Northern Ireland

Casement Park: Imminent funding decision from British government, says Michelle O’Neill

Casement Park has been closed since 2013. This is what the new one will resemble should the GAA get planning permission
Casement Park has been closed since 2013. This is what the new stadium is expected to resemble

A British government decision on the level of funding it is prepared to commit to redevelop Casement Park is imminent, Stormont’s First Minister has said.

Michelle O’Neill was commenting after she and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly met Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to discuss wider funding issues related to Northern Ireland.

The redevelopment of the stadium, which has been selected as a host venue for matches in the Euro 2028 football tournament, was raised during the meeting in Belfast.

“Casement is a flagship project for the Executive and it’s now part of that wider Euro bid,” Ms O’Neill told reporters after meeting Mr Heaton-Harris.

“We all know the enormous potential that comes with hosting the Euros and playing our part. What the Secretary of State is saying is that the decision is imminent in terms of the British Government’s contribution to making it happen.”

The First Minister added: “I think there’s a recognition on their part that they have to contribute to this. So we await the decision from the British Government.”

Earlier today, Communities Minister Gordon Lyons said he is seeking clarity from funders, including the British government for the stadium.

Demolition work remains ongoing at the site of the derelict GAA ground in west Belfast, with old floodlights removed this week.

There has been uncertainty around funding for the project following reports that suggested it could cost £308 million.

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

Last month, the Dubin government offered £40 million towards it, and the GAA has said it will contribute £15 million.

The British government reportedly has reservations around plugging the remaining funding gap.

Mr Lyons was questioned about progress when he appeared before a meeting of his department’s Assembly scrutiny committee on Thursday.

Committee chair Colm Gildernew described hosting Euros matches as a “massive opportunity”.

“This tournament has been in Berlin, Paris, all of these places and it is now the turn of Belfast to get its share of that, and for the island of Ireland,” he said.

“A huge economic benefit, huge sporting benefits to flow from it.”

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons
Communities Minister Gordon Lyons said he is seeking clarity from funders (Liam McBurney/PA)

He asked Mr Lyons to assure the committee that the “parts of the jigsaw will be secured” to ensure the tournament comes to Belfast.

Mr Lyons said his department has a role to play, but “is not the only player”.

“There is some difficulty in terms of getting clarity in terms of the final funding allocation, and where the money will be coming from,” he told MLAs.

“There is an Executive commitment, and that commitment remains, £62.5 million for the redevelopment of Casement Park, £15 million from the GAA and a contribution of 50 million euro from the Irish Government.

“I’m not going to go too much into figures, potential costs, other than to say that we have moved from the redevelopment of Casement Park to talking about a Euros-enabled football stadium ready for that competition. That has brought additional costs.

“There is a funding shortfall. I am seeking clarity on that to see where that is right now, who are the other funding partners, what can be contributed and then what are we short.

“I am still trying to get that clarity and to get that information - and when I have that, we can then take the next steps.”

Mr Lyons said he recognised the commitment from the Executive is “not sufficient to do what needs to be done for the Euros”, and said they “await clarity from other funding partners”.

Alliance MLA Sian Mulholland asked where the tendering process is at.

Mr Lyons said they cannot be further on tendering at this stage without clarity on funding.

Ms Mulholland said there is a “92-week build that has to be built 52 weeks before the tournament”, describing “just weeks” before the “viability” of the Euros coming to Northern Ireland is in jeopardy, and asked where the blockage is.

The minister responded: “The blockage is getting clarity from the funding partners, including the UK Government and how much they are prepared to contribute to what will be the overall cost. That is what we are waiting on.

“I have asked the UK Government for clarity on that. I believe that discussions are ongoing, but I haven’t had any response to that yet.”

Speaking in the committee after the minister’s evidence, SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan called for Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to be pressed.

He said that before the restoration of devolved government at the end of January, Mr Heaton-Harris had indicated the UK “would not allow this project to falter”.

“There needs to be conversations with the Secretary of State about the British government’s stake in this project, because it is vital for this place and there’s huge damage that could be done to the reputation of this place if this is not delivered,” he said.

A British government spokesperson said: “The Northern Ireland Department for Communities is responsible for the procurement process for the redevelopment of Casement Park, including direct engagement with local partners on their funding contribution.

“The UK government will continue to work closely with the Department for Communities regarding the cost of the Casement Park.

“We remain committed to ensuring Euro 2028 leaves a lasting legacy across the UK.”