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  1. Representatives from Sport NI briefed the committee on their savings delivery plans.
  2. Professor Tony Gallagher, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queen's University of Belfast gave an update on the Belfast Festival at Queen's.
  3. Paul Scott, chairperson of the Safety Technical Group briefed members on health and safety issues in relation to the redevelopment of the Casement Park GAA stadium in Belfast.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

That's all for now

There no plenary sessions or committee meetings at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, next week as the politicians take time off to work on the general election.

Join us at midday on Monday 11 May for a meeting of the Assembly.

Committee adjourns

After five hours and three briefings, Chairman Nelson McCausland brings the meeting to a close.

Committee seek departmental response

The committee in session

MLAs discuss how they will proceed.

They agree to request that a "bundle" of information from the Safety Technical Group be made public and to contact the department, seeking a response to this morning's meeting.

Committee resumes

After a comfort break, the committee meeting resumes.

One-off events

Basil McCrea says if it is likely the stadium would only be filled to capacity for championship finals, "could it not be we have specific emergency preparations for that one event?"

"It would be a very brave man who would sign that off," says Mr Scott, adding "design a stadium correctly, don't shut off roads".

'Quite subjective'

Cathal O hOisin

Cathal O hOisin of Sinn Fein says he had been reticent to ask questions earlier due to some of the "quite subjective" views in Mr Scott's briefing and says he would like to hear other opinions.

He asks about the initial business case from 2012, which cited a capacity for the new Casement Park, of 42,000.

Mr Scott says a stadium of that size would fit on the site, but the issue was with emergency exiting.

"If there is not an emergency, with that stadium, everybody should be in a place of reasonable safety within eight minutes, going out onto the Andersonstown Road," he says.

But if the problem is on the Andersonstown Road "we'd have a problem" as it is "good practice to evacuate away from the problem, not towards it".


Leslie Cree

In response to a question from the UUP's Leslie Cree, Mr Scott confirms there would be no compromise on safety certificates.

"You either comply, or if you don't comply, you may get the safe capacity of your venue reduced," he says.


Rosie McCorley

Sinn Fein's Rosie McCorley, in whose constituency Casement Park stands, asks if Mr Scott's views reflect the STG's opinion as a whole.

Mr Scott says "there would be differences and discussion, but that was the emerging consensus of the group".

'Fairly confrontational'

Gordon Dunne

Gordon Dunne of the DUP asks whether the safety group should have been brought in at the early stage of the design process.

Mr Scott says the STG was invited to the project steering group meetings but "we had to sit outside and were only brought in for a short period".

He also says the meetings were "fairly confrontational" and they were repeatedly told they were "holding back a project".

Mr Scott adds that the STG has not been able to acquire minutes from meetings of a group called the Project Sponsor Board, despite "many requests".

'Sidelined and gagged'

William Humphrey

William Humphrey of the DUP asks if Mr Scott felt he was being "sidelined".

"Sidelined and gagged," says Mr Scott.

'Wouldn't be allowed'

Mr Scott says he showed members "schematics" of Casement Park to members of the Sports Ground Safety Authority, a government body concerned with spectator safety.

"To a man, or a lady, they all said this would not be allowed," he says.

'Sleepless nights'

Basil McCrea

In response to a question from Basil McCrea, Mr Scott says he has "spent many a sleepless night and I'm also seeing a stress counsellor".

Asked if he believes "there was undue pressure put upon you", he says "absolutely".

GAA put 'great store by safety'

Mr McMullan asks about the GAA's safety record.

Mr Scott says the GAA put "great store by safety".

Ravenhill exits

Oliver McMullan

Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan asks how exiting procedures at the upgraded Ravenhill rugby stadium compare to Casement Park.

"We're dealing with a much lesser number. Less than half the number," says Mr Scott.

He says the STG recommended a fourth exit be included in the plans, as it would "future proof" the stadium, but in its current state "it complies".

DCAL appointee

Mr Scott says they have been told that the terms of reference of the STG are to be changed.

