Casement Park unlikely to host Euro 2028, fears GAA President

There are plans to redevelop the derelict GAA stadium in west Belfast
There are plans to redevelop the derelict GAA stadium in west Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

GAA President Jarlath Burns no longer expects Casement Park to host matches at the Euro 2028 soccer tournament – but believes it will still be redeveloped.

The west Belfast venue is scheduled to have five matches as part of the UK & Ireland hosting the continental tournament, but continued delays and question marks over funding have cast serious doubts over that happening.

Speaking at the launch of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship, Burns commented:

“It’s not looking as if we’re going to get the Euros… The whole project is being run by the Strategic Investment Board and they have been telling us that in order to get the tenders in and to find out what it’s going to cost, it’s going to take six weeks.

“And then there’s going to have to be another four weeks for appeals to that. We’re working away, we’re clearing the site and that. But at the end of the day, it’s UEFA and their timelines are important.

“It has to be up and running for almost a year before you can actually say that it’s properly functional, so I’m now pessimistic that the Euros will be played in Casement Park.”

Although current British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on a visit to Belfast just last month that there would be “significant” financial contribution from Westminster towards the Casement redevelopment project, his calling of a general election has stymied that, said Burns

“There’s an election in the north, and whenever an election is called, you enter into what we call ‘purdah’, where governments are not allowed to make big donations or big announcements.”

However, the Silverbridge man was also critical of the British government attitude towards the GAA: “It’s very handy for the Conservative government that they get out of having to do it.

“The Gaelic Athletic Association will always be in a very precarious position when we find ourselves depending on the goodwill of the British government. It’s never worked out for us before. I’m very, very disappointed with the pace of how it’s gone.”

In contrast, Burns expects the Irish government to honour its pledge of £43m (€50m) as part of the ‘Shared Ireland’ fund towards re-building Casement:

“I would have to take my hat off and thank the Irish Government for that money. It was a very generous Shared Island Fund donation. It didn’t come with any stipulations.

“One thing about the Irish Government when it comes to the GAA is that they do not act in bad faith.

“From time to time they might say something that we might disagree with, but they’ll always act in good faith and they have always been very generous to the GAA, understanding the role that the GAA has in Irish society. And it is a genuine Shared Island project because there will be teams from the south up and down all the time playing there.”

The one upside to non-involvement in the Euros is that the stadium can be re-built to a lesser specification in terms of seating, explained Burns:

“One of the things we’re going to have to do in order to get the number of people in is that we’re going to have to dig further down and take out maybe four or five metres to create more seating.

“That’s massive money to do that. That obviously wouldn’t have to be done now so it would take a lot less to build Casement to Ulster GAA final specification as opposed to European Championship specification.”