Ireland's 2023 Rugby World Cup bid will not be affected by ongoing concerns over Casement Park, a leading GAA official has claimed.
Director general Paraic Duffy admitted "much work" was needed on Casement and Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork, both of which are key to the bid.
The west Belfast stadium is currently in an overgrown state and the proposed £77m rejuvenation project has been plagued with problems and delays, including safety concerns and issues with local residents. Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, who has faced criticism over her handling of the project, maintained yesterday she was unaware of safety risks over the stadium prior to 2015.
Last month, this newspaper challenged her assertion after it emerged three senior aides attended meetings where issues were raised, or were copied into relevant correspondence.
Notwithstanding the current controversy, Mr Duffy said he believed the new Casement would be ready should Ireland get the nod for the contest.
"At a central level, we have pumped £15m into Casement and €20m into Cork, so we've invested hugely," he added.
"Cork will be okay, but Casement is trickier. Once again, we have applied for planning and the commitment is still in place to go ahead. There is a huge effort in Ulster to make sure it goes ahead, but we have challenges there we have not met in Cork. Having said that, I'd be absolutely confident it will be built, albeit not by the time it was supposed to have been.
"We will be applying for planning permission in the third quarter of this year. After the judicial review (won by residents against the plans for redevelopment), we learned huge lessons, but it is crucial to be there with top-class stadia in our three main cities. We are the biggest sporting organisation in the land and we have to have that presence."
Speaking publicly for the first time since the publication of our story - and a fortnight after the GAA announced details of a fresh community consultation over the stadium's redevelopment - Ms Ni Chuilin once again defended her position.
"I look forward to the Ulster Council of the GAA bringing forward a new planning application, and to that consultation process happening," she said.
Regarding the safety concerns, she added: "Had this information been brought to me, I would have acted upon it. Any major project which doesn't discuss those issues would be failing in its duty. Problems need to be identified, discussed and, more importantly, resolved.
"What has happened here is that anyone who has raised ongoing concerns as part of any major project has had their comments end up in the media and then twisted to suit certain agendas."