GAA SAYS SAFETY RECORD IS EXEMPLARY

Casement Park GAA ground in West Belfast

Casement Park GAA ground in West Belfast

GAA SAYS SAFETY ISSUES ARE PARAMOUNT IN NEW CASEMENT PARK PLAN 

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.

CLONES ‘NOT BEING DOWNGRADED’

GAA President Aoghan Ó Fearghail at St Joseph's Boys NS Carrickmacross  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

GAA President Aoghán Ó Fearghail at St Joseph’s Boys NS Carrickmacross Photo: © Michael Fisher

GAA PRESIDENT SAYS CLONES IS NOT BEING DOWNGRADED 

Michael Fisher Northern Standard Thursday 21st May p.2

Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael Aogán Ó Fearghail says the Association is not downgrading St Tiarnach’s Park in Clones, while at the same time seeking to redevelop Casement Park in Belfast. During a visit to Carrickmacross on Monday (18th May), the GAA President told the Northern Standard Clones had nothing to fear from Casement. He said Clones (where the Ulster Final has traditionally been played) provided a very vital infrastructure for the GAA over the years. He said the GAA in Ulster was also committed to developing Casement. But the planned development of a 38,000 capacity arena was stalled in December following a court case in Belfast. Planning permission for the expansion of the stadium was denied by the High Court after an objection from a local residents’ group They raised concerns about what kind of impact the larger crowds would have on the area. The GAA President said the Association always respected rules and decisions and would await the outcome of any further planning enquiries. He pointed to the situation at Kingspan Breffni Park, where Cavan take on Monaghan on Sunday in the Ulster Championship. He said ten years ago some people thought the stadium had reached the end of its existence as a GAA venue, but now after redevelopment it was one of the finest such stadiums in the country.

CASEMENT PARK DECISION

Casement Park, Belfast  Picture: BBC

Casement Park, Belfast Picture: BBC

A judge has now given his decision about the controversial plans to revamp Casement Park GAA grounds in Andersonstown, West Belfast. The NewsLetter reports that planning permission for the 38,000-seater stadium has been overturned after some local residents objected.

Mr Justice Mark Horner gave a decision at Belfast’s High Court. He said: “I have decided to quash the decision.” Earlier  he highlighted a number of serious flaws in the decision to give the plans the green light and said Stormont environment minister Mark H. Durkan’s decision to grant permission was unlawful.

He identified failures in the environmental impact assessment of the larger stadium and said there had been a reliance by the Department of Environment on an inaccurate figure of 32,600 capacity as a baseline for the project. The effect of huge crowds on the road network to the stadium was also not properly considered, according to the judge.

A residents’ group took legal proceedings against Mr Durkan’s decision to approve the £77 million redevelopment. The Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents’ Association argued that their homes would be dwarfed by the new stadium. Outside the court, Carmel McKavanagh, representing the residents, said it was now up to the GAA to consult them.

“We are delighted at the verdict but also sorry that it has come to this stage. We could have avoided all this hassle, the court case and the cost to everybody concerned if the GAA in particular had listened to us. Most of the defects the judge pointed out were serious ones, they were not half-hearted ones, they were very serious issues that we put to the GAA and planners a long time ago. We have always said we are not against the development of Casement Park, just the size and scale of it”, she said.

Chairman of the GAA’s Casement Park Project Board, Tom Daly, said he was disappointed. He noted the judgment found the siting, size and scale of the Casement Park development were not contrary to planning policy.

“There is a strong resolve within the GAA to submit a new planning application in 2015 which will again follow the due process and scrutiny of the Department of the Environment. This is in keeping with the GAA’s strategic requirement of developing a fit-for-purpose, modern provincial stadium for Ulster at Casement Park. “Ulster GAA remains committed to working with the local community to see the completion of a world-class stadium which has far-reaching benefits for all”, he said.

The North’s Sports Minister Carál Nί Chuilίn said: “I am aware that the GAA offered a number of solutions which sought to address the issues raised in the judgment and I am disappointed that no accommodation was reached. The GAA have indicated that they will lodge a fresh planning application which will take account of the points raised in the judgment and I and my department will fully support them during the new planning process.”

CASEMENT PARK

New Casement Park Aerial View  Photo: Casement Park Redevelopment Project

New Casement Park Aerial View Photo: Casement Park Redevelopment Project

It was to be the GAA’s showcase in Ulster: a completely revamped £77m stadium at Casement Park in West Belfast that would seat 38,000 fans. It would take over from Páirc Naomh Tiarnach in the border town of Clones in County Monaghan as the venue for Ulster football finals. Now a judge at the High Court in Belfast has found that the planning application approved by the North’s Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan was “irretrievably flawed“.

The judicial review that lasted thirteen days heard that defects were also identified in the environmental survey, with no assessment of the impact on local residents of extra stadium facilities such as conference suites, bars, restaurants and car parking. A further hearing is expected later this week to decide the final outcome of the case.

Environment Minister Mark H.Durkan announces approval for project, December 2013  Photo: Casement Park Redevelopment Project

Environment Minister Mark H.Durkan announces approval for project, December 2013 Photo: Casement Park Redevelopment Project

The new stadium was set to be included in the list of GAA venues to be used as one of the Ireland’s bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Hugo McNeill, the chairman of the bid, last month said that the Casement Park upgrade was “crucial” to the Northern Ireland component of its proposal.

Chairman of the Casement Park Project Board, Tom Daly, said they were “deeply disappointed” by the decision. “The proposed redevelopment of Casement Park would have provided the opportunity of a world class provincial stadium for the GAA and the broader community in the heart of Belfast. It would also have provided much needed economic and social benefits to west Belfast and beyond, including financial investment, new jobs, apprenticeships and community projects. Over the coming weeks we will reflect on this decision and consider what the next steps are for Casement Park”, he said.

The redevelopment of Casement Park is part of the Northern Ireland Executive’s policy to upgrade the three major sports grounds in Belfast – soccer’s Windsor Park, Ulster Rugby’s ground at Ravenhill and the GAA stadium at Casement. Three new stands have been constructed at Ravenhill. Work is ongoing on modernising Windsor Park, the home of Irish League club Linfield and the Northern Ireland international team.

I note that former Clones resident Darach MacDonald says he is not going to gloat about this outcome, which he has predicted several times to general disbelief. However, he thinks somebody needs to explain, and quickly, how a planning process described as ‘irretrievably flawed’ was presented to GAA fans and the general public as a fait accompli. From the outset, this was a politically tainted and contrived vanity project to siphon off public funds on a sectarian pretext for an inappropriate development in a place where it was not wanted, he said. 

Ulster Final Clones July 2013 Monaghan v Donegal  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Ulster Final Clones July 2013 Monaghan v Donegal Photo: © Michael Fisher

Meanwhile, the existing venue for the Ulster Football Final, the provincial showpiece for the sport, has been relegated to a state of neglect pending redundancy (without floodlights or other investment since the early 1990s), disparaged and dismissed by those who pursued their ‘Field of Dreams’. As a life-long supporters of Gaelic games, Darach says he is “disgusted and impatient for answers”.