Northern Ireland

Casement Park: Minister Carál Ní Chuilín walks out Stormont committee

Carál Ní Chuilín
Image caption The minister was appearing before Stormont's Culture, Arts and Leisure committee on Thursday morning

The Culture Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, has left a Stormont committee investigating safety issues at Casement Park in west Belfast without answering questions.

The minister was requested to appear again at the committee after it had heard claims in January that she had been briefed on safety concerns as far back as 2012.

Ms Ní Chuilín took an oath before addressing the committee on Thursday where she was then asked to proceed with her opening statement.

The minister was appearing before Stormont's culture, arts and leisure committee on Thursday morning.

She began by saying no other witness had been asked to give evidence under oath to the inquiry and expressed concern at what she described as an alteration in procedure "at this late stage".

She also questioned the committee's fairness. Ms Ní Chuilín spoke for more than 80 minutes, reading from a prepared text, outlining the chronology of events surrounding the planning and design for Casement.

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

She then said she would allow the committee to make its own mind up on whether it would recall all witnesses to be questioned under oath rather than singling out individuals.

She said she would be happy to take questions in the future only after the committee had reached a decision.

She said only then would she return to the committee and looked forward to hearing from it.

Ms Ní Chuilín then got up to leave and was asked by the committee chairman, Nelson McCausland, if she was not taking questions.

She asked if he wanted her to read the statement out again.

Mr McCausland then asked: "Minister could you please sit down and answer questions?"

Image caption The committee adjourned for 10 minutes following Ms Ní Chuilín's departure

She said she had made her position clear and that she was not going back to answer questions until the position was clarified.

The committee adjourned, resuming just over 10 minutes later.

When it resumed Sinn Féin's Cathal Ó hOisín reported comments to the chair that he said had been made from the public gallery as the previous session had closed.

Mr McCausland said in response that he "did not hear it".

William Humphrey of the DUP said it was unprecedented that the minister had left without answering questions and said it was "the latest in a string of discourtesies extended to this committee by the minister and the department".

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.

The culture, arts and leisure committee is conducting an inquiry into whether "appropriate consideration was given to plans for emergency exiting during the design process".

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