Casement Park STG Chair: “we were being attempted to be coerced, pressurised into signing off something that we were singularly uncomfortable with…”

The BBC reports on the latest wrinkle in the on-going saga of the controversial £70million redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast – stalled in December last year when Belfast High Court quashed the decision to grant planning approval for the redevelopment.

At the start of April this year, the BBC obtained the minutes of the last meeting of the Casement Park Development Safety Technical Group (STG), in November 2014, under a Freedom of Information request.   The STG is made up of representatives from Sport NI, police, the fire and ambulance services, Belfast City Council and the GAA.  From the BBC report (1 April 2014)

The GAA did not attend that meeting, but the minutes noted that “neither the design team nor members of the STG are aware of any stadium in Great Britain with similar exiting arrangements”.

It adds that the last set of plans it had been given “indicated that the stadium did not comply with the content of the green guide/red guide”, which are the safety industry’s standard recommendations.

One of the group’s major concerns was that any blockage on the Andersonstown Road could push the exit time limit well over the recommended eight minutes.

According to some estimates, in the event of some emergencies, it could take more than 20 minutes for a crowd of 38,000 to get out of the ground to somewhere safe.

This has been rejected by Ulster GAA, which said in a statement that it had employed an experienced design team, that the Casement Park stadium conforms to the guidance in the current red and green guide regulations, and it carried out its own extensive exercise to ensure that 38,000 spectators could be evacuated to a place of safety within eight minutes.

It said these findings had been presented to the STG group.

With approval from Stormont’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), the GAA went ahead with a planning application and appointed a contractor, even though the safety group had been advised this would not happen before it had approved the design.

The BBC has also learned that while DCAL had been asked over a 13-month period for documentation on the proposed emergency exiting strategy, it did not provide this.

A DCAL spokesperson said on Wednesday that the STG continued to inform the design process and event management plan, to ensure all the issues raised were addressed.

It added that the stadium could not operate at the required safe capacity without a fully compliant general safety certificate.

Today the Chair of the Safety Technical Goup, Paul Scott, briefed the NI Assembly Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure “on health & safety issues in relation to the redevelopment of Casement Park, Belfast”.  From the current BBC report

Mr Scott was addressing the Culture, Arts and Leisure 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 that on Wednesday [yesterday], he was told he had been 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. [added emphasis]

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

“Sidelined and gagged,” he replied.

The BBC NI Live reporters have been following developments at the Committee.

11:30 Casement safety briefing at Stormont

Paul Scott, chair of the Department of Culture’s safety technical group, tells a Stormont committee that rules on stadium design state an evacuation time of eight minutes is required.  He says that’s because after 8 minutes crowds start to panic. Mr Scott is briefing politicians on the redevelopment of Casement.

12:02 Evacuation times

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”.

12:06 ‘Very challenging’

Paul Scott tells the Stormont committee looking at issues surrounding the proposed redevelopment of Casement Park that a design architect has warned that evacuating the stadium with the proposed 38,000 capacity could take 22 minutes, making it “very challenging”.

12:11 Safety chair accuses DCAL

Political correspondent Gareth Gordon tweets that Paul Scott, chair of the safety technical group who refused to sign off on Casement Park plans, claims DCAL tried to remove him.

12:14 ‘GAA and DCAL reticent’

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.

12:18 ‘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.

12:18 Safety group under ‘undue pressure’

Paul Scott of the safety technical group claims to have come under pressure about the safety of the new Casement Park proposals.  Mr Scott said: “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. An email was received that our comments our were at odds with the requirements.”

12:21 Closed session call:

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.

12:56 ‘Sleepless nights’:

Basil McCrea MLA asks Paul Scott about the “undue pressure” he feels he’s been under regarding Casement Park.

“I’ve spent many a sleepless night,” Mr Scott replies. “I am also seeing a stress counsellor. I’ve worked for Sport NI for 13 or 14 years and not had a single sick day. I’ve not even seen a doctor in that time. I’ve been to see the doctor several times now.”

He added that he feels “very isolated and very alone”.

