Northern Ireland

British government rows back on Casement Park full funding commitment

After saying money for the redevelopment of Antrim GAA’s headquarters would be found, the secretary of state won’t commit to meet the funding shortfall

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
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) with outgoing Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

The British government has rowed back on a commitment to meet the funding shortfall for the redevelopment of Casement Park ahead of Euro 2028.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris have refused to pledge to meet the remaining construction costs to ensure Antrim GAA’s headquarters could host games in the prestigious soccer tournament in four years’ time.

Their latest remarks on the issue have been described as “half-hearted”.

A year ago Mr Heaton-Harris said that money would be made available to build the 34,500 capacity stadium in west Belfast.

“We’ll get the money, don’t you worry,” he said.

Artists' impression of the new Casement Park stadium in west Belfast
Artists' impression of the new Casement Park stadium in west Belfast

At the time the secretary of state conceded that he didn’t know how much the redevelopment of Casement Park would cost.

“I don’t actually know how much the whole thing is going to cost. We’ve seen different estimates. But let’s win the bid first,” the secretary of state said in May 2023.

“Once we win the bid, we’ll sit down round a table and the money will get sorted out.”

But when Mr Heaton-Harris and Mr Sunak were asked about the additional funding by The Irish News on Friday, the secretary of state cited increased costs.

Both declined to recommit to meet the funding shortfall, and simply said they would “make a significant contribution”.

“When I said we’d find the money for Casement Park the costs were in the region of £166m,” Mr Heaton -Harris said.

“Those costs have risen but we are going to make a significant contribution to Casement Park and Northern Ireland will see a wonderful legacy of the Euros when they come.”

The cost of the project is now estimated at more than £300m.

The Irish FA and the GAA have sent a joint letter to the prime minister urging him to clarify the funding for the project.

In 2011, the Stormont executive committed £62.5 million to the project.

In February, the Irish government offered £40 million towards it, while the GAA has said it will contribute up to £15 million.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told The Irish News that the British government needed to give a “clear, unequivocal financial commitment that this project will be delivered on time”.

“Casement Park is a flagship project and having it in time for the Euros will generate a huge economic benefit in a community that needs and deserves investment as well as providing a long overdue home for Antrim and Ulster gaels,” the Foyle MP said.

“A half hearted commitment from the British government now isn’t good enough and it’s a clear row back on what was promised - this is exactly why we need rid of this Tory government.”

In a statement, Ulster GAA welcomed Friday’s announcement.

“Ulster GAA welcomes the commitment given by the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on his visit to Belfast today, that the British Government will make a significant financial contribution to the development of Casement Park. We look forward to the government providing more details on the funding package and to working with the Northern Ireland Executive and all partners in bringing this transformational opportunity to life.”