Northern Ireland

Casement Park: Minister Carál Ní Chuilín recalled over GAA stadium safety claims

Aerial view of the old Casement Park stadium
Image caption The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) wants to build a new stadium on its existing grounds at Casement Park, west Belfast, but the project has been beset with problems

Stormont's sports minister is to be recalled to a committee over claims that she knew about safety concerns at a Belfast stadium as far back as 2012.

Carál Ní Chuilín previously said she first heard about fears over Casement Park's emergency exits last year.

However, that has now been contradicted by the former chairperson of Sport NI.

Dominic Walsh told Stormont's Culture, Arts and Leisure committee that Ms Ní Chuilín was briefed on the concerns at a meeting in the summer of 2012.

Mr Walsh said the then permanent secretary of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the minister's special adviser were also present at the meeting.

He said it was a detailed conversation and they even discussed the possible purchase of houses near Casement Park to accommodate better exiting arrangements.

Image caption Carál Ní Chuilín (centre) previously said that the first she had heard about concerns over the stadium's emergency exits was during a committee hearing last year

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) wants to build a new stadium on its existing grounds at Casement Park, west Belfast, but the multi-million pound project has been beset with problems and delays. Its planning permission was overturned last year.

Stormont's Culture, Arts and Leisure committee is conducting an inquiry into whether "appropriate consideration was given to plans for emergency exiting during the design process".

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Ms Nί Chuilίn denied misleading the committee.

Previously, she said the first she heard of the safety concerns was April last year, when Sport NI's stadium expert Paul Scott gave evidence to the committee.

In a BBC interview at the time, the minister said the safety concerns had not been known to her "ever before".

She added: "I am absolutely confident that had concerns of that nature been raised with my officials before, I would have heard about it."

However, Mr Walsh insisted on Thursday that the minister was present at a regular Friday "update meeting" in the summer of 2012 at which the issues were discussed.

Committee member William Humphrey, from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said it was important to find out if the minister had "misremembered or misled" the committee.

Its members voted in favour of asking her to return to the committee to explain what happened.

Ms Nί Chuilίn said she welcomed the opportunity to "again present evidence and rebut allegations made by other parties".

"I have put on record that I was not aware of allegations in relation to concerns around emergency exiting at Casement Park prior to April 2015. I am happy to put this on record again today and will do so again before the committee.

"Also, on being made aware of these allegations in April 2015, I immediately commissioned a fully independent Project Assessment Review (PAR) led by the British Cabinet Office to provide overall assurance of the Regional Stadia Programme and Casement Park in particular.

"This report was published on 7 August 2015."

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