Northern Ireland news

Casement Park: GAA declines to specify safety certificate capacity

The Casement Park project team's Stephen McGeehan and Rory Miskelly. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

THE GAA won't say if its Casement Park safety certificate application will seek to use the whole capacity of the new proposed stadium.

Senior Ulster GAA officials appeared before a Belfast City Council committee yesterday to discuss the multi-million-pound redevelopment.

Residents and community groups also attended the packed meeting as councillors considered the local authority's response to a consultation on the west Belfast plans.

Last February the GAA submitted a revised planning application with a spectator capacity of around 34,000.

Stormont civil servants will decide on the application if no new executive is formed.

Granting a safety certificate for the new stadium will be the responsibility of Belfast council.

Asked why a 34,000-capacity stadium is needed, project sponsor Stephen McGeehan told the committee that Ulster GAA wants Casement to host provincial finals.

But he said he did not want any "predetermination" ahead of a safety certificate application.

"In dealing with the capacity issue first, from the point of view of dealing with the processes that we are involved in, I'm very, very conscious that at some point in the future, hopefully on the planning determination and when the stadium is complete, the GAA will apply for a safety certificate to the council," he said.

"I don't want to say anything in relation to any predetermination around what that number will be."

But Mr McGeehan said the "design capacity allows for 34,000 on the basis of the GAA's need for the facility".

Casement's redevelopment has been beset with problems and delays.

In 2014 planning approval for an original 38,000-capacity design was quashed in a legal challenge.

The project is receiving £62m of public funds and was originally expected to cost £77m overall, but in its 2018 report Ulster GAA confirmed the final cost will exceed that amount.

Residents behind the previous court action remain opposed, saying the revised plans are "not a significant reduction" in capacity.

Mr McGeehan said the GAA held an "unprecedented community consultation" for a period of 32 weeks.

"The Casement Park facility was there since 1953. The GAA enjoyed for most of that time a very good relationship with the local community," he said.

"We want to be good neighbours, and we hope that the new facility at Casement Park will allow us to do that again."

He said the plans will ensure events happen safely, and residents will be able to freely move to and from their homes.

Rory Miskelly, project director, said Casement would also contribute to the north's tourism economy through its sporting, conference and heritage facilities.

He said a Deloitte-commissioned study showed Casement could attract 13,000 overnight stays annually of people from outside Northern Ireland.

Tony Dignan, of the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents Association (Mora), told the committee they would support a smaller sports stadium with a capacity of around 20,000 to 25,000.

"The GAA in our experience haven't consulted on the appropriate capacity for the area – it's a provincial stadium or nothing," he said.

Carmel McCavana from Mora added: "People are concerned particularly about concerts and these are concerns that have never been addressed."

The committee also heard submissions supportive of the stadium project from Gaels for Casement, Fáilte Feirste Thiar, the Andersonstown Regeneration Committee and the West Belfast Partnership Board.

Former Antrim GAA manager Brian White, from Gaels for Casement, said the group was established to give the "silent majority" a voice.

Former Antrim camogie star Jane Adams, also part of the campaign, said many of her happiest memories were at Casement.

"I'm the first woman to win an All-Star in camogie from Ulster. Casement can claim that All-Star," she said.

"Our games need Casement. Our city needs Casement Park, the same way our city needs Windsor Park and Ravenhill as well."

The committee approved a statement in which the council welcomed the Casement Park project while remaining mindful of the ongoing planning application process.

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