By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Final planning approval for a new GAA stadium at Casement Park in Belfast has been granted.
The North's Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon hailed a “historic day” for the GAA as she gave the green light for the 34,578-capacity stadium on their existing site on the Andersonstown Road.
The decision means the GAA is a step closer to being able to develop the site, although questions still remain over funding for the project and potential legal challenges by residents.
Ms Mallon said: “This is an historic day for the GAA in Ulster and for Gaels across our island.
“Last October I announced my intention to grant planning approval and I am delighted that all the statutory processes have now been completed to make that decision official and allow the Ulster Council of the GAA to proceed with their development plans.
“This has been a long and complex process, predating my time as minister, however we must now move forward and see progress on the ground, progress that will bring many sporting, social and economic benefits not just to west Belfast but right across the city and beyond.”
She added: “This will be fantastic news for the GAA family across Ulster and Ireland, particularly with the Ulster Final taking place this Sunday.
“Here’s to an exciting Ulster final and many memorable games to come in a new state-of-the-art stadium in Casement, now that the GAA is to finally have the home it deserves in Ulster.”
The redevelopment of Casement Park has been delayed for several years.
Last year a Stormont committee heard that costs for the project had risen from £77 million (€90.5 million) to £112 million (€131 million) in the last seven years.
The GAA’s efforts to develop the old stadium site in west Belfast have been mired in controversy, with initial planning approval for a 38,000-capacity venue quashed by the High Court in 2014 following a challenge by nearby residents.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said her department will now be working at pace to deliver a new stadium at Casement Park.
She added: “When I first came into office last January, the first visit I made was to Casement Park and I said then that delivering the project was one of my key priorities.
“As someone who played in Casement as a young Gael, I believe it’s been too long from we’ve had games in Casement Park.
“We’ve been waiting on planning to move this project on, I’m glad to say we have now got that decision and I am even more determined to deliver this stadium.”
Ms Hargey continued: “This investment will be a major boost for Belfast and the wider economy.
“It will also provide a safe place for children, young people and Gaels to exercise, train and play Gaelic games, which will be crucial for mental health and general physical wellbeing as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s time to get Casement Park built.”
The project was a commitment in the New Decade, New Approach agreement and its construction would complete the regional stadia programme following the redevelopment in 2013 of Kingspan, home to Ulster Rugby and the Windsor Park football stadium in 2016.