Northern Ireland

Casement Park: Sports minister calls for stadium review after committee claims

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Media captionPaul Scott addressed a Stormont committee on Thursday, as BBC Newsline's Mark Simpson reports

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has asked for a full review of the new Casement Park Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) ground redevelopment plan.

Earlier, safety expert Paul Scott told a Stormont committee he was put under "undue pressure" to approve plans for the new ground by officials from the minister's department.

He also said he had made a complaint of bullying against them.

He said it was made in December 2014.

Mr Scott, of the Safety Technical Group (STG), said pressure exerted upon him had been "so significant" he had no choice but to raise a complaint.

He told the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) committee that he had been expressing concerns about the stadium design for two years.

'Concerns'

Ms Ní Chuilín said she had listened to the evidence presented, and in light of the safety concerns raised over the proposed redevelopment design, had asked for a full review of the project, "including independent specialist advice as appropriate, which will draw on experts in the field of public safety".

"I am aware that a number of grievances were raised at the committee, including allegations of bullying, and they are currently the subject of an ongoing investigation by Sport NI," she said.

"These allegations need to be fully investigated and I will seek independent advice to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately.

"I have also asked the Permanent Secretary of DCAL to convene a meeting of the Safety Technical Group to hear their concerns at first hand."

The Sinn Féin minister said the development of regional sports stadiums was a Programme for Government commitment which she would continue to honour.

"All stadiums must be compliant with safety requirements," she added.

"There can be no compromise on the safety of the people who use stadiums and those who live in surrounding areas.

"Rest assured, any redeveloped stadium will not open without a fully valid and compliant safety certificate."

Mr Scott told the committee the 38,000-capacity stadium could not be evacuated safely, and there was the potential for a disaster like the Hillsborough stadium tragedy.

But he said his concerns had been largely ignored. The proposed Casement Park design was blocked in court last year. Mr Scott said the new design needs a more rigorous safety check.

'Removed'

He said he raised a complaint of bullying and harassment against DCAL officials, with the chief executive of Sport Northern Ireland.

He also said he made a formal protected disclosure to the board of Sport NI, where he is safety compliance unit manager.

He told the committee he had "spent many a sleepless night" and was also "seeing a stress counsellor".

Mr Scott was addressing the committee on Thursday on the issue of Casement Park's proposed redevelopment.

"I and Sport NI have received undue pressure from the GAA and from DCAL about my view of the safety of the Casement Park plan," he said. "An email was received that our comments were at odds with the requirements."

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

He said this was an "outrageous and hurtful" allegation.

In a statement released later on Thursday, the GAA said it refuted the allegation that it "pressured or bullied any individual or organisation in any way".

"We have an impeccable safety record within our stadia throughout Ulster and Ireland," it added.

"The GAA is appalled at being brought into a live and ongoing HR grievance matter within Sport NI.

"We are also concerned that today's events could prejudice our forthcoming planning application for a provincial stadium project at Casement Park."

Mr Scott said that on Wednesday, he was told he would be removed as chair of the STG.

"The committee will have several DCAL appointees on it, and there will be measures put in place so that freedom of information requests cannot be aired - bearing in mind that it was through a freedom of information request that the committee learned of the issues," he added.

Mr Scott was asked on Thursday, if he felt he was being "sidelined".

"Sidelined and gagged," he replied.

Image caption Aerial view of Casement Park GAA stadium in west Belfast

Earlier this month, the BBC learned design plans for the redeveloped Casement Park stadium were not approved by key safety advisers.

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

The STG is made up of representatives from Sport NI, police, the fire and ambulance services, Belfast City Council and the GAA.

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