Northern Ireland Sports Minister Carál N? Chuil?n has visited Ravenhill – the home of Ulster Rugby – ahead of the official opening of the redeveloped stadium on Friday night.
Three new stands have been built at the stadium at a cost of £16.4m, thus increasing the capacity of Ravenhill from 11,000 to 18,000.
The stadium will be officially reopened on Friday when Ulster play host to Leinster in the RaboDirect PRO12. The same two sides met when the Ravenhill pitch was first opened in 1924.
During her visit Minister Carál N? Chuil?n had the opportunity to meet with some of those who had worked on the site.
Amongst them were students and apprentices who had gained employment and experience on site during construction, in keeping with the Department’s approach to ‘social clauses’.
The Minister was very impressed with the ‘new’ Ravenhill and praised the main contractor Gilbert Ash, sub-contractors, the design team, architects and all those who have helped make this a reality.
“I cannot but admire this magnificent stadium and I thank all those who have helped this dream to become a reality,” she said.
“In recent years the Ulster team have been competing at the highest levels of the game within Europe and it is proper and fitting that they now have a stadium to match.
“There were many great occasions in the old Ravenhill and I’m sure there’ll be many more to come in the new Ravenhill.
“Social clauses were an integral part of this contract and I am committed to addressing the challenges of disadvantage. I am pleased that this contract offered opportunities for apprentices and the long term unemployed and also provided opportunities for student placements.
“I am pleased to have met with some of these people during my visit and to hear first hand of the benefits they have gained from this experience.”
The Minister also thanked the staff of Ulster Rugby for the professionalism they have shown during the construction and said she was looking forward to Friday’s opening.
“The office bearers and Shane Logan and his staff at Ulster Rugby have led from the front during the rebuild and they now have a stadium and facilities of which they can be proud.
“They have dealt with me and my Department with the utmost courtesy and professionalism and they are no doubt looking forward to many great times ahead.
“There has been a great rivalry and some great games between Ulster and Leinster down the years and in many ways it is fitting that are the first teams to take to the pitch in this upgraded stadium, just as they were the first sides to play on it when it opened ninety years ago.
“I’m sure that Friday night will be prove to be another exciting chapter in the proud history of rugby in Ulster.”