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Ulster GAA frustrated by stasis over Casement Park

 

Sorry sight: Casement Park as it is now
Sorry sight: Casement Park as it is now
A computer generated image of the proposed redevelopment of the ground
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

A key figure of the Ulster GAA Council's Planning and Development Committee has emphasised his dismay that the Casement Park Project planning application has gone unanswered for more than 1,000 days.

Stephen McGeehan, who has been with the body since the former Executive at Stormont placed Casement Park, along with Ravenhill and Windsor Park, as one of its Programme for Government priorities, spoke of his frustration that the other two stadiums are flourishing, while the first sod is yet to be cut for a provincial stadium in Belfast.

"In the last week or 10 days we had one of the best teams in the world in the Netherlands playing in Windsor Park, one of the best club teams in rugby in Clermont playing on Friday night at Ravenhill, and even from a GAA perspective we are impatiently waiting for our opportunity to bring the best teams in football and hurling to Casement," said McGeehan.

"It's frustrating, but we are sticking at it. It has been difficult but we want to see this through, to the point where there's an indication that there is a decision ready to be made.

"The politics of how a decision would be made, that's for the civil servants and the politicians to work on. And I wish there was more progress on that front."

McGeehan revealed how an open letter to Ulster clubs and counties at the end of last week has prompted a response from the department, claiming they are nearing the end of the assessment.

"They are meeting this week to progress technical issues," he stated.

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"There have been regular meetings over the last three years since the planning application has been made. It has the feeling that you are constantly in a dialogue and making progress.

"The safest thing for the GAA to say is that that process is entirely out of our control, we don't have any control what happens after that."

In the last year, the stasis over the Casement Park Project has been openly debated among county boards, with some delegates expressing their dismay. This has led to a certain 'weariness', McGeehan concedes.

"It's been so long ago since the application was submitted that the changes the GAA made to the approach - we reduced the capacity, we reduced the scale, the height and the mass, so we had an unprecedented period of consultation because we genuinely wanted to address all of the things that were raised in the previous application," he stated.

"There are huge benefits of major sporting fixtures being brought to Casement Park; Ulster finals being one major example.

"The GAA needs to have a presence in Belfast. Currently, there is no covered accommodation owned or managed by the GAA. The only covered accommodation is at The Dub, and for the good work that is going on with the Gaelfast Project, trying to grow Gaelic Games in the city, Casement Park needs to be a catalyst for that.

"Because it was so long ago since those plans were unveiled, people have just got a bit battle-weary over it. It is still a big prize that the GAA really needs."

Despite the Stormont Executive being closed down since January 2017, McGeehan points to another huge capital project in the Belfast Transport Hub, that submitted planning after the Casement Park Project, and is due to commence soon.

"Every day recently there are lots of questions being asked about major priorities for people in the north, such as the health service, issues relating to schools and funding for education," added McGeehan.

"And it is clear the fact there has been no Government here for almost three years is beginning to cause issues in relation to decisions that need to be taken and otherwise would have been taken if ministers were in place."

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