Northern Ireland news

Casement Park: Antrim GAA chief says it may be time for 'Plan B'

The Casement Park site in Andersonstown, west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

THE head of Antrim GAA has said Casement Park may need to be redeveloped "into a county ground, as opposed to a provincial stadium" if a construction date is not set by early next year.

Colin Donnelly, who is to step down from his role later this year, warned that the stalled west Belfast stadium project is "losing momentum" and further delays "will be detrimental to developing the game in the city".

He said if a planning decision is not made by early 2019, Antrim clubs should be consulted on lobbying the GAA for the "Plan B" of a smaller county ground.

Casement Park has been closed since 2013 amid efforts to redevelop it into a regional stadium, but the plans have faced numerous problems and setbacks.

A major court ruling cast further doubt on the project in May when a judge said civil servants did not have the legal power to approve a planning application without executive ministers.

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Ulster GAA wants Casement to have a capacity capable of hosting provincial finals as well as big entertainment events such as pop concerts.

The Casement Park site in Andersonstown, west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

Mr Donnelly told The Irish News that reopening Casement as its stands "wouldn't be an option" for health and safety reasons, because assets such as generators and cabling have been "stripped out and sold".

But he added: "If by the early part of the year, if there is no firm decision being made about a starting date, then I think Antrim as a county needs to be speaking to the powers that be about redeveloping it back into a county ground, as opposed to a provincial stadium, because I don't think it's going to be good for the county to be waiting for another 12 months.

"If we don't get a firm decision on planning at the turn of the year in 2019, I don't think it's a good idea for it to sit there for another six or nine months."

Plans for a 34,000-capacity stadium at Casement were submitted to Stormont officials in February last year and are are still under consideration.

Colin Donnelly, Antrim GAA chairman

In May, the High Court found that a senior civil servant did not have legal power to approve a new £240 million waste incinerator outside north Belfast without ministerial approval.

Stormont officials have since said they will not make any further decisions on major planning applications in the absence of ministers.

Northern Ireland has not had a power-sharing government since the DUP and Sinn Féin-led executive fell apart early last year.

The Casement Park site in Andersonstown, west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

Mr Donnelly described a smaller county ground at Casement as the "Plan B", adding: "If the whole thing works of course Antrim will be a winner, but sitting in this limbo we have been the big loser."

The Antrim county chairman said the Casement project is "losing momentum at the moment" and without progress "it will be detrimental to developing the game in the city".

"We're losing a generation who will never get a chance to play there," he said, describing how county players have had to train and play matches at other grounds in recent years.

Mr Donnelly also said that people have stopped asking him for updates on Casement Park.

"It surprises me people don't even ask me at the meetings. It's almost like, 'don't mention the elephant in the room'. I think people have kind of just lost a wee bit of heart in it."

He said that "ultimately early next year", Antrim GAA should be asking clubs "where do we go from here, do we sit tight or do we start lobbying".

"If they can't make these decisions we need to go to 'Plan B'. Antrim will need to lobby the GAA. I think obviously you would need to go to the clubs and test their view on it."

Plans for the development of the Casement Park GAA ground in west Belfast

Mr Donnelly, along with vice-chairman Terry Reilly and treasurer Pol Mac Cana, is due to relinquish his role ahead of Antrim GAA's county convention later this year.

Ulster GAA was last night unavailable for comment.

How the new proposed Casement Park GAA stadium would look

Plans for the redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast

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