Good start at Stormont - The Irish News view

(left – right) Sinn Fein MLA Aisling Reilly, First Minister Michelle O’Neill, deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and DUP MLA Gordon Lyons speak to the media before the UEFA Women’s Nations League Semi Final 2nd leg match at Windsor Park, Belfast
First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly attend a Northern Ireland game at Windsor Park, Belfast last week (Liam McBurney/PA)

As our restored power-sharing administration completes its first month in office, we are entitled to be cautiously optimistic about progress to date at Stormont.

While events are obviously at an early stage, both the overall symbolism and the relationships between the key figures have been strongly positive so far.

Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly only took up the two most senior posts on February 3 but have been able to establish an encouraging rapport during their appearances together.

Their decision to jointly attend the football international between the women’s teams of Northern Ireland and Montenegro at Windsor Park last week specifically sent out all the right messages.

It will be fully accepted that much more difficult tests lie ahead, particularly as the issues surrounding another Belfast sporting venue, Casement Park, come to be resolved.

Providing a state of the art complex which can be used by all our main sports has been a long and frustrating saga, and it will be recalled that a DUP led Stormont executive was initially committed to a 40,000-capacity shared stadium at what was officially referred to as the Maze/Long Kesh site.

A delegation from the organisers of the Euro 2028 football tournament on site this afternoon for an early inspection of the venue.
The venue in west Belfast is earmarked to host games at the tournament in four years.
But the stadium has yet to be redeveloped.
The deadline to complete the construction is mid-2027.
At this stage, there is not sufficient funding to pay for the redevelopment, which could cost more than £200m.
A delegation from the organisers of the Euro 2028 football tournament visited Casement Park last week.

It was mooted to cost £300m, a figure which would have been far higher at today’s costs, when the plug was abruptly pulled by the DUP back in 2008.

Individual payments were made instead to the Irish Football Association, Ulster rugby and the GAA, but, while the first two organisations were able to successfully complete their upgrades, the latter ran into a range of planning complexities.

The prolonged delays then unexpectedly allowed Casement Park to emerge as a potential 30,000-seat base for the 2028 European Championships, bringing massive economic benefits and also providing a long term home for major concerts and sporting fixtures across the board.

Estimates of the final bill have been rising, with £200m regarded as a likely figure and even larger sums being suddenly floated, although £120m has already been pledged by a combination of the Dublin and Stormont authorities as well as the GAA.

Crucially, the secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris has offered a public and unequivocal promise that the British government will make up the difference.

All our politicians have the opportunity to reach an agreement which displays their vision, benefits the entire community and makes the best possible use of the substantial budget which remains available. The outcome will tell us much about the real credibility of our devolved structures.