GAA

GAA dispute projections of £308m rebuild for Casement Park

PACEMAKER BELFAST  28/02/2024
A delegation from the organisers of the Euro 2028 football tournament on site this afternoon for an early inspection of the venue.
The venue in west Belfast is earmarked to host games at the tournament in four years.
But the stadium has yet to be redeveloped.
The deadline to complete the construction is mid-2027.
At this stage, there is not sufficient funding to pay for the redevelopment, which could cost more than £200m.
UEFA delegation site visit to Casement Park A delegation from the organisers of the Euro 2028 football tournament on site earlier this week for an early inspection of the venue. The venue in west Belfast is earmarked to host games at the tournament in four years. But the stadium has yet to be redeveloped. The deadline to complete the construction is mid-2027. At this stage, there is not sufficient funding to pay for the redevelopment, which could cost more than £200m.

GAA officials have insisted that the cost of redeveloping Casement Park remains between £200m and £220m as the political row over the project deepens further.

UTV Live reported on Friday evening that Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, told Minister for the Department of Communities, Gordon Lyons in a letter this week that the cost was estimated to be as high as £308m.

Heaton-Harris added in the letter: “I need to be clear, the UK Government will not accept a position where it is expected to cover the scale of funding gap there appears to exist for a project in which costs have increased considerably with no guarantee that costs will not rise further.”

That contradicts the letter the GAA received from Heaton-Harris last March in which he committed to funding the GAA stadium as part of the joint-hosting of UEFA Euro 2028 with England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

In that letter, the Secretary of State had said that the UK government “will work with partners in Northern Ireland to ensure that necessary funding is put in place to enable the completion of Casement Park” in time for Euro 2028.

The GAA are insistent that the cost of building the stadium will not be close to the figure of £308m quoted in Heaton-Harris’ letter to Minister Lyons, which had come from a letter he received in December from Colum Boyle, permanent secretary of the Department for Communities.

Mr Boyle told the Assembly oversight committee yesterday that the project was “in good shape” and that “you never know the level of funding you need for these things in definitive terms until you test the market, until you procure.”

A high-level source has told The Irish News that the £308m figure is a “worst-case scenario” figure that includes financial contingencies and additional cost around meeting UEFA requirements in terms of the stadium’s structure and hosting facilities.

“The actual cost of building the stadium will still be in around £200m. There are other factors that include being UEFA compliant, hosting the Euros and significant other costs including contingency-associated costs,” a source said.

It’s understood that the contingency – a sum allocated for potential overspend that would potentially not be spent - represents a significant part of the difference between the £308m figure and the GAA’s position.

It has also emerged that stadium would not initially have a capacity of 34,500 if and when it is constructed.

That capacity was based around terracing for 8,500 spectators but UEFA rules do not allow for standing at major championships.

The stadium would be built on an all-seater basis, with a reduced capacity somewhere north of 30,000 in order to meet UEFA’s requirements, before the additional seats would possibly be removed in line with the initial GAA plans.

The introduction of a £308m figure to the conversation is nonetheless a significant blow to the GAA’s hopes of getting the stadium over the line.

The political row over the project has deepened in recent weeks.

It was announced last week that the Irish government was pledging €50m (£43m) to the redevelopment.

That was swiftly followed by a statement from DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson in which he said “we cannot see how significant additional UK taxpayer resources will be available at a time when other vital public services are in need of additional resource and capital allocations.”

The DUP’s opposition to funding Casement Park’s redevelopment could lead to an entrenched political position from nationalist parties over the proposed fund for sub-regional soccer stadiums.

Originally set at £36m, recent figures have placed an estimated cost of around £100m for work and redevelopment at a number of local soccer stadia.