Belfast Telegraph

New Casement crucial to Irish World Cup bid: DUP's Paul Givan

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By Steven Beacom

The reconstruction of the GAA venue in west Belfast, financed by £72million of public money, has been delayed by planning problems and concerns from local residents, but there are hopes that with a proposed new capacity of 34,500, work can start on the stadium and it can be opened by 2019.

Casement Park, along with Kingspan Stadium (18,196), home of Ulster Rugby, and Derry's GAA Celtic Park ground (17,000) are the three Northern Ireland stadiums listed as potential venues for the Rugby World Cup in seven years' time.

Casement is viewed as crucial to the all-Ireland bid because it will be the only ground here which has the capacity to stage games late in the tournament.

If the bid is successful, the capacity of Kingspan could be increased to cater for the interest a global competition like this would generate.

DUP Minister for Communities Paul Givan says: "I've made it clear since I first came into office that there is an Executive commitment to support the development of Casement, but it is for the GAA to lead on that.

"They need to put through their planning application. They have gone through another phase in terms of a revised scheme and carried out an extensive community consultation around that, which came back with over 90 per cent being supportive.

"There is a planning process to go through and residents rightly can make representation in that process where concerns exist and if they continue to exist those individuals are well within their rights to do that and they are empowered to do that through the process.

"We are obviously involved in the steering group around the safety and technical group that meets regularly. When I met with the GAA, and they agree with this, there needs to be no compromise at all around safety. There is a very stringent process on that being signed off on and I certainly won't compromise on that and nor indeed do I believe any of the stakeholders want to do that."

Asked about the importance of Casement to Ireland's Rugby World Cup bid, Givan responded instantly.

"It is critical," he says.

"In terms of capacity we need to have a stadium size that will allow us to attract the bigger games and so the bid has been put forward by the IRFU, who are the lead applicant on that with the Executive giving our support to it.

"We need Casement to get the matches that we would want as you go through the competition. Casement is very much part of the bid. The indications I'm getting is that we should be confident we are well placed to secure this bid.

"That would then move into a more detailed business case for the Executive to establish what type of support needs to be provided by way of Kingspan. The bid is based on the current capacity at Kingspan. I know Ulster Rugby would like to see if that could be increased for some of the bigger games as well.

"The Department of Economy is actually leading on the bid and we will have a role if the bid is successful. There is real potential here in terms of the training facilities that need to be provided and so if we are successful there will be significant amounts of money which will have to be put into facilities for training. That is a real opportunity for rugby."

Givan made headlines last month and provided photographers with a classic picture when he played Gaelic football for the first time at St Patrick's club in his home city of Lisburn, knocking over some well taken points in the process.

"I think I walked away that day with four points and one goal," he says proudly.

"I know the BBC who were there that day were very keen to get one when I missed but they didn't get it, though it was pointed out to me that I was playing against six and seven-year-olds!

"I grew up down the road from St Patrick's and when the invitation came in I felt it was the right one for me to take part in.

"I know small actions can often speak louder than words so rather than just show up and meet the team it made more of an impact to pick the ball up, go onto the pitch and play with the young people and show that as a sporting organisation the GAA is something that I've always recognised as hugely important to so many people.

"I want to have younger people get involved in sport because there are so many physical and mental health benefits to it, building up friendships, relationships, the skills you get as part of a team and discipline that can be instilled. All those things are very important and sport can do that. The GAA is doing that for tens of thousands of people across Northern Ireland."

Next up for Givan will be going to his first GAA match.

He says: "I will go to a game whenever an invite comes in that will work with the diary. The game issue is not much of an issue because other DUP Ministers have gone to games.

"That wasn't breaking new ground but I will do it. I felt it made more of an impact doing what I did on the pitch.

"The feedback I got would bear testimony that it made more of an impact than going to a match."

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