Northern Ireland

Casement Park: Paul Scott claims damning says Carál Ní Chuilín

Carál Ní Chuilín
Image caption Carál Ní Chuilín said she considered safety to be paramount in the project

The culture minister has said allegations by a safety expert about a new stadium project were among the most damning she has heard as an MLA.

Carál Ní Chuilín was giving evidence at the culture committee's inquiry into the Casement Park GAA stadium redevelopment.

In April, safety expert Paul Scott said he was put under "undue pressure" to approve plans for the new stadium.

He said the pressure came from officials in the culture department.

"The allegations that were made here on the 30th [of April] were probably some of the most damning I've heard in my whole time being a member of this assembly since 2007," Ms Ní Chuilín said.

She told the committee that safety was paramount to the delivery of the project.

"It's simply unthinkable that I'd want to put lives at risk," she said.

The minister also accepted that she should not have told the BBC that "an anti-GAA element" was making it difficult for the new 38,000-seater stadium to be built.

"It would appear to me that the level of scrutiny asked of the GAA was not asked of other developments," she said.

"However, I accept that that's [her suggestion of an anti-GAA element] a political comment that I perhaps should not have made."

The minister said an independent investigation will take place into whistle-blowing in light of "grievances raised" by Mr Scott at the committee on 30 April.

Ms Ní Chuilín said she had also commissioned a review of the Casement project from a technical perspective.

She said it would likely take 10 to 12 weeks to complete and would be published afterwards.

The minister said she was "very happy for anyone to look at this programme openly and transparently".

She said she had also consulted with the cabinet office in Westminster over the project.

"I'm now going to the Westminster British Cabinet Office to ask them to come into my department and into this project and literally tear it apart to see if there's evidence of the allegations that were made," she said.

'Not dogmatic about numbers'

Ms Ní Chuilín said she also accepted that the 38,000 capacity planned for the new stadium may have to be reduced.

"I would anticipate when the GAA announce figures for the consultation into the new application that they may be reduced. I'm not dogmatic about the numbers," she said.

The chair of the committee, the DUP's Nelson McCausland, pressed the minister as to whether previous discussions about safety had mentioned emergency exiting as a problem.

"Absolutely, but it was not an issue that meant that advice that was given was ignored, or suppressed," Ms Ní Chuilín said.

"It wasn't that it was an issue that needed to be brought up to a level for my attention.

"I want to make this clear, at no time did anyone tell me that there was a Hillsborough-type scenario in waiting and I did nothing about it."

Image caption Paul Scott appeared before the committee on 30 April

She said she was "shocked" when she learned of the allegations made by Mr Scott on 30 April.

"Had a serious issue been elevated to my level I would have known about it and I would have dealt with it," she said.

'Substantial list of documents'

David Hilditch of the DUP said there was a "substantial list of documents which say that safety was an issue at the Casement project" from about 2013.

He described it as "worrying" that the minister was not made aware of it.

"Is it not concerning that senior Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) officials and perhaps Sport NI have kept quiet, hidden, or even covered up some of these serious matters?" he asked.

DUP assembly member William Humphrey read from the minutes of a Sport NI board meeting on 23 June 2014.

He said these show that Mr Scott raised a number of "very serious issues".

Ms Ni Chuilin said she would be taking the minutes and presenting them to the inquiry.

She said that "no-one took it upon themselves to elevate it to my level that there were safety concerns".

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