"And this will involve me being removed from the chair and a DCAL appointee replacing me".

'Undue pressure'

After agreeing to continue, Paul Scott resumes his submission.

He addresses proposals that were made suggesting that he should be removed as chairman of the Safety Technical Group.

There was "undue pressure from DCAL" on his position, he says.

Closed session?

Chairman Nelson McCausland suggests the committee should go into closed session.

Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan, Basil McCrea of NI21 and the SDLP's Karen McKevitt say the meeting should continue in a public setting.

'Treated differently'

Mr Scott says the GAA "made a number of accusations about Sport NI officers on the STG" including that the STG had treated the Casement Park project differently to the development at Windsor Park and Ravenhill.


The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) has been offered the opportunity to look at new design proposals, says Mr Scott, but along with DCAL they "appear to be reticent".

He says if there are concerns around the STG's assessment, obtaining a second opinion from the Sports Ground Safety Authority is the "most appropriate and logical step" as they have knowledge of the green/red guide (the safety industry's standard recommendations) and are independent.

'Very challenging'

Mr Scott says a design architect has warned that evacuating the stadium with the proposed 38,000 capacity could take 22 minutes, making it "very challenging".

'Extremely dangerous situation'

Mr Scott says the Safety Technical Group agrees with DCAL's decision that a risk-based approach should be taken to designing the stadium.

But, he says, "sadly DCAL have failed to provide an emergency exit strategy, despite repeated requests".

Under the current design, he says, the majority of exiting capacity was on the Andersonstown Road side of the ground and while exiting can be achieved under normal circumstances, if an incident occurred at a well-attended fixture it could lead to "an extremely dangerous situation, putting spectators at risk".

Fit for purpose

Mr Scott says one of the main purposes of the Safety Technical Group's assessment is to provide DCAL (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure) with assurances the stadium is fit for purpose at an early stage in the design process, before significant public funds were spent on planning permission or further design costs.

Casement Park background

Casement Park

Earlier this month, it emerged that design plans for the redeveloped Casement Park GAA stadium in west Belfast were

not approved by key safety advisers.

They were concerned at the amount of time it could take to exit the ground in the event of an emergency.

The Safety Technical Group (STG) was put together to supervise various safety issues around the new stadium.

The GAA said its studies showed 38,000 spectators could get to a place of safety within eight minutes.

Exiting risks

Mr Scott explains a diagram of the stadium, with reference to the exiting procedures.

He says research has shown that after eight minutes people become agitated if they are not in a free-flowing situation.

Mr Scott says the design of the exits at Casement Park is likely to limit its capacity and recommends a review of their design.

If you look at disasters at concert or sports venues, he says, "it is the crushing or panic that kills, rather than the fire, or fight, or structural collapse" and "we need very much to be mindful of that".

Casement Park briefing

Paul Scott

Paul Scott, from the Safety Technical Group, is answering the committee's questions regarding Casement Park Stadium.

'Funder of last resort'

Rosie McCorley of Sinn Fein asks if he believes "Belfast has lost greatly because of the decision taken by Queen's".

Prof Gallagher says "I think it is a loss that the Belfast Festival at Queen's will no longer happen".

He says "it's a much bigger thing than the university can handle."

"We're more than happy to be a partner with others, but it was no longer sustainable, from our point of view, to be the funder of last resort, that if anything went wrong we had to pick up the pieces. We can't afford to do that any more," he says.

'Future engagement?'

Basil McCrea asks Prof Gallagher, "are Queen's washing its hands completely of any involvement in the future in the Belfast Festival?"

"Not at all," says Prof Gallagher, "if there is a model put together by the city, or whomever, which could work, we would be very keen to explore opportunities to engage with that, because arts and culture remains a very important part of what we do".

'Private funding'

William Humphrey asks if there is a "cultural problem of people in Northern Ireland relying on government to pay for things and the private sector not doing enough".

Prof Gallagher says Queen's is one of the most effective universities in the UK at leveraging philanthropic support and "if it was there to be found, we would have found it".

