Is Belfast really a major European destination city?

We’re now in real danger of letting opportunity to host Euros slip through our grasp

Taylor Swift has celebrated the 100th show of her Eras tour in Liverpool
The economic impact of Taylor Swift's tour is so significant that it has its own name - ‘Swiftonomics’. But she's not performing in Belfast (Jane Barlow/PA)

We have arrived in mid June and summer has threatened to break out around these parts, with the sun making fleeting appearances every now and then.

And summer time in Belfast has increasingly come to mean concert time. We have already had what may come to be regarded as the show of the year when Bruce Springsteen, croaky voice and all, played to 40,000 people at Boucher Road on what was up to now the hottest day of the year.

Between Boucher Road, Botanic Gardens, Ormeau Park and Custom House Square, music fans are spoilt for choice, and all of that is before Feile takes off in August.

In Derry there will be at least major concerts in Ebrington Square and smaller events and festivals take place across the region. The bleak days when very few major acts passed through Northern Ireland are long, long gone.

Our kids now take for granted the fact that they can see their favourite artist on a regular basis, either here or at least in Dublin. Each major concert is an economic driver for the host city. Fans often seek out an opportunity to build a mini break around a concert and we can see from the full house signs going up in hotels and Airbnbs that Shania Twain, or Liam Gallagher will bring significant spending power to the city.

Earlier this month the Ormeau Road resembled Nashville, such was the scale of good honoured cowboys and girls heading in the sunshines to the first Belsonic gig in Ormeau - the Farmers Bash. Well, it takes all sorts!

When these events come around it makes Belfast feel like a major European destination city and it is important that we capitalise on such opportunities. Taylor Swift isn’t coming north - it is Dublin that will benefit from her series of shows. The economic impact of her tour is so significant that it has a name - ‘Swiftonomics’. Taylor’s tour has already grossed more than $1 billion, and the value to Dublin of her three-night residency at the end of June is estimated to be €30million.

Those concerts will take place at the Aviva Stadium, where just two weeks ago one of the most significant football matches of the year took place, the Europa League final.

We are now in real danger of letting the opportunity to host the Euros in Belfast slip through our grasp. A combination of bad faith from the British government, a lack of urgency from our own Executive and now the snap election on July 4 means that the time scale to build Casement in accordance with the UEFA specifications, and in time to host the Euros in 2028, is likely too much of a challenge. What a shame.

That outcome will be a loss to the whole region, to Belfast and in sporting terms the fans of Northern Ireland are the biggest losers. Should the team qualify for the competition, the likelihood is that those games will take place in Dublin, or perhaps in London or Glasgow. What an irony if the Irish capital is the city which benefits from the economic and tourist uplift these games can bring. If Northern Ireland don’t qualify automatically, they now won’t benefit from a ‘home nations’ allocated place, since we will no longer be a home nation.

On Friday past Euro 2024 kicked off with a game between Scotland and host nation Germany, an enticing prospect to usher in a month-long festival of football.

Fast-forward four years and imagine games being played in packed cities in England, Scotland, Wales and in Dublin. In Belfast we will be looking on with envy, and I predict a large measure of self pity. Yet that’s the scenario we face.

There does remain the possibility that an incoming Labour government almost immediately makes the necessary investment available, but my fear is that too many pieces of the jigsaw are not yet in place and the clock is being run down.

Brendan Mulgrew
Brendan Mulgrew

Who would have known that the Tory government couldn’t be relied on to hold up their side of the deal? No need to answer that. It’s a sad day when the prospect of hosting the second largest football competition in the world passes by with merely a shrug of the shoulders.

Back to the present day and this week it is the turn of Sting and Blondie to rock Ormeau Road. The first LP that I ever bought with my own pocket money was Zenyata Mondatta by The Police, and I wonder if Sting will sing these lines from that record - ‘When the world is running down, make the best of what’s still around.’ We hear you Sting.

  • Brendan Mulgrew is managing partner at MW Advocate ( Follow him on X at @brendanbelfast