Belfast Telegraph

Casement Park whistleblower settles case against Sport NI

Paul Scott, who voiced concerns over GAA stadium plans, reaches last minute agreement

By Jim McDowell

Sport NI has settled an industrial tribunal case taken by a whistleblower who raised safety concerns over the proposed new Casement Park stadium, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The case taken by safety expert Paul Scott had been due to commence today, but has been settled at the eleventh hour, the latest dramatic twist in the Casement Park crisis.

Mr Scott was suspended from his job at Sport NI's Malone Road HQ in Belfast after a row erupted over the plan to redevelop the GAA's Belfast showcase ground.

Paul Scott and other safety experts - including those from the emergency services - said the planned emergency exits in the development blueprint could not cope with the evacuation of the originally proposed capacity of 38,000 spectators, players and officials. Subsequently, Mr Scott and the Chief Executive of Sport NI, Antoinette McKeown, were placed on 'gardening leave' pending an official probe into allegations of 'bullying' and other complaints at the sports administration agency.

The Paul Scott industrial tribunal case, due to start in the Gasworks office complex in Belfast today, was seen as pivotal to the whole Casement Park dispute.

As late as nine minutes past three on Friday afternoon the hearing, scheduled to last at least four days, and designated as case number 2645/15, was still on the tribunal's schedule sent in advance to newspaper offices. By Saturday, the Belfast Telegraph has learned, the case had been withdrawn by the 'respondent', listed as The Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which is Sport NI's parent body.

This paper understands that a settlement has been reached with Mr Scott which, in essence, means he has won his case.

It is also understood that a financial settlement with Mr Scott is also being negotiated by his legal advisers, but it is not clear at the moment if, or when, the safety expert will return to his job with Sport NI.

One source said last night: "Paul Scott was prepared to fight this, no matter how long it took.

"He had amassed bulging files of documents. He would not have allowed the case to be settled if he was not happy with the result.

"And it seems to have vindicated the determined stance he has taken over the safety aspects of the Casement Park development plan. In short, this looks like crunch time in the whole Casement crisis."

This newspaper contacted Mr Scott yesterday, but he declined to comment.

Last night, when asked about the withdrawal of the Paul Scott tribunal case, a Sport NI spokesperson said: "We cannot comment on this."

Mr Scott, who headed up the Safety Technical Group, and whose brief was to report to both Sport NI and the then Department of Culture, Art and Leisure (DCAL), appeared last year before a Stormont committee to give evidence regarding the 'bullying' and 'harassment' to which he was allegedly subjected by DCAL. The former Stormont Sports Minister, Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin, was also dragged into the marathon row when queries were raised, especially by the DUP, regarding when she first found out about the Casement Park safety concerns.

Residents in Andersonstown who live close to the stadium have also taken the Casement authorities to the High Court in Belfast to challenge the development plans.

The plans are currently being appraised by a GAA-led 'task force' and re-drawn to address emergency evacuation and other concerns.

In another bizarre twist, a nearby resident of Casement Park has also launched legal action, claiming that knotweed growing in the now derelict sports ground is spreading rapidly and causing problems in neighbouring property.

The latest development comes just days after Sport NI publicly advertised to recruit nine new members to its Board.

The Board also hit the headlines last year when nine of its members suddenly resigned en bloc without explanation, but during the height of the Casement Park and alleged 'bullying' rows.

Paul Scott's seeming victory at tribunal level, and what it means for the future plans for Casement, could also impact upon Ireland's bid to stage the Rugby World Cup seven years from now, in 2023.

Casement Park was, and still is, a vital component of that bid, which would see World Cup games played at rugby, soccer and GAA stadia.

But D-Day for the World Rugby Council's decision on where the 2023 tournament will be staged - France, Italy and South Africa are also in the mix - is just a year away, in November 2017. And one Ulster rugby official - games would also be played at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast - said last night: "If this whole Casement Park fiasco isn't resolved and the development up and running by that WRC deadline next year, Ireland's bid for the World Cup could be doomed."

Belfast Telegraph

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