The transformation of an ‘underused’ soccer field to a GAA pitch in east Belfast has been halted due to “concern around some social media posts that appeared in relation to the work” over recent days.
ccording to Belfast councillor Seamas deFaoite, work to ‘revamp’ a site at Victoria Park in the city has been stopped for now.
Speaking to the BBC’s Evening Extra programme, the SDLP representative declined to go “into specifics” about other potential local spots for new Gaelic pitches, due to “the commentary from people who would much rather try and stop GAA from taking place in east Belfast”.
The East Belfast GAA club, which was founded in May 2020, had expressed to the council an interest in finding a more regular pitch to train and play matches on, after renting various council venues over the last two years.
Frequent pitches which have been used by all four of the club’s codes – men and ladies’ Gaelic football, hurling and camogie – include Woodlands in west Belfast, The Dub and Cherryvale Playing Fields, with the latter already being shared by south Belfast side St Malachy’s GAC and Co Down team Bredagh.
Cllr deFaoite stressed that Belfast City Council has a policy “that doesn’t give any particular club or team a home ground”.
“All of our pitches are open to booking by anybody, so this wouldn’t have been a case whereby a pitch would be open to any particular club or set of individuals. It would’ve been open to anybody who wanted to book it to be able to play GAA,” he said.
Peter McReynolds, Alliance Party MLA for East Belfast added that it was pointed out to East Belfast GAA that Victoria Park is “currently underused”, with one of the park’s three soccer pitches being offered for ‘revamp’ to the Co Down outfit.
It was “always going to be an exploratory move to have the club at Victoria Park”, Mr McReynolds continued.
“Social media may have played some role in all of this but very much so, the decision was always going to be passed back to East Belfast GAA to say ‘is this suitable?’ And the decision will be made by then as to how they take this forward with council officials.”
He added that negative comments on social media regarding the introduction of a GAA pitch to east Belfast have been “quite disappointing”.
“I’ve been to see East Belfast GAA a couple of times now,” he noted.
“It’s a positive, diverse and inclusive organisation. We saw them for example at Belfast Pride just last week. I think it’s a fantastic club and I think they can bring a real energy to east Belfast.”
The playing fields at Victoria Park currently have soccer pitches, a bowling green and a cycling and BMX track.
Initial work on the installation of a GAA pitch on the main soccer field had already begun, with lines and markings for Gaelic games having already been lined out.
The Belfast Telegraph also understands that the Ulster GAA organisation was to help provide posts and supports for the site.
On Wednesday, a Belfast City Council spokesperson stated: “Council is working to identify a suitable location for East Belfast GAA but no final decision has been taken. Work will continue with both East Belfast GAA and local councillors to progress this.
“Some initial preparatory work which had started at Victoria Park has now been halted pending further engagement.”
An East Belfast GAA club spokesperson said: “As it stands, we are awaiting official confirmation regarding the status of the proposed GAA pitches.
“Until such a time that we receive confirmation from Belfast City Council, we will be making no further comment regarding this issue.”