Northern Ireland

Casement Park inquiry: Carál Ní Chuilín defends handling of stadium project

Carál Ní Chuilín
Image caption Carál Ní Chuilín has defended her handling of the Casement Park project

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has defended her handling of the Casement Park project.

The Sinn Féin MLA issued a statement in response to calls for her to clarify what she knew about safety concerns over the planned new GAA stadium.

It emerged at a Stormont Committee on Thursday that some safety fears were raised with the minister's department more than a year ago.

In spite of this, the planning application still went ahead.

The concerns were over the emergency exiting arrangements at the 38,000-capacity venue and fears they were inadequate.

Basil McCrea MLA said today: "It was clear from the evidence provided at the committee yesterday that people in her department did know, a lot of people knew actually.

"They may not have realised the significance of what they'd been told but they certainly knew, and she (the minister) needs to go and clarify that position."

A stadium safety expert, Paul Scott from Sport NI, claimed recently that the emergency exiting arrangements were so inadequate that they could have led to a Hillsbrough-type stadium disaster.

In her statement, Ms Ní Chuilín said: "I was unaware of the safety concerns at Casement Park, to the extent raised by the Sport NI official, until his evidence to the CAL (Culture Arts and Leisure) committee on 30 April."

She pointed out that after hearing his claims, she launched an investigation.

She said: "I initiated the independent project assessment review on the back of Paul Scott's evidence.

Image caption A Stormont committee is hearing evidence about the redevelopment of Casement Park

"This will look at all the facts and to what extent issues were reported, and to whom.

"I have already undertaken to publish the report of this review. I have asked this review is progressed urgently."

The minister's former permanent secretary Peter May admitted at the CAL committee hearing on Thursday, that he was aware of concerns regarding emergency exiting arrangements as far back as late 2013.

However, he insisted a potential Hillsbrough-type disaster was never mentioned by Sport NI. It was not raised as a "show-stopper" or "red flag" issue, he said.

Instead, it was presented as one of a number of issues still to be resolved.

Planning permission for the proposed multi-million-pound Casement Park stadium was reversed in December last year.

The GAA intend to submit a new application in the near future.

It is not clear whether it will include a new design, with more emergency exits or a reduced capacity.

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