A legal challenge against a decision to grant planning approval for the redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast has been dismissed.
The Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents Association had challenged the decision by former Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon to grant approval for the 34,000-plus capacity stadium in the west of the city.
MORA had argued that the decision was unlawful on both planning grounds and on constitutional grounds, in the latter instance arguing that Mallon should have sought the approval of other executive ministers under the terms of Stormont's ministerial code.
Delivering judgment in the review case, Mr Justice Humphreys said all arguments advanced by MORA on planning grounds were "without merit".
He said Mallon's failure to secure wider executive approval represented a "technical breach" of legislation, but he used the court's discretion to uphold her decision regardless, noting that no executive ministers were opposed to the redevelopment of the stadium.
Ulster GAA said it was a "momentous" step for the stadium plan.
In a statement issued this afternoon, the organisation said: "Today's ruling by Mr Justice Humphreys is truly momentous for the Gaels of Antrim and Ulster and the GAA at national level, who dismissed the legal challenge against the granting of planning permission for Casement Park. The decision was clear, unambiguous and emphatic.
"We can now, finally, plan for the delivery of our provincial stadium and the last remaining project within the NI executive's regional sports stadia programme."
The statement added: "We recognise the outstanding work of the Casement Park project team, their expertise, professionalism, and dedication throughout this long journey. They have worked tirelessly to ensure that the transformational sporting, cultural and economic benefits of this iconic stadium can finally be realised.
"Our full efforts will now be focused on continuing to work with the Department for the Communities and its regional stadia team, finalising all remaining aspects of the business case, implementing our extensive and far-reaching community engagement and benefits programme as we move towards the construction phase of the project."
The constitutional aspect of the challenge centred on legislation passed in 2020 to give ministers more authority to make decisions without recourse to other executive ministers.
The Executive Committee (Functions) Act clarified the circumstances within which ministers could make decisions without needing the approval of the wider administration and enabled the Infrastructure minister to make significant planning decisions without recourse to other ministers.
However, crucially, after the act was passed, the corresponding ministerial code governing the conduct of Stormont ministers was not updated to reflect the legislative changes.
Under the terms of the code when Nichola Mallon made the Casement decision, she was still required to seek executive approval for significant or controversial planning decisions.
In making the discretionary judgment, Justice Humphreys cited several factors.
The judge said there was "no evidence that any minister disagreed with the decision to grant planning permission for Casement Park" and said Nichola Mallon had provided papers to her ministerial colleagues informing them of her intention to grant approval.
He said the commitment to redevelop the stadium was also outlined in the New Decade, New Approach agreement that restored power sharing in 2020.
The judge also noted that the Department of Communities, which is the majority funder of the project, "expressly supported" the planning decision.
The judge said the fact the planning grounds for appeal had been rejected was also a factor.
Finally, he highlighted there had "already been significant delay and there is considerable public interest in this project".
Stormont's Communities minister Deirdre Hargey, who has responsibility for sport, welcomed the court ruling.
The original cost as agreed by the executive was £77m back in 2013 as part of a wider package of stadia development covering soccer's Windsor Park and rugby's Ravenhill. Both of those were completed years ago.
But it is now estimated that due to the delays it could cost at least £110m to build Casement.
The minister was asked whether the shortfall would be covered and whether it would need additional executive approval.
There is no executive at present due to a DUP protest over the NI protocol.
Ms Hargey said she was "confident the finances are secure".
"The decision prioritising this as part of the regional stadia has already been made and now it's time for the focus to switch and finally get Casement Park built."
Tom Daly of the Casement Park project board said the GAA expected to be on site in 2023 and have the development finished by 2025 "with a fair wind".
He said £110m price tag estimated in 2019 would not build the stadium now and there would have to be a fresh business case and costings.
However he said he expected the executive to meet its commitments in respect of the stadium project.
Additional reporting Conor Macauley