Safety has to come first, GAA tell frustrated fans
DESPITE intense demand for tickets for the Kildare-Tyrone All-Ireland qualifier in Newbridge on Saturday evening, St Conleth's Park cannot be filled to anything like full capacity.
It means that TV viewers will see areas on the terraces which are thinly populated, leading to frustration among supporters from both counties who cannot attend because of the 7,500 crowd restriction.
Health and safety regulations have greatly reduced the capacity at most GAA county grounds and it's a situation that will continue until the required improvements have been made.
Pat Cahill, chairman of the GAA's Health and Safety Committee, said that there was a misapprehension that grounds were not being filled solely because of issues with stands or terraces.
"In a lot of cases, that's not the main concern at all. The holding capacity is only one aspect," he said.
"You just can't fill a ground with as many as it can comfortably hold without taking into account how quickly you can empty it in the event of an emergency.
"There's also the matter of trying to get people into the ground.
"Most people arrive in the hour before the game but if you don't have enough turnstiles to get them through, there are safety risks.
"Then, there's the management plan to run the whole event and a lot of other considerations that go into deciding what is a safe capacity."
The normal turnstile can allow 600/650 people through in an hour, so capacity is greatly influenced by the number of entrances at the venue.
The Slattery Report, which was commissioned by the GAA, drew up capacity levels at all major grounds, based on the most up-to-date safety requirements.
The startling findings led to disappointment at many venues where capacity was heavily cut.
"Safety has to come first all the time.
"The GAA – or any other sporting organisation for that matter – want to have as many as possible at their games but only in complete safety," Cahill said.
"It's okay to say, 'sure there's plenty of room on the terraces' but there is a lot more to safety than that.
"Everything is fine until there's an incident and people have to be got out quickly.
"You have to be able to empty a ground in eight minutes so you must have enough exits to ensure that can be done," added Cahill, who is a former Longford County Board chairman.
He said that the GAA had allocated €3m over a three-year period to fund work on grounds in order to increase capacity but stressed that there will be no compromise on safety.
"People are disappointed with the capacity at some grounds but we have to go on the best professional advice.
"When people pay into a ground they have a right to know that it's up to the required safety standard in every way," said Cahill.