"In the current economic environment it's very hard to access private support as well," he adds.

'Deeply committed'

Nelson McCausland

Committee chairman Nelson McCausland asks whether

the university stopping its funding for the festival indicates a change in its attitude towards the arts.

Prof Gallagher says they conducted an audit of public arts and culture events and found there were around 3000 events, attracting some 300,000 visitors annually.

He says the university remains "deeply committed" to arts provision but "will have to re-focus", given the current financial situation.

Mr McCausland also asks about the retention of staff whose work relates directly to the festival.

Prof Gallagher says if there is to be a new festival, run by a new organisation, they could transfer to work there.

He says the university is exploring opportunities for redeployment and "if the staff wish to remain and work at Queen's and they can find a place for them we accommodate that".

Belfast Festival

Prof Tony Gallagher

Prof Tony Gallagher, pro vice-chancellor of Queen's University Belfast is briefing MLAs on the future funding of the Belfast Festival.

Female participation

Rosie McCorley

Rosie McCorley of Sinn Fein asks whether Sport NI took into account female participation in sport when deciding where budget would fall.

Nick Harkness says they have engaged with groups such as the Female Sports Forum and are asking sports clubs how they intend to increase participation for women and girls.

Mr Harkness says that along with people with disabilities and those in areas of deprivation, women and girls are "at the top of the list of social need".

Windsor Park

Gordon Dunne

Gordon Dunne, the DUP deputy chairman of the committee, asks whether everything was done to "reduce the risk of failure" prior to the last international football match hosted at Windsor Park.

Cracks were discovered in the West Stand of the stadium after the match.

The decision was taken to

demolish the structure.

Nick Harkness says safety of sports grounds is not the responsibility of Sport NI and it is district councils that issue safety certificates.

But, he says it is his understanding Sport NI recommended an engineer's report was required and he believes it was received prior to the game.

'Doing a little less'

Basil McCrea

Basil McCrea of NI 21 asks the Sport NI representatives to outline the negative impacts of the 11.2% budget cut they face.

Andrew Sloan says the cut, which amounts to around £1m, means "essentially we'll be doing a little bit less"

His colleague Dr Shaun Ogle says the budget reduction will mean less "bespoke training" to coaches and fewer high performance services in some of our sports.

What is Sport NI?

According to Sport NI's

website the organisation is "the leading public body for the development of sport in Northern Ireland".

It has three strategic objectives:

Increased participation in sport and physical recreation;

Improved sporting performances; and

Improved efficiency and effectiveness in the administration of sport.


Oliver McMullan

Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan asks about cuts to Disability Sport NI.

Nick Harkness says there has been a 10% reduction in its allocation, but despite this "regrettable environment", Disability Sport had been able to determine its own priorities to mitigate the impact.

He says a further £390k is being made available, over four years, for "mainstreaming" disability sports, which he says "is really where we want to be in the future, where possible that people with a disability can be full and participating members in mainstream clubs".

Community use

The DUP's William Humphrey asks about the community use of sports facilities and clubs.

Nick Harkness
Nick Harkness

Nick Harkness, director of participation at Sport NI, says his organisation is taking a "three strand approach", with a fund of £8.75m available for facilities which can be used for both high-level training and community use; a further programme of grants for multi-sport facilities of between £100k and £1m for clubs and community groups and a third tier of smaller grants for single sport clubs, with an overall pot of £2m.


Andrew Sloan

Andrew Sloan talks about projects such as the Active Community programme, funded through a £13m grant from the Lottery Fund.

He says Sport NI's planned interventions aim to produce "sporting and social outcomes".

Sport NI representatives

Sport NI representatives

Dr Shaun Ogle, Andrew Sloan and Nick Harkness and from Sport NI are telling the committee about their spending plans and how they intend to deliver savings.

McCausland in the chair

Nelson McCausland

The DUP's Nelson McCausland is chairing the meeting.

Good morning

Welcome to Thursday morning's coverage of the Assembly Culture Committee live from Parliament Buildings, Stormont.