GAA chiefs confident Casement Park revamp will go ahead
When Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuillin expressed the hope this week that her ambition was to see the first sod on the refurbished Casement Park being cut before the end of the year, many thought that this was nothing more than fanciful thinking.
But today the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the wheels of progress are turning faster than has been imagined in relation to the redevelopment of the now dilapidated west Belfast stadium.
Ulster Council GAA secretary Danny Murphy took time out during a two-week break in Toronto yesterday to confirm that a new planning application for the proposed 38,000 all-seater stadium will be submitted in due course and he is optimistic that progress on the scheme can be expedited.
"Obviously the planning process has to be followed but we remain hopeful that the refurbishment work can begin on the first available date assuming that everything goes well in the interim," says Murphy.
"We were, of course, disappointed when our initial planning proposal was the subject of a court judgement last December but we have been taking precautions that all the necessary steps are now being followed."
It was a legal challenge brought by the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents' Association (MORA) which, basically, objected to the size of the development that resulted in approval for the plan being quashed.
Now the newly-formed Andersonstown Regeneration Committee (ARC) is fully behind the redevelopment of the venue, thus instilling further confidence that construction work will commence sooner rather than later.
ARC member and Mooreland resident Bridghidin Heenan, a member of the Central Council of the Camogie Association, confirms the new body's aim will be to meet with the departments and organisations involved in bringing the Casement project forward.
"We will be asking these bodies, including the GAA, where they are going from here. We believe the local community should be afforded the opportunity to make an informed decision on the plan. We want to see the new plans the GAA will bring forward," she points out.
And at a time when GAA morale in Antrim has plummeted following the demotion of the county hurlers to Division Two and the failure of the football side to gain promotion from Division Four, any level of progress on the Casement Park scheme is to be welcomed, according to long-serving county board secretary Frankie Quinn.
"I believe that the refurbishment will be a massive boost not just for the GAA in Antrim but for the province as a whole," insists Quinn. "It would mean we would have new county headquarters and a venue of which we could be justifiably proud. We might not have had much success on the playing arena but this does not mean that we cannot look ahead in hope.
"A new stadium is something that we have been longing for and we are certainly following developments closely. Without a doubt the commercial benefits that will ensue for the whole of west Belfast, in particular the future from the existence of a state-of-the-art stadium, will be incalculable."
Nor is Casement Park the only major venue in the spotlight right now.
GAA chiefs have moved quickly to dispel reports that the Association might be open to selling the naming rights for Croke Park.
Director General Páraic Duffy has strongly refuted a media claim that he had admitted that GAA would be open to selling naming rights to Croke Park.
"I have made it clear that the GAA had never received or sought offers for naming rights in Croke Park, nor had the matter been discussed by the GAA. What I said was I could not see talk for 50 or 100 years down the line," declared Duffy.