HC Deb 28 April 2004 vol 420 cc871-3
2. Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab)

What discussions he has had about the development of a new national stadium in Northern Ireland. [167661]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela Smith)

The issue of a national stadium has been around for some time. Recently, however, I invited the Strategic Investment Board to undertake a robust business planning exercise to consider whether a multi-sports stadium to accommodate soccer, rugby and Gaelic games is a long-term, commercially viable proposition. That exercise is now well under way and there are ongoing discussions with the relevant sports bodies and other appropriate interest groups. I am pleased to report that all three sports bodies are co-operating fully with the exercise.

Mr. Grogan

Given the passion for sport that unites all communities in Northern Ireland, and given the fact that England, Scotland and Wales have managed to combine the development of a national stadium with continued support for grass-roots sport, is not my hon. Friend ideally placed to make her ministerial mark and bring this matter to a conclusion during her time in office? Who knows—they may even name the stadium after her if she does that.

Angela Smith

I urge my hon. Friend to be cautious; the Angela Smith stadium is going a bit too far, but I welcome his persistence and commitment on this issue. There are significant difficulties to be overcome, but the right way forward is to look at the business case, and if a sustainable business case can be made the stadium should proceed.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)

The Minister will be aware that the Maze prison site is a strategic site for the whole of Northern Ireland, and that there are proposals for the development of the site that include a national sports stadium. Will she give the site careful consideration? With the excellent transport links in the vicinity of the Maze site, it would be a first-class location for a national sports stadium.

Angela Smith

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's advocacy for his constituency. The location of any potential stadium is a matter to be debated. It is important to find a neutral site that gets support from all sporting bodies. I shall take his views into consideration.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab)

I echo the sentiments expressed. There has been a public consultation on what should be done with the Maze, and many people would like it used for sports purposes. That would be a sign that we were putting the past behind us and celebrating diversity, as was said in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday by Paddy McClean, rather than division, as was the case in the past.

Angela Smith

I welcome my hon. Friend's contribution to the debate, and I am sure that it is welcomed by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson). The Strategic Investment Board's case must be considered first, and there are significant difficulties to be overcome, including cost and location. Nevertheless, I welcome my hon. Friend's support for the concept.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP)

Does the Minister agree that participation in sporting activity not only helps develop physical fitness and good health, but helps bring about reconciliation between people with different political and religious beliefs and between nations? Will she positively support the provision of a national stadium for Northern Ireland in order to encourage more young people to become involved in sport, and to help them and us promote a better image of Northern Ireland internationally?

Angela Smith

I endorse the hon. Gentleman's comments about the benefits of sport. As the Minister with responsibility for health, I agree about the health benefits for young people as a result of being involved in activity. Until a robust business case has been made, it is premature to make a decision about supporting a national stadium. I am very sympathetic, but the involvement of young people in sport should start, whether there is a national stadium or not. I pay tribute to the work being done by the Sports Council, the Irish Football Association and others to encourage young people to become involved in sport.