GAA Football

Casement Park will be rebuilt - but can't be down-sized: Antrim captain Declan Lynch

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey outlined some of her priorities including her commitment to Casement Park. Pictured at Casement Park with Finance Minister Conor Murphy and Tom Daly, the chairman of Casement Park Stadium Development Project Board

ANTRIM senior football captain Declan Lynch believes Casement Park will be rebuilt and has urged its detractors to think outside the box and consider what life will be like in west Belfast with state-of-the-art facilities.

Lynch, who is a policy adviser for Sinn Fein and works under South Down MLA and the party's Culture, Arts and Sports spokesperson Sinead Ennis, is dismayed with what he terms the prevailing “can't-do” attitude among sections of the media after it was revealed the delayed stadium project needs an extra £33m on top of the ringfenced £77.5m due to rising costs in labour and steel.

Lynch also rejected calls to have the new Casement Park significantly downsized in order to make the rebuild potentially more affordable.

But such a move, with a reduced capacity, would be at odds with the GAA's desire to have a Casement Park that is fit to be called a provincial venue capable of hosting Ulster finals and All-Ireland quarter-finals and semi-finals.

“There is a government commitment there,” said Lynch.

“It was in programme for government previously, so this idea of scaling it down is not relevant and shouldn't be a talking point. It's the only outstanding regional stadia programme that hasn't been built.

“You have top class rugby stadium at Ravenhill and Windsor Park has been redeveloped, and we're still waiting on Casement.

“It's gone on far too long. We are way over a 1,000 days since planning has been lodged. During that time we've already lost a generation of kids that should have had the chance to play at Casement Park.

“But we've come this far and to turn back now and downsize would be wrong and would be giving way to the negative publicity Casement has received.

“It won't be scaled down and it shouldn't be. The commitment was the scale of a new stadium. It has been revised from its original plans. I think we should leave the negativity where it is and push on and think of the can-do attitude rather than the can't-do attitude.

“I know members of the public have their concerns and they've aired those. [But] I would urge those people to re-evaluate things and see what can be done rather than what can't be done. Just look at the opportunities and what it can bring.”

The old Casement Park closed its doors in 2013 with the hope of a new 30,000-plus provincial stadium being built on the Andersonstown Road site, but due to resident concerns, planning issues and no government in place for over three years, no meaningful progress has been made.

But Lynch feels it's only a matter of time before the ambitious project gets the green light from Stormont.

“We have the ‘New Decade – New Approach' document in which Casement Park is referenced and you have the commitment from Nichola Mallon [Infrastructure Minister] who wants to make a [planning] decision on it and on one of her first days as Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey outlined her commitment to rebuilding Casement Park and visited the site.

“So it's positive. I think some people might've thought that once Stormont is back up the builders would be in the next day, but there are processes it has to go through and we're in a position now where Nichola Mallon will make a decision sooner rather than later.”

On the issue of the £33m overspend that must be found within the Stormont budget as well as the GAA perhaps helping to make up the shortfall, Lynch said: “It absolutely can be found. Again, it's a commitment that's in the New Decade – New Approach document, signed by the British and Irish governments. It was signed up to in good faith. I think it will take a bit of imagination to find the money but I'm confident it will be found.”

The Lamh Dhearg clubman added: “We need to worry about getting planning over the line and then we'll switch to the funding issue. There have been some media commentators who came out highlighting the £600m shortfall [highlighted by Finance Minister Conor Murphy] as a reason to downsize it. [But] that is resource funding. We're talking about capital funding; two separate issues and two separate pots of funding.

“[But] I don't think it was helpful what the GAA said last week [they didn't commit to helping to finance the £33m overspend] but they have to respect their membership too. I'd expect there will be meetings with them but it's maybe not best to air them in public and get things done around a table.”

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