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Northern Irish stadium projects stall amid political deadlock

The multi-million pound redevelopment project for Belfast’s Casement Park has been placed on hold, along with another scheme concerning football stadia in Northern Ireland, amid the ongoing political deadlock in the country.

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) submitted its planning application to Belfast City Council for a new provincial stadium at Casement Park in February 2017. A revised planning application for a 34,500-seat stadium was entered in February this year and the GAA last month stated its firm commitment to the project amid problems and delays, saying there is no “plan B”.

However, with the Northern Irish government still in turmoil following Stormont’s collapse in January 2017, permanent secretary at the Department for Communities (DfC), Leo O’Reilly, has now stated the project is “not being progressed in the absence of ministers”. The same fate has also hit a £36.2m (€40.8m/$47m) sub regional stadia programme for football.

O’Reilly confirmed the delay in a letter to SDLP Newry and Armagh MLA, Justin McNulty, who told BBC News NI that the lack of a functioning government is “hitting every part of this community and there seems little chance of progress in the near future”.

McNulty added: “As there is little sign of an end to the impasse, between the two big parties, then the civil service must be given the power to push ahead with these projects.”

The Casement Park stadium has been designed by leading architecture firm Populous. The wide-ranging project also includes mixed-use facilities, which the GAA hopes will provide a range of economic, cultural and heritage opportunities to locals.

Sinn Féin has said the project must go ahead as planned, stating its importance to the country as a whole. Casement Park was originally projected to cost £77m to develop, but government officials have said the GAA has requested that further public funding be provided.

Conor Murphy, a Newry and Armagh MLA for Sinn Féin, told the Irish News newspaper that his party is seeking an “urgent meeting” with the Department for Communities and “will be making it abundantly clear that the Casement project can and must progress as planned”.

He added: “The development of Casement Park is a hugely important project that have a positive impact in the lives of people in the area providing opportunities for residents and businesses in terms of investment and job creation opportunities for West Belfast. It will also enhance Gaelic games throughout Antrim, Ulster and indeed across the island.”

Image: Populous