Casement Park redevelopment will clear hurdles in its path
It is inconceivable that a new redeveloped Casement Park won't be built. So says Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, who insists she has no regrets about introducing the ambitious stadium project for rugby, football and GAA despite serious problems of late.
Just last week, Ni Chuilin told the Belfast Telegraph that she rejected any accusations of bullying over Casement Park as an inquiry was launched into safety concerns at the new GAA stadium.
This followed safety expert Paul Scott telling MLAs last month that the proposed 38,000-capacity stadium could not be evacuated safely in an emergency. He also claimed his concerns were ignored and that he was put under "undue pressure" by officials to approve plans for the new ground.
Ni Chuilin has been the driving force behind the £110m stadium project to redevelop the Kingspan Stadium, Windsor Park and Casement.
While Ulster Rugby's old Ravenhill ground has already been turned into an impressive new arena, there have been issues with the other two stadiums.
Windsor, where Northern Ireland and Linfield play home games, has had its Kop Stand demolished due to structural problems discovered in March and construction work has been accelerated in the Railway and South Stand ends of the ground in order to house 10,000 fans for next month's crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania.
In relation to Casement, no building work has taken place yet, after last December a High Court judge quashed a decision by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan to grant planning approval for the stadium's redevelopment after local residents objected and went to court, asking for a judicial review.
While the GAA are still intent on pressing ahead with the redevelopment, the new issues regarding safety could delay the project further.
"Despite some of the current challenges, bringing the stadium programme into the department is something I do not or will not regret," said Sports Minister Ni Chuilin.
"We now have the Kingspan Stadium for Ulster Rugby which is a brilliant facility. They are doing super work not just on the field but also off it with work surrounding concussion awareness, physical and mental ability, nutrition and mental health.
"Ulster Rugby is also working with kids and not just in the grammar school sector which would have been fairly traditional. They have gone outside of it which is pleasing to see.
"Despite the challenges that Windsor Park has brought we are actually progressing very well. The Kop has now been demolished and it will be rebuilt and we are going to have a facility there that will be absolutely brilliant. We have a great partnership with Belfast City Council and two major capital programmes around sporting activity that will not only help people perform on the pitch, but also the surrounding community which is very important to me.
"And Casement Park will happen. There are some massive challenges in front of us not withstanding the allegations and accusations that have been made," added Ni Chuilin, who strongly objects to any suggestion she would put anyone's safety at risk to complete the project.
"I think there are agendas surrounding Casement Park. I feel at times there are 40 pairs of hands holding on to the back of my shirt to try and slow me down. There has been so much negativity around what is a good news story.
"I know some of the residents have concerns and they need to be fed into this new consultation process that is going to happen, but I'm determined that the GAA have the facilities that the IFA are going to have and that Ulster Rugby have. It is inconceivable that we won't have a new development at Casement Park."