Casement Park: GAA warns social club members over bills
Members of a social club who are trying to stop their premises being demolished to make way for a new Gaelic Athletic Association stadium have been warned that they owe thousands to the GAA.
Casement Park social club is based within the GAA's existing Casement Park sports grounds in west Belfast.
The club was to be demolished as part of a £76m redevelopment of the stadium, but members are fighting it in court.
Members have received letters claiming they owe over £36,000 in unpaid bills.
The solicitors' letters were sent to individual members of the social club on behalf of the Antrim County GAA board, which owns Casement Park grounds.
The correspondence, sent by O'Hare Solicitors in the city, was obtained by Belfast newspaper, the Irish News.
The letters state: "Since the 7 August 2013 your club has been continuing to occupy our client's premises without paying rent, rates or electricity charges.
"As of 31 December 2013, the amount due to our client is £36,552.50.
"This figure is increasing all the time and it is anticipated that by 31 March 2014 the amount will have increased by a further £6,500 approximately."
Casement Park social club, which is more than 50 years old, has been involved in a long-running legal dispute with Antrim County GAA board.
Club members officially severed their links with the board last December.
The solicitors' letters warn that responsibility for the social club's debt "lies with all of the individual members of the club and all are jointly and severally liable".
The correspondence adds that, following a court judgement in their favour, Antrim County GAA board, would retain the option of "pursuing those it thinks most liable to meet the debt".
Jude Whyte, who has held Casement social club membership for 25 years, said he was "shocked beyond words" when he read the solicitors' letter.
He told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme that the correspondence had been sent to club members who were elderly, disabled and, in some cases, deceased.
Mr Whyte said the letters had caused great distress and annoyance.
"Is that the best we can do, in this day and age, to send out letters to people in their 60s and 70s, threatening them that they may have to pay outrageous amounts of money?"
He added that the club was the "heart and soul" of the GAA in Belfast.
"Over the years, this club has actually donated over one million pounds for the development of Antrim football and hurling squads," Mr Whyte said.
He told the programme that the social club members were "decent people who will pay any bill and all bills within 10 days", but said that they could not query the amount at present as they had to fight the GAA in court for access to the club's accounts books.
However, he said the £36,552.50 bill appeared to be a "very dear pint of beer".
"And apparently, if you don't drink it by the end of March, it's going to go up another £6,500," Mr Whyte added.
Tim Attwood, who is an SDLP councillor in the area, said the GAA's threat of legal action was "not the way to do business".
He called on the GAA to sit down with club members and residents and take on board their concerns about the redevelopment.
Casement Park is the GAA's main sports venue in Ulster and work on transforming the ground into a 38,000-seat stadium is due to get under way in April.
However, the plans have been met with strong opposition from some residents, who have staged several protests against the redevelopment.
The residents are concerned that the height of the new structure would cast their houses into permanent shadow and have described the proposed new stadium as a "monstrosity".
Last summer, Casement Park social club went to court to stop its premises being shut down.
A confidential settlement was reached in that case with the Antrim County GAA board.
However, the social club instructed lawyers again following an incident earlier this year when its electricity supply was disconnected.
Although that issue has been resolved, the demolition injunction application has been listed for hearing later this month.
The BBC contacted the GAA's media representatives and the Antrim County GAA board for a response.
A GAA spokesman said as the social's club's legal action was before the courts, it would not be appropriate to comment.