Sinn Fein minister ‘on the run’ over Casement claims

Casement Park, Belfast
Casement Park, Belfast

Stormont’s culture minister has come under fire for declining to come before a committee next week to answer questions about safety fears at a proposed new stadium.

Nelson McCausland, DUP chairman of the leisure committee, accused culture minister and former IRA bomber Caral Ni Chuilin of going “on the run” from her fellow MLAs by not appearing at the public hearing on Wednesday.

It comes after a safety expert claimed on Thursday that her officials were attempting to “gag” him, after he repeatedly tried to warn of possible dangers in the blueprints for Casement Park GAA ground.

The project has been backed by the minister, and Paul Scott alleged that he had come under pressure to agree to the design of the stadium, even though it could result in a Hillsborough-style disaster.

Following his claims, the minister had launched a review of the scheme.

Mr McCausland said yesterday that the minister had offered to meet with him and the committee clerk instead of coming to offer evidence in full and in public – an offer he branded “totally inadequate”.

He said: “Instead of coming before the Committee to detail what this review might entail she has decided to go ‘on the run’...

“Members of the culture, arts and leisure committee, and the people of Northern Ireland, have a right to know about this review process.

“When will it start and who will conduct it? What is the remit and scope of the review? What access to information will it have and when will it be completed?”

He called her decision not to attend “scandalous”, and said many suspected it was an attempt to “buy time”.

Last night, minister Ni Chuilin said: “Let me be absolutely clear – the safety of people who use the stadium, and the people living in the area, is paramount. There will be no compromise on safety.

“Unlike Mr McCausland I have been working with senior officials today discussing the serious concerns raised at the DCAL committee, and formulating a plan for the next steps.

“I have also been seeking legal advice about the way forward which will not prejudice the outcome of any ongoing investigations.

“Mr McCausland’s faux outrage on this issue in my opinion owes more to the current election campaign and media reports that Mr McCausland may have acted inappropriately during his period at the helm of DSD.”

Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign had said yesterday that she was “horrified” at some of the claims made by Mr Scott about the alleged safety deficienies at the planned ground.