Northern Ireland

Casement Park ‘deserves same support’ as football and rugby stadiums – Long

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has criticised opposition to the development of the GAA stadium for the Euros as ‘sectarian in some cases’.

Workmen at Casement Park GAA stadium in Belfast
Workmen at Casement Park GAA stadium in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

A new stadium at Casement Park “needs to be built” and “should be supported as other stadia were”, Alliance leader Naomi Long has said.

Ms Long was speaking amid uncertainty around the project after reports that the cost of the development of the west Belfast site could top £300 million, and that the UK Government has concerns around plugging the funding gap.

The GAA stadium is one of the venues selected to host matches in the Euro 2028 football tournament, which is being jointly hosted by the UK and Ireland, and Uefa officials visited the derelict site last week.

Naomi Long
Naomi Long (Liam McBurney/PA)

There are reportedly plans to build it to a capacity for 30,000 spectators when it opens, and increase to 34,500 after the Euros.

Ms Long said she is very concerned about the project.

“I believe it needs to be built. I believe that some of the opposition to it, I think, smacks of sectarianism in many cases,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Northern Ireland programme.

She said she would have preferred to see a national stadium built on the site of the former Maze Prison to accommodate football, rugby and GAA.

After that plan fell through in 2009, football proceeded with the National Stadium at Windsor Park while rugby redeveloped the ground at Ravenhill.

However the redevelopment of Casement has been delayed by a series of planning disputes and legal challenges and the initial estimated cost of £77.5 million has spiralled to the latest reported estimate of £308 million.

The Irish Government has pledged 50 million euro (£42.7 million) for the stadium while the GAA has committed to provide £15 million.

The UK Government is facing calls to make up the shortfall to ensure it is rebuilt on time.

Ms Long said officials cannot bid for something in 2010, and then expect it to cost the same in 2024.

“If you want these things to happen, you need to do them in a timely way and you need to do them to budget,” she said.

“We don’t actually know what Casement is going to cost and that causes me concern.

“We have to do our due diligence, we have to deliver on time and we have to deliver on budget, and that applies to Casement just as it does to any other project. But there’s no reason why Casement should see any less support than the other stadiums did.”

Minister of Finance Caoimhe Archibald
Minister of Finance Caoimhe Archibald (Liam McBurney/PA)

Last week, Stormont Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald said the Executive should deliver the redevelopment of Casement Park as it is a flagship project.

“We need to see what the British Government is going to put on the table in respect of it, because they did commit that, as part of the Euros, they would be prepared to do that,” she said.

“There have been huge inflationary increases in cost of delivery in infrastructure projects. So it’s not a big surprise that the cost has gone up.”

A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said: “The Northern Ireland Department for Communities is responsible for the redevelopment of Casement Park.

“The UK Government will need to receive confirmation of the updated cost of the Casement Park project from the Department for Communities before detailed consideration can be given to allocating taxpayers’ money, particularly given wider public sector funding challenges.”