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Casement residents take protest to Sinn Fein

Published 27/01/2014

Residents opposed to the size of a £70 million GAA stadium at Casement Park took their fight to the door of west Belfast's sinn Fein offices at the weekend.

But last night the party's West Belfast MP Paul Maskey attacked what he described as "anti-sinn Fein elements" who turned out for the protest on saturday in Andersonstown to walk to Connolly House in a show of opposition to the 38,000 seater arena. The issue has been dogged by controversy and protest since plans were announced to build the stadium on the grounds of the current Casement Park. Residents have repeatedly voice opposition, complaining of the size and purpose of the project. There are concerns about the height of the stadium, which residents claim will block out natural light. They are also worried about its potential use for concerts.

However the GAA, supported by Sinn Fein, sees the stadium as an opportunity for jobs, rengeneration and investment in the future of west Belfast.

Carmel McCavana of the Mooreland Owenvarragh Residents Association said those affected by the plans felt saturday's protest, where a letter

was handed into the Sinn Fein offices, was the only option open to them in terms of highlighting their opposition to the size of the development.

Ms McCavana said the letter outlined residents' objections "to the development and the lack of any support for the legitimate concerns of residents from Sinn Fein".

"the rights of the residents of this area have been totally ignored and there is over-whelming local and regional opposition to the development," she said. She accepted that not all those at the protest were Sinn Fein supporters with some republican dissident groups attending.

"We have no control over that- there are a lot of people who are anti-sinn Fein and not everyone supports the party. But then again there are Sinn Fein members on our committee. There were people there from other groups who did jump on the bandwagan but we can'd do anything about that."

But Mr Maskey insisted there was still time to resolve any issues concerning the residents.

"We have organised meetings with the residents association with officials from the department for Culture, Arts and Leisure and with officials from the GAA to get as many issues resolved as possible," he said.

"We have time to work these things out and i would ask the residents to re-engage with the GAA to get these concerns resolved. We have to be able to bring these issues to the fore to have them resolved

"i fully respect the residents' genuine concerns. However there were anti-sinn Fein elements at the protest on saturday - different organisations who had never supported these residents before and who were only there to protest against sinn Fein," he said. Spokesman for Ulster GAA Ryan Feeney said the organisation was ready to meet and deal with any of the residents' concerns.

"Ulster GAA is open to discussions with the residents, our door is open for talks at any stage," he said.