Casement Park: GAA says Rugby World Cup bid not a consideration

Brendan Hughes
25 May, 2016 01:00

AN all-Ireland bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup is not a consideration in plans to redevelop Casement Park, the GAA's stadium project team has said.

Demolishing homes around the west Belfast ground was also categorically ruled out yesterday as Ulster GAA launched a fresh community consultation.

The GAA hopes to start building the new stadium next year and be finished by the end of 2019.

Senior officials again insisted the capacity is "not pre-determined", but said a new stadium should be capable of hosting provincial finals.

A new planning application is expected later this year in a project that has been beset with problems and delays.

Funding for the £77m scheme is mostly coming from public finances, with around £6m already spent even though construction work has not yet started.

Casement is considered a key part of the Rugby World Cup bid announced jointly in 2014 by the Stormont executive and the Dublin government.

In February former Sinn Féin sports minister Carál Ní Chuilín told the assembly "if it is not Casement Park, it is not anywhere", when asked if alternative venues were being considered.

But yesterday Casement Park project director Rory Miskelly said the Rugby World Cup bid "is not a driver" for the stadium proposals.

"It is not driving our design or planning submission. We don't put 70-odd million into a project for a one-off event," he said.

"Do you know the deadline for the bid? Well neither do I."

Project sponsor Stephen McGeehan said the GAA has offered several venues for the Rugby World Cup and welcomed the prospect of a new Casement Park being used.

"It is very clear to the GAA that Casement Park could play an important role in the Rugby World Cup if it was available, but this is a GAA stadium first and foremost," he said.

"Casement isn't being taken forward by the GAA so that it can accommodate the Rugby World Cup."

In 2014 approval for a 38,000-capacity stadium was overturned after a High Court judge ruled it was unlawful.

Residents who challenged the initial stadium plans maintain that the site can only cater for up to 25,000 spectators.

Speaking as a travelling exhibition was held at Conway Mill in west Belfast yesterday, Mr McGeehan said the new stadium should be able to host Ulster championship finals.

"The Ulster final attracts large crowds. The average audience is 35,000, and we need a stadium that accommodates the needs of an Ulster final," he said.

But he again reiterated the GAA's insistence that there is "no predetermined capacity" for the proposed stadium, saying that it "may be less than that".

Mr McGeehan also ruled out buying houses surrounding the Casement grounds in a bid to increase capacity or improve exit routes.

"The GAA isn't prepared to buy and demolish people's houses to build a stadium – that will not happen," he said.

Project transport consultant Sean Foy, from the firm Atkins, said the team are examining ways of encouraging spectators to use public transport and accommodating coaches.

Asked if roads would need to be closed during major events, he said: "We don't know at this stage. We have to work through the process that we have."

However, Mr McGeehan said the stadium plans would not rely on roads being closed but would expect "traffic diversions" to be possible in a similar way to other stadiums.

He added that he would welcome the Stormont executive looking at legislating to give the PSNI any necessary powers to facilitate closing roads.

25 May, 2016 01:00 News