravenhill and is expected to go ahead at Casement later this year.
As of now, though, Windsor Park is in limbo, though the Sports Minister has declared her intent to see the job through.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ni Chuilin, who has spearheaded the stadium plan, insisted that completing the project is not only important to Northern Ireland sport, but for society as a whole.
"I am determined to deliver first class stadia for the three sporting bodies and then I want to get on with the business of delivering some regional stadia for soccer after that. That's my focus," she said.
"In relation to the stadia project I aim to ensure there is employment for the long term unemployed, apprenticeships and training for people around the construction of the stadiums and opportunities post construction.
"There are huge social clauses involved in all this...such as community development and community inclusion – it is not just about sport.
"This is a huge opportunity for us all."
The Irish FA did not wish to comment bar releasing a statement which read: "As a legal process is underway we are unable to comment.
"However, DCAL intends to robustly defend each of the grounds which have been alleged by Crusaders."
* Dungannon Swifts have placed defender Ryan O'Neill on the transfer list.
The Swifts will also not be renewing winger Neal Gawley's contract.
His one season at Stangmore Park was disrupted by several injuries.