Casement Social row rumbles on

By Conor McLoughlin

The bitter dispute between Antrim GAA and the Casement Park Social Club took a further twist this week, with both parties making strong accusations against the other.

A fortnight ago, members of the Casement Social Club (CSC) staged a high-profile sit-in at the Andersonstown venue, claiming they had received a letter from solicitors acting on behalf of the Antrim County Board, asking the CSC to vacate the premises. CSC members were of the belief that new premises for the social club had to be found before they would be required to leave Casement Park.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Joe Edwards, who is Vice-Chairman of the Antrim county board, has dismissed this claim, pointing to a seven-point agreement that was lodged in the High Court on March 28, signed by Antrim Chairman Jim Murray, Bob Murray (no relation), who is Chairman of the Casement Social Club, and Peter Quinn, on behalf of the Ulster Council’s Stadium Project Board.

 

Correspondence

The agreement states that the social club would “vacate the premises at Casement Park at the request of the Casement Park Project Board – on or before the commencement of demo-lition and construction of the new stadium”.

Mr Edwards insists that no solicitor’s letter was issued by Antrim GAA, and in fact any correspondence that the social club had in the run-up to the sit-in was from the social club’s own solicitors.

“I was prepared to accept that the Casement Social Club spokesmen Bob Murray and Jude White had simply got it wrong,” said Mr Edwards. “The letter came from the Project Board for the Stadium Board and then on to their solicitors, who in turn passed it on to Casement Social Club. It had nothing whatsoever to do with Antrim.”

However, the solicitor’s letter in question has been seen by the Andersonstown News and is from O’Hare Solicitors – who represent both Antrim and the Ulster Council of the GAA – and is written on behalf of their client, namely the ‘Ulster Council/Project Board for Casement Park/Antrim County Board’.

“Is that not them?” asked Bob Murray of the Casement Social Club, while reading the letter. “If Antrim say they knew nothing about it, they need to have a serious talk with their solicitors.”

Members of the social club had threatened to continue the sit-in right over the Easter break before the intervention of Peter Quinn, the former GAA President, who met with members of the social club but not, as has been reported, with Antrim GAA.

This new agreement, negotiated on Monday, April 14 by Mr Quinn, states that members of the social club would not be forced to vacate Casement Park until new premises were found, but that the March 28 agreement lodged in the High Court “remains in full force and effect”.

In a series of explosive claims, Mr Edwards further suggests that Casement Social Club will not in fact be facilitated in the new Casement Park once the rebuild is complete, as has been claimed.

The March 28 Agreement states that a new “structure for the management and control of Casement Park Social Club” would be in place by the time the new stadium is built. This new club will be managed by a committee of nine people, five from the GAA and four social club members, effectively placing the club in control of the GAA.

“It won’t be a GAA club,” retorted Bob Murray. “It’ll be done under the Registration of Clubs Act. It’ll have new management, but it won’t be a new club. That is a ‘head of agreement’ meaning the detail needs to be worked out. It is binding, but you then have to agree the detail. The club constitution would have to be changed. There’ll be four nominees from Ulster GAA, four from the social club and an independent chairperson who will not be from Antrim.”

 

Electricity

But will this person be a GAA man?

“That has not been agreed,” insists Bob Murray.

Mr Edwards also claims that Casement Social Club, since severing ties with Antrim GAA on August 4, have not paid for rent, rates or electricity and that they owe Antrim over £36,000.

“The money that they owe us, I will put it on record, they have paid nothing,” said Mr Edwards. “They insist that they owe no money, but who have they been paying their share of the rates to, who have they been paying for electricity? It would be absurd for them to criticise us at every opportunity, which they have done, and then to turn around and say ‘Those kind people at the Antrim County Board have paid our rent and rates for us.’ That would take a big stretch of the imagination.”

Bob Murray does not dispute this. He says Casement Social Club have paid every bill they have ever been presented with – but he adds that Antrim have never presented the social club with a bill for rates or electricity.

“They sent us a bill with these figures that seemed to be pulled out of the air,” said Bob Murray.

“There was no rates bill, no mention of how many units of electricity we had used. If they want us to pay a bill, they need to produce the evidence.

“The social club has been there for 45 years and never has a rates bill been paid by the social club. All our profits go to Antrim.

“Absolutely, it’s only fair that we pay our rates now that we are a separate entity, but the landlord has never had the property rated. We have no problem paying our bills, but we need to be presented with bills. If they give us a rates bill, we will pay it.

“They say we do not have a rental agreement, but we have been paying £8,000 a year for rent.”

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