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Caral Ni Chuilin 'unaware' of Casement Park safety risk claims


Questions: Caral Ni Chuilin at the Stormont committee session

Questions: Caral Ni Chuilin at the Stormont committee session

Questions: Caral Ni Chuilin at the Stormont committee session

The Sports Minister has insisted she was not made aware of concerns that a revamp of Casement Park could lead to a disaster on the scale of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin told an Assembly committee she had been "shocked and hurt" by allegations that she would put the safety of thousands of spectators and residents at risk.

Ms Ni Chuilin told MLAs that the first she heard of the concerns was when they were raised at the committee by safety expert Paul Scott.

He told MLAs last month he had been bullied and put under "undue pressure" into passing health and safety plans which left him stressed and suffering sleepless nights.

The expert spoke of his fears the 38,000 capacity stadium could not be vacated safely in an emergency, raising the spectre of the Hillsborough tragedy.

The minister told the Stormont culture, arts and sports committee: "The allegations that were made here were probably some of the most damning I've heard in my whole time being a member of this Assembly since 2007."

DUP committee member David Hilditch said he had documentation showing Mr Scott raised his concerns at a meeting of the board of NI Sport on June 23 last year.

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Mr Hilditch said it was as "worrying" that Ms Ni Chuilin was not made aware and asked: "Is it not concerning that senior Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) officials, and perhaps Sport NI, have kept quiet, hidden, or even covered up some of these serious matters?"

The minister said she would "completely refute that" but "no one took it upon themselves to elevate it to my level that there were safety concerns", and she would hand minutes of the board meeting to the inquiry into Mr Scott's allegations that she has already set up.

"When I learned of these allegations I was shocked, and also hurt that someone would accuse me of putting at risk 30,000 spectators and hundreds if not thousands of residents," she said.

The Sinn Fein minister said she had also consulted with the Cabinet office in London and was willing to allow Westminster to look at her department "and literally tear it apart, if need be".

The minister also said she perhaps should not have said there was an "anti-GAA element" in the affair, but it had been a "political comment".

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