Ireland

Why fund Casement Park over health service, Jeffrey Donaldson asks secretary of state

Jeffrey Donaldson said the DUP "would not support a departure from the principal of equality when it comes to funding sport in Northern Ireland"
Jeffrey Donaldson said the DUP "would not support a departure from the principal of equality when it comes to funding sport in Northern Ireland" Jeffrey Donaldson said the DUP "would not support a departure from the principal of equality when it comes to funding sport in Northern Ireland"

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said there will be a “lot of questions” for the UK Government if it funds the construction of the Casement Park stadium in west Belfast while Northern Ireland faces a budget crisis.

Sir Jeffrey said he did not know if the GAA stadium would be built in time for the Euro 2028 football tournament, but insisted that there would be no extra money from Stormont for the project.

European football’s governing body, Uefa, confirmed on Tuesday that the UK and Ireland will jointly host the tournament.

As part of the successful bid, Casement Park has been listed as one of the stadiums where games will be played.

But the site is currently derelict and plans by the GAA to redevelop it with a 34,000 capacity have been mired in controversy and hit by delays.

Read more:

  • Casement Park 'due diligence processes' not completed
  • Clock ticking for Casement Park as Euro bid confirmed, but funding remains final hurdle
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Stormont Executive would not give further funding to the Casement Park project (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

The project has been been delayed by a series of legal challenges and is further complicated by the lack of a functioning Executive at Stormont.

The redevelopment has also been hit by rising costs, with an original projected price tag from almost a decade ago of £77.5 million now believed to have spiralled well above £100 million.

The GAA is part-funding the project but has yet to reach an agreement with Stormont on how to cover a multimillion-pound shortfall.

Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Irish Government would be prepared to foot some of the bill.

The DUP leader told the PA news agency that his party would not break the principle of equitable funding for sports stadiums in Northern Ireland.

Asked if he thought Casement Park would be completed in time for the Euros in 2028, he said: “That is a big question, I don’t know at this stage if the new stadium will be built in time, I think there are big questions around all of that.

“We have been very clear, the funding that was set aside for regional stadia in Northern Ireland, that was Windsor Park for football, Ravenhill for Ulster Rugby and Casement for GAA, that was done on an equitable basis, we will not be withdrawing from that principle, we will not see that principle undermined.

“We are very clear, the (Stormont) Executive doesn’t have money, the additional money that is required for this stadium.

“It is massive the amount of extra money that is now required, over and above what was set aside by the Executive.”

The Casement Park stadium is currently derelict (Niall Carson/PA)
The Casement Park stadium is currently derelict (Niall Carson/PA) The Casement Park stadium is currently derelict (Niall Carson/PA)

Sir Jeffrey said he did not know where the extra money for the stadium would come from.

He said: “Some people are talking now in figures of between £150 million and £200 million to complete the stadium. I don’t know how accurate that is.

“Construction costs are going up all the time and frankly, the Executive does not have the funding sitting around that it can allocate to cover those extra costs.

“The money is there that was set aside on an equal basis with football at Windsor Park and rugby at Ravenhill.

UEFA Euro 2028 UK and Ireland Stadium File Photos
UEFA Euro 2028 UK and Ireland Stadium File Photos The costs of the Casement Park project have risen in the last decade (Niall Carson/PA)

“We would not support a departure from the principal of equality when it comes to funding sport in Northern Ireland.

“Therefore, I don’t know where the money is going to come from.”

He added: “There is some talk that the UK Government, because this is a UK-wide programme to deliver the Euros in 2028, that it may put some money on the table.

“But I have to ask the question of the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris), if you have money for Casement Park, why haven’t you got money for the health service? Why are we facing cuts in education? Why don’t we have the budget that Northern Ireland needs to deliver effective public services?

“That is something we have been pressing the Government on and the Government is telling us there isn’t extra money, and yet if money is made available for Casement, I think that raises a lot of questions.”

Asked about his reaction to the Irish Government offering to support the project, Sir Jeffrey said: “I can’t speak for the Irish Government, that is a matter for them.

“It is a joint bid between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in terms of hosting the Euros, so we know the Irish Government is obviously going to contribute to whatever additional funding is required in their jurisdiction.

“But I think we need to approach this on the basis of equality and I would have concern where the Irish Government are stepping in – in the circumstances where the principle of equality is not respected.”

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill has previously described the hosting of Euro 2028 games in Belfast as the “opportunity of a lifetime”.

She said: “The hosting of this prestigious tournament will grow our economy, create jobs, and showcase everything that makes our island and people amazing.”