Lansdowne Road ruckus re-ignites debate in GAA
As opposition to the planned new stadium at Lansdowne Road mounts, GAA members have re-ignited debate over the use of Croke Park for rugby and soccer matches, saying the existing Lansdowne grounds should be kept open until the go-ahead for recontruction is given. By Frank Connolly
The strength of opposition to the planned new stadium at Lansdowne Road threatens to ignite the simmering discomfort of many members of the GAA who are opposed to rugby and soccer being played in Croke Park.
The GAA has signed a contract with the IRFU and the FAI that will allow for two international rugby matches and a number of soccer games to be played next year at Croke Park.
In mid-February 2007, the central council of the GAA will meet to determine whether a similar contract will be made with the other sports for 2008. However, there is no guarantee the arrangement will continue past 2008 unless the redevelopment of Lansdowne gets under way next year.
Some GAA members, notably in Ulster and Munster, remain of the view that Croke Park should not be opened for rugby or soccer unless construction work on the new stadium has commenced at Lansdowne. It is accepted by all the parties involved, including senior GAA executives, that the planning process for Lansdowne will continue through 2007.
On 11 December, An Bord Pleanála convened hearings on the appeal by residents and other groups to the planning permission granted to the Lansdowne Stadium Company for a new €350m stadium. The hearings, in the Gresham hotel, are being chaired by ABP inspector Brendan Wyse and are expected to last 10 days.
The final decision by the board of An Bord Pleanála is not expected until April 2007. If this is in favour of the project, it is likely to be the subject of a judicial review application by at least some residents to the High Court.
At the current rate of progress, work on the new stadium will not commence until well into next year, although the IRFU has decided to close its doors on 1 January 2007 for other necessary improvements to the terraces and stands.
In April 2005 the GAA congress agreed to amend Article 42 rules allowing for non-Gaelic games to be played at Croke Park. Delegates were told the IRFU would require the grounds during the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road, which was expected to commence in 2007. However, it left it up to the Central Council to agree terms with the IRFU and the FAI concerning the terms of renting Croke Park for rugby and soccer games.
Ulster chairman and GAA vice-president Micheal Greenan told Village the members had been duped into agreeing to allow non-Gaelic sports at Croke Park and that he had predicted last year that there would be protracted delays in the planning process for Lansdowne Road.
“Lansdowne Road should be kept open until it has the go-ahead for reconstruction. The motion passed by the GAA was to allow the other sports to play in Croke Park while Lansdowne Road was under redevelopment. Our members have been sold a pup,” he said.
According to GAA spokesman Danny Lynch, the association is only permitting non-Gaelic games at Croke Park on a year-to-year basis. “The issue may have to be revisited if Lansdowne does not get planning permission or can not proceed for cost reasons,” he said.
During the An Bord Pleanála hearings into the Lansdowne development on 11 and 12 December, the depth of opposition to the stadium as currently proposed was made apparent to the executives of the IRFU and the FAI.