UK government needs to outline funding commitment amid Casement uncertainty: Jarlath Burns

Workmen at Casement Park GAA stadium in Belfast
Clearance work started at Casement Park last week, ahead of the first phase of the stadium's redevelopment (Liam McBurney/PA)

NEW GAA president Jarlath Burns has urged the UK government to provide “certainty” around the future of Casement Park – admitting he is surprised they have yet to publicly confirm its funding commitment.

The Silverbridge man insists the GAA has been promised that the money will be forthcoming to allow the stadium to host five games at Euro 2028.

However, with the Irish government pledging €50 million for the redevelopment of the west Belfast stadium, and growing pressure on the GAA to up its contribution of £15m, a waiting game persists.

Clearance work began at Casement last week ahead of the start of the first phase, and Burns’s first public engagement will be at Tuesday night’s Women’s Nations League promotion/relegation play-off against Montenegro at Windsor Park.

Uefa officials will be in Belfast to discuss the progress of the redevelopment, with the European football governing body having set a mid-2027 deadline for completion.

And, as he begins his three-year term in office, Burns is determined to see the GAA’s Casement Park dream realised in time for the Euros.

“The one thing that we need first is certainty, and I’m surprised that they haven’t come out with a statement already to say exactly how much they are giving,” he said.

“I welcome so much the money that has been given to us by the Irish government and we are on the threshold of an incredible experience if everything falls into place and the Euros take place.

“But we are really in a race against time at this stage, and as we approach the situation where tenders have gone in, we need to know exactly how much these companies are tending for. Not us, but the strategic investment board that have taken over the tender process.

“I’m not going to say any more about that because it’s such a sensitive process, but all we can say is, we deserve to have that stadium. We have waited long enough for it and the Euros give us an enhanced opportunity to have one of the best stadiums in Europe in west Belfast.

“They [the UK government] have promised us that they are going to give us this money. There are so many positive elements to this that I think it would be really poor of them if they really don’t deliver on this promise.”

Jarlath Burns began his three-year term as GAA president at Saturday's annual Congress in Newry. Picture by Sportsfile
GAA Congress Jarlath Burns began his three-year term as GAA president at Saturday's annual Congress in Newry. Picture by Sportsfile (SPORTSFILE)

The public debate around the cost of Casement Park has grown louder in recent months but, with the ground having been unused since 2013 while the redevelopments at rugby’s Kingspan Stadium and soccer’s Windsor Park have been unveiled, Burns believes the GAA “deserves” this project to go ahead.

“Stadiums everywhere are controversial.

“It doesn’t matter where a stadium is rebuilt - Croke Park was controversial. I remember at the time people saying we shouldn’t build where Croke Park is, we should build a smaller stadium, we shouldn’t spend the money on it. But Peter Quinn, my great predecessor, had the vision to say ‘no, we need Croke Park’.

“And when you look at the dynamo that it is now, you look back and say it was the right decision. So I think we in the GAA in Ulster do deserve this stadium. Soccer got a stadium, rugby got a stadium and they deserved it, and now it’s the GAA’s turn.

“But I would not be deaf to those who say it’s a lot of money to spend on a stadium considering all the other fiscal priorities there are in Northern Ireland, and I do understand the people who make that point.”

And if the money doesn’t come?

“Well if the money doesn’t come the Euros don’t come, and it goes back to being a GAA ground again and we would have to take the money that has been promised and build a stadium with that money.

“It will be a point whether or not we can build a provincial stadium that is going to be able to take an Ulster final of 34,000 in that space, or just maybe a smaller stadium.

“But they are things I don’t even want to consider as we wait for this announcement from the British government.”