Northern Ireland

Stormont opposition puts pressure on executive ministers to make quick decisions over Casement Park

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Communities Minister Gordon Lyons and Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald

The leader of Stormont’s new opposition has sought to put immediate pressure on two executive ministers over the development of Casement Park.

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole told The Irish News that the planned upgrade of Antrim GAA’s west Belfast headquarters to a 34,000 capacity stadium ahead of Euro 2028 was “one of the priority projects we’ll be watching closely”.

The South Belfast MLA’s former colleague Nichola Mallon granted planning permission for the project in July 2021 when she was infrastructure minister.

The tight timeline involved in completing the ambitious scheme means decisions on funding must be made as soon as possible.

There had been some speculation that Sinn Féin would have again taken the communities portfolio in the new executive to enable the party to advance the scheme expeditiously and take credit for its completion.

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

However, initial decisions for advancing the project now lie with DUP Communities Minister Gordon Lyons, whose party leader has previously threatened to block additional money for Casement Park.

In October last year, soon after Uefa gave the green light to the Republic and UK’s joint bid to host Euro 28, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said there would be a “lot of questions” if money was found for the west Belfast stadium while the north faces a budget crisis.

He said he did not know if the GAA stadium would be built in time for the tournament, insisting that he would not support extra funding for the project from Stormont.

The Casement Park upgrade has been plagued by funding wrangles and delays since the project was announced in 2011, with construction costing an estimated £61m.

Latest estimates put the cost of building the flagship stadium at around £110m.

The Department for Communities has yet to respond to requests for it to outline what the newly-appointed minister’s intentions are regarding the redevelopment of Casement Park.

The DUP told The Irish News that it does not support additional funding for the project beyond what was originally allocated by the executive.

Mr O’Toole said: “One of the priority projects we’ll be watching closely is Casement Park.

“The SDLP in government approved planning permission for the redevelopment and we now need to see it happen – as an opposition we’ll be holding the Sinn Féin finance minister and DUP communities minister to account.”