Casement Park: Plans 'will not proceed' without ministers

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image captionAn aerial view of the proposed stadium at Casement Park

The multi-million pound project to redevelop Casement Park will not proceed in the absence of ministers.

Leo O'Reilly, the permanent secretary at the Department for Communities (DfC), said the GAA stadium project has stalled.

He confirmed the delay in a letter to SDLP Newry and Armagh MLA, Justin McNulty.

A £36 million programme to develop regional stadiums for football has also been delayed.

Mr O'Reilly said the two projects are "not being progressed in the absence of ministers".

The Department for Communities did not respond to a request for comment from BBC News NI.

The letter, first reported in The Irish News, also stated that in relation to Casement, the DfC is still "awaiting new costs from a revised business case".

image captionSDLP MLA and GAA All-Ireland winner Justin McNulty said the news about Casement Park is hugely disappointing

'Very, very sad'

Mr McNulty, an All-Ireland Senior Football Championship winner with Armagh in 2002, said he had contacted DfC to check what projects were at risk due to the political breakdown at Stormont.

"It is hugely disappointing," Mr McNulty told BBC News NI.

"As a young GAA member, I used to love going to Casement Park. They were very happy childhood memories for me.

"How many of the current Antrim senior footballers have ever played in Casement Park? I think it is very, very sad."

The SDLP MLA said that the lack of a functioning government is "hitting every part of this community and there seems little chance of progress in the near future".

"As there is little sign of an end to the impasse, between the two big parties, then the civil service must be given the power to push ahead with these projects."

'Being stripped away'

Mr McNulty also said he feared the GAA and Irish Football Association (IFA) could be forced to "put coaches on notice from this week" as the department plans to slash funding for schools programmes.

Ulster GAA and the IFA provide coaches for sports programmes in about 450 schools across Northern Ireland, but funding is due to run out this month.

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image captionCasement Park, seen before its closure, is the GAA's main venue in Belfast

The GAA sessions, aimed at primary school children, have already been saved at the ninth hour on two separate occasions in recent years.

'Loose change'

Mr McNulty said the head of the civil service, David Sterling, is seeking an extension which could see the funding continued until the end of the financial year in March.

"We are waiting on him coming back to us to see what loose change he has found down the back of the sofa," he said.

"From this week, the GAA could be starting to put coaches on notice. It is being stripped away as it stands."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education (DE) confirmed that the options for an extension are being explored.

"In March 2018, the department advised Ulster GAA and the IFA that it was providing £750,000 for the continued delivery of the curriculum sports programme until the end of October 2018.

"Over recent months DE officials have engaged with both the IFA and Ulster GAA to explore options for using the funding available in 2018/19 to extend the programme beyond October.

"More broadly, the department is currently considering its future priorities in relation to physical education, particularly in the context of the need to address rising levels of childhood obesity and type two diabetes."

"A key focus for the department going forward will be on supporting schools to develop a whole school approach to encouraging healthy lifestyles."

About £62.5m of public funding has been set aside and a revised planning application for a 34,500 seat stadium was submitted in February.

This summer marked the 65th anniversary of the opening of the ground.

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