Case not closed: Casement Park stadium rethink under way after court knockback
Ulster GAA chiefs must compromise and cut their ambitions down to size to save the troubled £77 million Casement Park project and quite possibly Ireland's bid to bring the 2023 Rugby World Cup to these shores.
It is understood that while Ulster GAA and Antrim GAA officials were left reeling yesterday by a High Court ruling, which stated that government approval for a new 38,000 seater stadium at Casement Park was unlawful, there is still hope that a state of the art arena could be built in west Belfast... but with a reduced capacity, possibly 25,000, and only if agreement can be reached between the parties involved.
They include the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, who remain 'committed' to the project, the Ulster Council and Antrim county board and crucially the local residents, who were overjoyed after winning their legal challenge to the planning permission for the new Casement Park, granted by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan last year.
Mr Justice Horner held in the Belfast High Court that the decision-making process behind the re-construction of Casement Park was "fundamentally flawed" but he stopped short of quashing the plan altogether.
And he offered light at the end of what has become a dark tunnel for the GAA by asking them and the residents for submissions about how to take the process forward. They are due back in Court tomorrow.
Informed sources say the new stadium capacity figure being suggested as a compromise is 25,000, though 30,000 has not been completely dismissed. The ball is now back in the GAA's half of the field.
There are some within the GAA adamant that it should be 38,000 in order to stage future Ulster finals or All-Ireland quarter-finals, while others are starting to think having a smaller stadium would be a whole lot better than nothing given that so much money is involved and that a whopping £62 million is coming out of the public purse, not to the mention the fact that if a deal could be reached it would benefit the local economy and community.
And remember all that government money will NOT be on the table forever, especially with savage budget cuts in the public sector set to continue.
The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) will keep a close eye on developments hoping an agreement will be forthcoming as they intend putting a reconstructed Casement Park forward as one of their stadiums for the 2023 World Cup bid.
Only last month former Irish international Hugo MacNeill, a key figure in the World Cup bid, told this newspaper that Casement was ‘crucial’ to Ireland’s plans to host the tournament.
The Kingspan stadium (Ravenhill) is already earmarked to stage games.
Out of the three major stadium projects funded by the Northern Ireland Executive and headed up by Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, it was the one that pushed ahead with the minimum of fuss.
Ulster Rugby’s new ground, with a capacity of 18,000, is a stadium to be proud of and Windsor Park, home to the Northern Ireland football team, having overcome some of its own issues, is going the same way.
Currently under construction, it will be a superb facility when finished.
That leaves Casement Park. The grass is now so long at the place, you could play hide and seek there, but not gaelic games. A solution to this mess must be found.