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GAA facing costly legal claim over London site

The GAA is facing a multi-million euro lawsuit over 13 acres of land it owns in London.

An Irish-backed development company is taking legal action against the association claiming it has not assisted them in their bid to build on the land in New Eltham.

Novalong Ltd, which is registered in London, agreed to purchase the land for £6million (€7.5m) in 2001 once planning permission was granted from the local council.

In all, they paid £500,000 (€622,000) in option fees to the GAA granting them exclusive rights to develop the property which is the former home of the association in the city.

The ground, which attracted thousands of Irish immigrants to its playing pitches between the late 1940s when it was first purchased by the GAA and 1976 when the association moved its base to Ruislip in the north of the city, now lies in a derelict and overgrown state.

Novalong wanted to build 261 homes there, as well as a medical centre and community hall, but to date planning permission has not been granted by the local council and a vocal residents' group is fighting the development.

Now the company, whose founding director is Donegal developer Daniel Keeney, says the association is reneging on its contractual commitments by not co-operating with them as they seek to find a way of getting the green light for the development.

Novalong director Mark McCarroll said the company has spent £3 million (€3.7m) on legal fees and plans since acquiring the purchase option and has criticised the lack of co-operation given by the London County Board over the last three years.

The trustees of New Eltham whom Novalong will take legal action against are director-general of the GAA Páraic Duffy, Seamus Howlin and Jimmy O'Gorman, who are both representatives of the GAA congress, and the London-based Dermot O'Brien.

When contacted, the London County Board chairman Noel O'Sullivan said that a committee had been set up in Croke Park which was dealing with the issue and that the board's solicitor Michael Kennedy was also involved.

The GAA's head of finance Tom Ryan, who is a key member of the committee, confirmed that legal proceedings are under way but declined to speculate on what might happen in the case.

The Sunday Independent understands Novalong Ltd is seeking extensive compensation for the funds they have already put into the project.

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