Boost for Ulster GAA as Casement Park receives site visit by Government ministers
The redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast has taken a firm step forward today with a site visit by two of the relevant Government Ministers.
Just days after the restoration of the Stormont Assembly, both Deirdre Hargey, new Minister for Communities, the department with responsibility for stadia programmes and new Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, met with Ulster GAA officials and project leaders to discuss the impasse which has seen the west Belfast venue lay dormant since 2013.
The absence of a Government has been partly to blame for the most recent impasse but officials involved in the project are now confident that a decision on planning will be made this spring.
A restated commitment to redevelop Casement Park was made in 'New Decade, New Approach,' the framework document that helped to restore Northern Ireland's Government over the weekend after a three-year suspension.
Plans to redevelop Casement Park were first floated a decade ago and it became part of the Government's regional stadium development strategy to upgrade all three Belfast stadia.
Ravenhill, home of Ulster rugby, reopened as Kingspan Stadium in 2014, Windsor Park was redeveloped by 2016 but Casement Park fell behind when it ran into major planning difficulties.
A 38,000-capacity stadium was originally granted but then overturned on judicial review after objections by almost 1,000 residents who live adjacent to the venue.
Plans for a 34,500 stadium have since been submitted and Ulster GAA continues to provide information but with rising costs and the absence of a Government, civil servants have been reluctant to make a decision.
The previous Stormont Government had pledged £62.5 with the GAA providing £15m towards the £77.5m cost but in March of last year, the estimated cost was projected to rise to £110m.
More money will be sought from both Stormont and the GAA as a consequence if the project gets the green light.
There has growing misgiving among some counties in Ulster over proceeding with the project and, with the GAA's experience with Pairc Ui Chaoimh over the last few years, there's an air of apprehension around stadia development throughout the Association.
This, despite the fresh impetus of €13.75m from the Government's Large Scale Sports Infrastructure Fund which was announced last week for Pairc Tailteann in Navan, St Conleth's Park in Newbridge and Walsh Park in Waterford.
Casement's planning setback came in late 2014 but now, more than five years on, there may be light at the end of the tunnel with such swift ministerial presence on site.