The TUV has questioned why the GAA should expect “a bottomless pit of public money” as it emerged the costs for redeveloping Casement Park could be as high as £168 million.
This week, it was reported the GAA’s Ulster Council issued a VEAT (Voluntary Ex-Ante Transparency) notice, informing the market of its proposal to modify their existing Casement contract.
It confirmed that the cost for “design, development and construction of the Casement Park Stadium new build for Ulster Council” would cost between £112m to £140m.
After VAT, this could potentially reach as high as £153m.
To date, the GAA has not said it will increase an original funding commitment of £15m, which had been made when the predicted cost of the project was £77m.
The TUV’s deputy leader and Belfast councillor, Ron McDowell, has now called it “totally unacceptable” that the GAA should “refuse” to contribute more to the project.
“The GAA are now expecting the public purse to cover over 90 per cent of the cost of their stadium,” he said.
“It is important to remember too that many people in Northern Ireland have zero interest in the GAA and will never darken the turnstiles of the place.”
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He also claimed that the Northern Ireland’s Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris’ “we’ll find the money don’t you worry” approach was “scandalous”.
“Why should the GAA uniquely have access to a bottomless pit of public money?”
The grounds of Casement have been dormant since 2013, with hopes that a redeveloped 34,500 capacity stadium could stage top GAA fixtures.
There are also hopes it can stage a number of soccer games for Euro 2028, if a joint bid from the UK and Ireland is successful.
The Belfast Telegraph has reported that the UK government is willing to pay £91m for the new stadium as part of the bid.
According to the GAA document, the spiralling costs are because of inflation and changes to the original design.
This included changing the original capacity of 38,000 down to 34,500 to make it more likely to get planning permission.
The document stated that planning permission was previously refused in 2015, “because of the planning authority’s failure to correctly assess traffic and related implications of a 38,000 capacity stadium”.
Planning permission was granted in 2021, and as things stand it’s hoped that construction can start next year with completion by 2026.
A Department for Communities spokesperson has said the latest notice from the GAA was “an important part of the open and transparent contract modification process”.
They added that no medication will be undertaken until the department concludes an assessment of the new proposal, and as the VEAT notice had been published it was inappropriate to comment further.
Sinn Féin said the redevelopment of Casement Park was "a game-changer for gaelic games across the north and will provide world-class sporting facilities and a major economic boost for west Belfast and surrounding areas".
“Building Casement is a flagship Executive project and a commitment within New Decade, New Approach and we need to see it delivered with no more delays," a spokesman said.
“We need to see the Executive restored now and working together to deliver on its agreed flagship projects, including the transformation of Casement Park.”
Last month, the DUP's South Down MLA Diane Forsythe also questioned why the secretary of state felt "a controversial GAA stadium is more important than new schools, hospitals or childcare support".
Alliance MLA David Honeyford criticised the comments as being likely to raise tensions in the community.
“Any serious party of government would be leading from within a functioning Executive and providing solutions, rather than simply criticising from the sidelines," he said.
“It’s beyond time that the DUP got back to work and stopped depriving the people of Northern Ireland of the local government that they voted for and are entitled to.”