2019 target for Casement Park is ambitious says Aogán Ó Fearghail

Contractors at the Casement Park site in Andersonstown, west Belfast Picture by Mal McCann

HAVING the proposed Casement Park redevelopment completed before 2020 at the earliest is “ambitious” admits outgoing GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail.

An application for planning permission at the Andersonstown Road venue was resubmitted in February, more than two years after the approval for the original design was overturned in a High Court legal challenge.

There was a fresh setback in September when transport submissions for the stadium project were deemed “unacceptable” by the Stormont department tasked with deciding whether to grant planning permission.

The redevelopment of the west Belfast venue has been in the pipeline since 2009, with work initially having been set to start in 2013 and completed in 2015.

That the proposed new stadium was still subject to approval of planning permission was cited as an issue by World Rugby’s technical review of the Irish World Cup bid for 2023, which on Wednesday finished last behind South Africa and winners France in the race to host the tournament.

Speaking from the Irish team hotel in Perth yesterday morning, Ó Fearghail denied that Ireland losing the bid would have consequences on whether planning permission is granted.

“I don’t know if it would accelerate because the block on Casement Park at the moment is judicial. It’s going through a planning process, which is judicial and the rugby decision shouldn’t have any influence on that, I don’t think.

“I don’t believe it should and I think there will be a decision on it quite soon on the planning element of it. Now if we get planning permission – and I’m quite hopeful but I don’t know – then you get into a different stage and certainly from a GAA view we are committed now as we have always been to the provision of Casement Park.

“Look at the map of Ireland, we have a dearth of facilities north of a line between Galway and Dublin. We have a little bit of an overload south of that line but we need to keep those facilities strong but we don’t need more but we certainly need more in that north half of Ireland and Casement is key to that.

“And the whole project of Casement wasn’t just about Belfast and Antrim and Ulster. It’s about that whole region, which needs a top-class facility.

“The GAA will be committed as it always was to Casement. Of course, things like the Rugby World Cup would have helped – there’s no point pretending that not getting it doesn’t matter, it does – but the approach will continue.”

Asked if there was a new timeline in place for the redevelopment, Ó Fearghail said that there wasn’t and that to think the project would be completed two years from now was wishful.

“We’re still committed to it. Nothing can happen until planning permission is approved. We all have to respect the process.

“There can’t be a date. We had to go back and read and re-read the whole judicial review. Get our experts to do it. We weren’t able to presume anything.

“We simply had to show why the stadium can happen, should happen and leave it open to the courts.

“2019 sounds ambitious to me but I don’t know.”

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