13:18 Group wants a safe stadium at Casement

Chair of the Casement safety group Paul Scott tells a Stormont committee the safety group is “supportive” of the Casement redevelopment.  “We want a good stadium, but we want a safe stadium where supporters are not at risk.” Mr Scott claims he was put under pressure to approve plans for the ground.

13:29 ‘Pressurised’:

DCAL committee member William Humphrey asks Paul Scott his view on responses made to the views of the Safety Technical Group (STG) during the planning stages of Casement Park.

“I was taking that we were being attempted to be coerced, pressurised into signing off something that we were singularly uncomfortable with,” he says. [added emphasis]

 

Update According to BBC News NI Live

16:22 Urgent review of Casement project:

Political correspondent Gareth Gordon tweets that Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín urgently commissions full review into Casement stadium redevelopment after hearing Paul Scott’s evidence to her committee.

And we have the Ministerial press release

“I have listened to the evidence presented to the CAL Committee, and in light of the safety concerns raised in relation to the proposed design of the redeveloped Casement Park, I have asked my officials to urgently commission 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.

“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.”

Hmmm… The specific safety concerns raised today are not new. DCAL were asked about the proposed emergency exiting strategy for over a year. As the BBC reported 4 weeks ago, based on FoI requested minutes of the STG meetings last year… And safety concerns featured in the High Court ruling in December.

But would that be a meeting with the newly constituted Safety Technical Group? [With a new DCAL appointed Chair? – Ed] And who removed Paul Scott as Chair the day before he was due to give evidence to the Assembly Committee?

[Are Sport NI in a position to investigate DCAL officials about any of those grievances, or the allegations of their bullying? – Ed] Probably not…

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  • barnshee

    Name names

  • chrisjones2

    How many other GAA grounds are in a similar state?

    Why is this situation allowed top persist? GAA is perhaps the biggest spectator sporty in NI but it seems that safety is simply not a priority – and will not be until people are killed

  • Dan

    This should fall right at the door of the Sports Minister and she should be sacked.
    Her department, her watch and the unmitigated scandal has cost millions as her department and the GAA have first tried to bulldoze the residents and now this.

    Wells went for talking through his hat.
    This is much much worse.
    Time to go.

  • mickfealty

    And Windsor Park is run by the GAA is it? http://goo.gl/nRBj3V

  • chrisjones2

    Oh I agree completely but frankly the GAA is more important because it has so many more stadia that attract real crowds unlike football

    My point wasn’t intended to be political at all. Windsor park was a disgrace.

    This is parish pump politics stuff. Too many organisations are able to get away with things they wouldn’t in a larger state because they are well got with political interests . That feeling is reinforced by the way NI Departments are run – by inner cabals of special advisers – and that’s not just the SF ones

    That said, so far all this is based on the evidence of one person who seems to be involved in a bitter dispute with his employers so we need to see how the evidence actually plays out in due course

  • Update According to BBC News NI Live

    16:22 Urgent review of Casement project:

    Political correspondent Gareth Gordon tweets that Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín urgently commissions full review into Casement stadium redevelopment after hearing Paul Scott’s evidence to her committee.

    Sports minister @CaralNiChuilin urgently commissions full review into Casement project after hearing Paul Scott's evidence to her cttee— Gareth Gordon (@BBCGarethG) April 30, 2015

    And we have the Ministerial press release

    “I have listened to the evidence presented to the CAL Committee, and in light of the safety concerns raised in relation to the proposed design of the redeveloped Casement Park, I have asked my officials to urgently commission 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.

    “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.”

    Hmmm… The specific safety concerns raised today are not new. DCAL were asked about the proposed emergency exiting strategy for over a year. As the BBC reported 4 weeks ago, based on FoI requested minutes of the STG meetings last year… And safety concerns featured in the High Court ruling in December.

    But would that be a meeting with the newly constituted Safety Technical Group? [With a new DCAL appointed Chair? – Ed] And who removed Paul Scott as Chair the day before he was due to give evidence to the Assembly Committee?

    [Are Sport NI in a position to investigate DCAL officials about any of those grievances, or the allegations of their bullying? – Ed] Probably not..

