Northern Ireland

Analysis: Casement Park debacle yet another symptom of dysfunction that passes for government

Hope now rests on a new Labour administration immediately finding £100m-plus at a time when public services are on their knees

A computer-generated image of how Casement Park will look when the new stadium is built.
A computer-generated image of how Casement Park would look if the new stadium is built.

If not quite the death knell for the bid to host a handful of Euro 2028 matches at Casement Park, but Jarlath Burns’ assessment of the current state of affairs is a timely reality check.

When the redeveloped west Belfast stadium was first mooted as a potential venue for the quadrennial tournament, the project required urgency and clarity. Instead it has been beset by dithering, deflection and obfuscation.

The final nail may not yet have been driven into the coffin but now all hope rests on a new Labour administration immediately finding £100m-plus at a time when public services are on their knees.

A stadium of some description is still likely be built in the future, it just won’t be the all-seater, flagship venue that many had hoped for.

If as a consequence the north is excluded from Britain and Ireland’s joint hosting of Euro 2028 we’ll get the full gambit of emotions – anger, disappointment, recrimination and even celebration in some quarters.

Fingers will be pointed at Chris Heaton-Harris and the British government, Stormont ministers, the DUP boycott, the residents’ groups who objected, and the GAA, which has doggedly stuck to offering its comparatively meagre contribution of £15m.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Belfast with outgoing NI Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris on the latest leg of his election campaign tour in Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
The British government will bear much of the blame if Casement Park isn't built . PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

However, in looking at how this debacle evolved it’s important to separate the initial aim of redeveloping Antrim GAA’s headquarters from the more recent bid to host Euro 2028, as the latter means a tighter timeline and much greater cost implications.

Before Euro 2028 was ever mentioned there were numerous problems with the project but meeting UEFA’s rigorous standards presented fresh challenges that haven’t come close to being met.

In addition to the funding issues, planning consent for an enhanced stadium was still outstanding, while Stormont’s two year dormancy to allow the DUP to resolve its difficulties with the British government around Irish Sea border meant there was no ministers in place to make decisions and give the project momentum.

It highlights how in so many ways Casement Park is a symptom of the dysfunction that passes for government in Northern Ireland – carve up, parochialism, politicking, sectarianisation – it has all the elements that lead to the inertia so evident in other sectors like health, education and the economy. Those in power and authority need to realise that just cynically saying something will be built, won’t make it happen.

Perhaps it was too ambitious or naive to believe that the soccer and Gaelic games authorities, the two governments and Stormont could for once all pull in the same direction?

With the exception of the Irish government, which arguably has gone furthest yet with its £40m commitment, each and all collectively of the above bear responsibility for the failure to realise this great opportunity.

Along with the failure to start work on the A5, an unfinished A6, and a ‘rapid transit system’ that’s little more than different coloured bus, it’s yet another glaring example of why we can’t have nice things.