Northern Ireland

Casement Park: Michelle O’Neill vows to knock on Downing St door after election for west Belfast stadium funding

The first minister said Northern Ireland must not miss out on the chance to host games during Euro 2028.

Michelle O'Neill has vowed to pursue funding from the British government for Casement Park
Michelle O'Neill has vowed to pursue funding from the British government for Casement Park

Michelle O’Neill said she will knock on the door of Downing Street straight after the election to demand an immediate funding pledge on Casement Park, to ensure Northern Ireland does not miss out on Euro 2028.

The first minister told the assembly that it is vital the north does not pass up the opportunity to be a host venue during the showpiece international tournament, when it is jointly held by the UK and the Republic in four years.

Her comments come amid mounting speculation that the stadium could be axed as a host venue, because of uncertainty over the timeline and funding for the redevelopment project.

The derelict west Belfast ground has been earmarked to host five Euro 2028 matches.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill
First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Brian Lawless/PA)

However, the funding needed to build the stadium in time for the tournament is still not in place, prompting concerns that the delays will see Belfast miss out.

Ulster GAA and the Irish FA recently wrote to British prime minister Rishi Sunak asking the British government to bridge the funding gap.

On a recent visit to Belfast, Mr Sunak said the government will make a “substantial contribution” to the redevelopment but refused to say how much or if it will happen in time for Euro 2028.

Mr Sunak has said a funding decision will not come until after the general election, and shadow Secretary of State Hilary Benn has said that Labour will not offer a blank cheque to the project if his party comes to power after July 4.

There have been reports that the projected costs of the rebuild could soar as high as £308 million in a worst-case scenario.

“When we get post July 4 next week, whoever comes out the other side, whoever occupies Downing Street, will have me knocking at their door in terms of the huge significance that we have, the huge economic boost that we have to have the Euros hosted here and I want us to be part of that,” Ms O’Neill told MLAs.

“I do not want us to miss a moment there. So, whoever comes into 10 Downing Street, whoever occupies the Treasury, we want firm commitments in terms of their commitment to the financial package that actually gets Casement built and also gets us our part as part of the Euros.”

Casement Park currently lies derelict
Casement Park currently lies derelict (Liam McBurney/PA)

The issue was raised during assembly question time by SDLP MLA Mark Durkan.

“I think it’s a prospect that we must all be ambitious about,” the first minister said of the Euros.

“This is something that will lead to the betterment of our wider society, the economic boost, the investment in sport, the legacy that that will leave, the tourism impact that we will have from it.

“I mean, the benefits are immense and it is an opportunity not to be missed and an opportunity indeed that we must maximise.”

She added: “I think it’s important now that we get to the other side of this election and we get that immediate, firm confirmation from the British government in terms of their stated funding commitment, and we need to get that without delay, so that we can move on at pace and actually secure our place within the Euros.”

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

Earlier this year the Dublin government offered €50 million towards it and the GAA has said it will contribute £15 million.

Last week Taoiseach Simon Harris made clear that his government’s funding pledge for Casement Park is guaranteed regardless of whether the stadium hosts games during Euro 2028.