Northern Ireland news

Jarlath Burns - 'Casement Park must be redeveloped'

Jarlath Burns Picture: Cliff Donaldson.
Jarlath Burns

It is a considerable frustration for me and many other proud and passionate Gaels throughout Ulster that there remains no definitive timeline for a decision to be made on the Casement Park project by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) 1000 days after the GAA submitted its application for an iconic new provincial stadium in Belfast.

The inertia around the statutory planning process for a project that is a key commitment of the Northern Ireland Executive, providing clear direction for the Northern Ireland Civil Service, needs to be urgently resolved.

Ten years on from the commitments provided within the Regional Stadia programme for Northern Ireland to deliver upon the strategic requirements of the three main sports, it is extremely disappointing that a provincial GAA stadium at Casement Park remains the only unfulfilled project.

I welcome the benefits that the delivery of new stadia for our partners at Ulster Rugby and the Irish FA have delivered from a sporting and economic perspective and I am adding my voice to GAA members throughout Ulster who are calling upon the Department for Infrastructure and other statutory organisations to fulfil the long-standing commitment given to the GAA.

As a young man playing with my club Silverbridge, St. Mary’s University College and Armagh both as a player and a spectator, Casement Park was special and I recall witnessing games with some of Ireland’s greatest footballers, hurlers, camogie and handball players to ever play our sports.

I will never forget my very first time playing there for the Ranch, when we beat Queens in a Ryan Cup thriller in front of a massive crowd. There was always a very special feeling as you ran down the steps and onto the beautifully manicured field and you got a sense that you were entering a place of cultural and historical significance.

Having celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2018, we are reminded that a new world class stadium at Casement Park will once again be a beacon for the skill, passion, vibrancy and commitment within Gaelic Games at club, school and county level across all codes.

There are a quarter of a million active GAA members in Ulster making it the leading sporting body in relation to both membership and active participation.

The redeveloped Casement Park will provide the province and its members with a modern home to host its national games, a Cultural and Heritage Centre which will enhance cultural participation and long-lasting economic benefits for Belfast and beyond.

Ulster GAA has throughout this process, rightly, consulted extensively with its membership and the local community regarding the proposed design and its impact. It implemented all government recommendations in full and conducted a 32-week community consultation which saw over 5,000 people engage in the process with 95% stating that they were in favour of the project.

The resulting detailed and comprehensive planning application was submitted by Ulster GAA to ensure the planning service had the information required to make an informed decision on the project and to deliver upon its strategic stadium needs.

The Safety Technical Group, a panel of experts comprising of representatives from Sport NI; Belfast City Council, the PSNI, the NI Ambulance Service; the NI Fire and Rescue Service; Sports Grounds Safety Authority; and the GAA’s ground safety management unanimously backed spectator safety procedures.

However, with 1,000 days having passed since the original submission it is with considerable disappointment for our association and for all our members that some statutory bodies are yet to respond to the planning application with no definitive timeline having been set.

This is now becoming an urgent matter of equality for GAA members, like me, in clubs, counties and communities throughout Ulster who are extremely frustrated by the protracted nature of this process.

We stand four-square with Ulster GAA in its resolute commitment to deliver an iconic new provincial stadium at Casement Park which will provide for the next generation, serve the needs of Gaels throughout Ulster long into the future and complete the Northern Ireland Executive’s long-standing commitment to our members.

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