Casement Park GAA ground in West Belfast

Casement Park GAA ground in West Belfast


Michael Fisher    Northern Standard  Thursday 2nd July

GAA Ard Stiúrthóir Páraic Ó Dufaigh

GAA Ard Stiúrthóir Páraic Ó Dufaigh

GAA Ard Stiúrthóir Páraic Ó Dufaigh has told a Stormont committee that the Association has an exemplary safety record and it regards safety issues are paramount. He was giving evidence last Thursday to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly about safety fears which had been raised about the stalled plan for the redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast.

A safety expert had claimed he faced “undue pressure” to approve the proposals and had accused Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) officials of bullying. Paul Scott claimed a proposed 38,000-seat stadium could not be evacuated safely and warned of a potential tragedy similar to the Hillsborough disaster in England.

Mr Ó Dufaigh said the GAA would categorically reject any assertion that its supporters would ever be put at risk at any of its games, or within any of its stadia. He said the Association’s partners would engage continuously with the stadiums project Safety Technical Group throughout all steps of the planning process to deliver a state of the art provincial stadium at Casement Park in Belfast for use by Antrim and Ulster. The Ard Stiúrthóir was joined at Parliament Buildings by Danny Murphy, Chief Executive and Secretary, Ulster Council GAA, Tom Daly, Chair of the Casement Park Provincial Project, Oran McCloskey, Project Director, HBJV and project designer Mike Trice, Senior Principal Architect at Populous, a globally renowned company that specialises in developing sporting stadiums.

A GAA statement said that during the session the Association had expanded upon its impeccable health and safety record citing its management of a large number of major provincial and county stadiums built to the highest specifications and conforming to all of the relevant health and safety legislation across Ireland and Britain. The Committee was briefed on the GAA hosting over one million people at its stadiums throughout the 2014 championship season, with fixtures drawing crowds of up to 82,300 for major games.

Ulster GAA chief executive Danny Murphy said the comparison with Hillsborough made at an earlier hearing of  the Stormont committee was “wildly inaccurate, unfounded and hysterical”. During last Thursday’s hearing, Mr Murphy produced an email he claimed showed that the stadium safety expert Paul Scott had been largely supportive of the design for the new Casement Park.

Mr Murphy read out an email that he said Mr Scott sent to a Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure official in August 2013. In the correspondence Mr Scott wrote: “There appears to be a consensus that the latest proposals address the exiting concerns.” Mr Murphy said the GAA believed “that this confirms that everything we were doing was moving towards an acceptance that our plans were proper and correct”. It is unclear if Mr Scott was referring to emergency exiting or general exiting arrangements for the West Belfast stadium plans.

Commenting after the Committee session, Danny Murphy said:

“The GAA has reiterated that at all stages of the Casement Park Provincial Project the development had been scrutinised throughout the design process by the STG who signed off in principle, prior to the submission of the planning application. The ongoing work to date on the safety issues and exiting made progress and this is evident in a correspondence from the Chair of the STG dated 23rd August 2013 which states that as part of the developmental process, “there appears to be a consensus that the latest proposals address the exiting concerns”. At all stage boundaries, from outline business case to the appointment of the contractor the safety of the design was paramount and whilst some contingency planning were discussed, no red flag issues were ever raised with the GAA.

“The GAA examines all industry-recognised threats and develops contingency plans to allow safe evacuation of the spectators in 18 designated grounds within Ulster. The SGSA Safety Management guidance is a vital tool which recognises partial and phased evacuation dependant on the threat. We look forward to re-engaging with the STG to develop these plans with their full input as we move forward.”

Casement Park Redevelopment Group including Ulster GAA Secretary Danny Murphy (back middle) with NI Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and (right) Tom Daly, Chair of Stadium Project Board

Casement Park Redevelopment Group including Ulster GAA Secretary Danny Murphy (back middle) with NI Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and (right) Tom Daly, Chair of Stadium Project Board

Tom Daly Chairman of the Casement Park Project board commented:

“In the near future the GAA will announce its programme for a fresh planning application for Antrim and Ulster’s new stadium at Casement Park. At that time we will also outline our plans for local engagement and it is our intention again to work constructively and pro-actively with all relevant stakeholders.”

He said the emergency evacuation did not appear in the risk section of the independent business case. “The Ulster GAA believe that emergency exiting was not a showstopper and never was,” he said.

Earlier Noel Molloy, former director of the DCAL stadiums programme, said there was a feeling that the STG’s Casement work was “inconsistent” with previous stadium projects at Ravenhill for Ulster Rugby and Windsor Park for the IFA. He said claims that the Casement design could have led to a Hillsborough-type scenario were “disrespectful and disingenuous” to the victims of the 1989 tragedy. “There is not a potential to have a Hillsborough scenario unless the (safety certificate) licence is given incorrectly,” he said. In December 2014, a High Court judge in Belfast ruled that the North’s Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan had acted unlawfully in approving plans for a new Casement Park stadium. The GAA is to submit another planning application.

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