Attwood and Ní Chuilín clash over residents

Sinn Féin and SDLP row over Casement

By Anthony Neeson

The row over the proposed  new Casement Park moved to Stormont this week with West Belfast SDLP MLA Alex Attwood claiming that  residents living around the stadium have been kept in the dark over plans to develop the Andersonstown venue into a 38,000 state-of-the-art all-seater.

In a testy exchange with Mr Attwood at Stormont on Monday, Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín denied the claim and said she had set in meetings with residents and the GAA that were also attended by the SDLP man’s brother and party colleague Tim Attwood.

The row suggests the opening of a rift between the two parties on an issue that is increasingly dividing opinion among those living near the stadium.

Mr Attwood asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure if, given that she supports the principles of  transparency and of accountability, she considers it desirable that the GAA shares with the residents of Mooreland and Owenvarragh its full business plan for the proposed stadium at Casement in order to ensure that the residents know what they might anticipate if the stadium goes ahead.

The minister responded: “The issue has been raised before. I went to a meeting with the residents and, indeed, with his brother and party colleague, at the behest of the MP for West Belfast, Paul Maskey.

“The residents asked me for the full copy of the outline business case and were advised that they could have the parts that were not commercially sensitive. They accepted that. If the member is telling me that the situation is otherwise, I am happy to meet him to talk about it.”

Mr Attwood hit back: “The narrative is very different from my point of view. Setting aside the issue of commercial sensitivity, the residents have such a weight of concerns around the project that they need the fullest possible information.

“I note the point about the commercial sensitivity of the GAA’s business plans, even though, in the view of the residents, that is stretching the point. Do you not agree that it is time for the full plan to be released to the residents?”

Ms Ní Chuilín said she was “glad to see that the member has taken an interest in this”.

“He is bordering on accusing the GAA of misleading the residents, when it has not.

“The GAA has engaged with the residents, as it has engaged with others, and I in turn have engaged with them.

“It is rich for anybody to suggest that the residents have been kept in the dark. That is not what the residents say to me at all, and I have met them.  Therefore, I wonder about the member’s motives.”

During a questions and answers session, Minister Ní Chuilín also revealed that her Líofa initiative to increase the number of Irish speakers in the North is to be extended throughout Ireland with nearly 5,000 people currently signed up.

She said she will launch Líofa “with Ministers Deenihan and McGinley in Leinster House, hopefully, at the end of this month or the beginning of next, to look at extending Líofa across the island”.

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