  • james

    Where does all the money go in GAA? Somebody must be making a fortune

  • chrisjones2

    No point.TIme for a petition of concern?

  • Zig70

    Time to cut the losses. Leave Casement as a training ground and move to the Maze. Build a stadium to rival Clones.

  • hugh mccloy

    Independent this, independent this, maybe lets do what should be correct and refer this matter to investigation by the public accounts committee.

    This is basically another Red Sky, money fired all over the show with no one knowing what is happening, and pressure being applied to make things that shouldn’t happen happen, business as usual concerning projects with the assembly

  • hugh mccloy

    This has the hall marks of what Conor Murphy was at when he was minister, and to think he is coming back to the assembly

  • hugh mccloy

    is that McMullan and O Hoisin leaving behind him when he was blowing the whistle Mick ?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Zig
    Before I started concerning myself with events from back home, was there an idea of a multi-purpose stadium at the maze?
    Given that Windsor is being gobbled up by the earth perhaps this could be looked at?

  • Zeno

    That’s not an unfair assumption, and it’s likely a few people are getting a good few quid out of it, but they do spend a lot of money on Junior Football Hurling etc. The only problem I have with them is the faux IRA links and that is dying out.

  • Zeno

    It works like this AG. Sinn Fein bring the motion to remove the flag at City Hall. The DUP hit back by cancelling the Maze. Eye poke is all that keeps both them in power.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Ah Zeno, I forgot that.
    I haven’t had my coffee this morning and was thinking in terms of pragmatism as opposed to Norn Ironism. Schoolboy error.

  • Zeno

    It’s more pathetics than politics.

  • Dan

    Is it?

  • Nevin

    Copy of STG minutes posted by MORA, the local residents group.

  • DOUG

    Yes

  • John

    Sell Casement, buy Sirrocco, build 40k stadium that all sports can use, but primarily designed for GAA. City centre location ala Cardiff…leads to fantastic sporting occasions and plenty of business for a city centre that needs it.

  • mickfealty

    Nah, it’s always worth finding out about bad stuff at the beginning of a process than discovering at the end you designed and built a death trap.

    Leaning on the guy charged with guaranteeing safety (the GAA scandalously referred to this business as a HR matter) is doubly malign since they appear to have been trying to prevent him from performing his duty to act in the interests of public safety.

    That is in fact a much bigger scandal than Red Sky. Except it probably won’t be because there is no nationalist party watchdogging this kind of crap.

    I note at this point that even Nelson McCausland was proposing to take the committee proceedings out of the public record.

  • mickfealty

    That was the ‘peace centre’ not the stadium. A third of the cash has already gone and been successfully redeployed in new Ravenhill.

    To be fair to Windsor the contractor who dug that bloody great hole is the same one rebuilding the stadium but they were on a different contract with a different client.

    Time and money is running out for the GAA in Belfast. What takes shape eventually may be less than half the size people were promised. The pattern of over promising and under delivery is becoming clear.

    To rip off a great band from Derry, Shinner dreams, so hard to find.

  • Nevin

    “The committee will have several DCAL appointees on it, and there will be measures put in place ..”

    The technical term is ‘re-energised’.

  • hugh mccloy

    This is definitely a worse scenario than Red Sky, this saga reminds me of Poots ousting NHSCT chair Jim Stewart when he blew the whistle., no other heads were chopped despite worse performances with a new and bigger A&E, accountability and integrity up on the hill is seriously damaged.

  • murdockp

    Sinn fein the party of equality.

    GAA the fifteenth most participated sport in NI.

    Why is this sport getting £ 70m when is ranks so low in participation levels. Any party who believed in equality would spend the money on a basis of need and demand from the population.

    However I never thought the sinners believed in equality

    https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&ei=RjxFVaPGO5bvaKvmgIAF&url=http://niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/cal/committee-motions/grassroot-and-elite-sports-facilities/3.grassroots-sport-in-ni-a-summary-of-participation-and-potential-challenges.pdf&ved=0CBwQFjAA&usg=AFQjCNGZhYGytsEFGvLM8qUyhiC5e7WlVQ&sig2=zxqQoKct-6Rpi0Ws7JvIDw