Casement Park Development: Further allegations at Assembly Committee Hearing

The BBC reports that GAA official, and independent Northern Ireland Policing Board member, Ryan Feeney, has threatened “immediate [legal] action” following further allegations by the chairman of the safety technical group, Sport NI’s Paul Scott, of pressure being exerted to drop concerns about safety at the controversial proposed £70million redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast.  Mr Scott was appearing again in front of the NI Assembly Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure. From the BBC report

Mr Feeney later issued a statement, saying: “I emphatically deny the allegations by Paul Scott.

“Paul Scott and I never had a conversation, at any stage, on the PSNI’s role or involvement in the Casement project.

“I attended a series of meetings with the PSNI on Casement and every one of these meetings involved other GAA officials and design team members.

“I would ask the BBC to note the comments of chief inspector McNally at the CAL committee regarding this matter.

“I have already taken legal advice and intend to take immediate action on this matter.”

The BBC noted the comments by Ch Insp Anthony McNally following Paul Scott’s claims.

Ch Insp Anthony McNally from the PSNI was also at the meeting. He intervened immediately.

He said: “I was involved in conversations from last summer through to now with the GAA where they did come in to speak to senior police in relation to Casement, and I can certainly say there was never, through any of those conversations, any effort to put pressure on the police to change the report.”

And the latest allegations to be made by Sport NI’s Paul Scott, today at the Assembly Committee on Culture, Arts and Leisure

Mr Scott told the committee: “We were advised that the design team, the GAA, DCAL (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure) had access to high-ranking police officers and that they would be able to get the police report changed.”

Mr Humphrey then asked who had told that to Mr Scott.

“Ryan Feeney advised us and also Carl Southern,” Mr Scott said.

“It was saying: ‘Well, look, if we get the police to change their views, then the other emergency services will follow suit. You guys are going to be left on your own and you will look very foolish.'”

The BBC report notes that

Mr Southern used to work for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, but no longer works there.

It is believed he is now working in England.

The BBC is making efforts to try to contact him, to inform him of Paul Scott’s remarks and seek a response.

However, a second Sport NI safety officer working on the Casement Park project also appeared at today’s committee meeting.

Laura Strong claimed she was ridiculed and laughed at after expressing concerns about the proposed new stadium.

She said she was left feeling “quite shaken” after a meeting at a Belfast hotel last year with officials from the GAA, the stadium design team and civil servants from DCAL.

Ms Strong told MLAs that she and her Sport NI colleague Mr Scott faced a “barrage of abuse” when they outlined their concerns about emergency exiting arrangements at the proposed stadium.

She said: “We were subjected to ridicule, abuse, felt patronised and considered that efforts were being made to humiliate us.

“People were openly laughing at us … I left feeling quite shaken.”

Mr Scott claimed the GAA later apologised.

He said: “One of the representatives of the GAA phoned me the next morning to say ‘Paul, I’m so sorry about what you had to put up with yesterday, it was just uncalled for’.

“And another member of the GAA said similar things.”

Mr Scott and Ms Strong said the Casement meeting in question took place at the Wellington Park hotel in south Belfast on 17 June last year.

Since an earlier post noting the NI Sports Minister, Sinn Fein’s Carál Ní Chuilín, in an apparently exclusive interview to the BBC News NI Business Correspondent, Julian O’Neill, complaining that “What is clear to me is that there has been an anti-GAA element throughout…“, the Minister appeared at the Assembly Committee to state, “I accept that that’s a political comment that I perhaps should not have made.”  At the time, 21 May, the Minister added

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. [added emphasis]

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.

[Brits in!? – Ed]  Well, they’re the only ones you can trust…

Although, as a later BBC report noted, the Minister’s former permanent secretary, Peter May, admitted at another CAL committee meeting, that he was aware of concerns regarding emergency exiting arrangements as far back as late 2013.  [Did her Special Adviser know? – Ed]  Which one…  [Adds:  And, apparently, Jarlath Kearney, now to be found as a columnist in the Irish News, was succeeded as Special Adviser to Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín in April 2014 by John McDermott, who I believe is a cousin of Sinn Féin MLA, Megan Fearon]

A subsequent ministerial press release [15 June] set out the remit of the British Cabinet Office led review.

This technically focussed review is being led by a skilled and experienced Review Team Leader from the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority, accompanied by two external accredited Gateway Reviewers, from the Cabinet Office’s panel of approved reviewers, and a representative from Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) of the Department of Finance and Personnel. The review has been commissioned through CPD, who asked the Major Projects Authority to provide an experienced and independent review leader, given the high profile of the stadia programme. The Major Projects Authority has had no other involvement in the programme.

The review, which will examine all three grounds in the regional stadia programme but will focus extensively on Casement Park, was requested by the Minister following evidence presented to the Assembly’s CAL Committee on 30 April.

And, since then, the NI Sports Minister has also met [24 June] with a delegation from the Andersonstown Regeneration Committee (ARC), along with the MP for the area, her party colleague, Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey.  Declaring afterwards,

[Carál Ní Chuilín]: “I am committed to delivering redeveloped stadia for the IFA, Ulster Rugby and Ulster GAA but while the stadia for soccer and rugby are either ongoing or complete, the GAA project has been subject to significant delay and local opposition.

“However, following my meeting today, it is clear that there are very many people in the area who are frustrated by this delay and want the stadium to progress as expediently as possible. They feel that their voice hasn’t been heard in the debate surrounding the stadium.

Well, “debate” and the successful legal challenge to the proposed development by a local residents’ group


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