Sport

Casement Park will cost more but government must honour commitment to build it

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

A computer-generated image of how a re-developed Casement Park would look on a match day.
A computer-generated image of how a re-developed Casement Park would look on a match day. A computer-generated image of how a re-developed Casement Park would look on a match day.

Timing is everything. In comedy, in sport, in life.

David Epstein's book 'Range' was bought for me from my Christmas wish list in 2021 but I only got around to starting it last month while off on holiday, abroad.

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A passage in it prompted me to think about the cost of building Casement Park. Then, before I returned to work, that fine journalist Keith Bailie of the Belfast Telegraph broke a newsworthy story about the increased price tag now being attached to the redevelopment of the west Belfast GAA stadium.

I laughed, ruefully. I'm a life-long socialist but I fully understand that public expenditure has to be costed, considered, and scrutinised.

The public needs to know how much Casement Park will cost.

But Casement Park also needs to be built, not least for Northern Ireland to play any part in hosting Euro 2028 soccer matches..

Have a go at this quick quiz question: what percentage of major infrastructure projects worldwide go over budget?

The answer will be revealed further down this column.

Of course major projects will cost huge amounts.

Of course their costs will increase – due to inflation and rising costs of living.

Even if inflation weren't as high as it is at present, the costs would go up.

Clearly Casement Park will cost much more now, in 2023, than when the redevelopment was first mooted around a decade ago.

Sure, Ulster GAA made some mistakes, but the lengthy delay is not their fault.

Politicians who claim to care about spending the public's money need to stop dragging their feet.

Unless there's actual deflation, rather than slightly lower inflation, costs will go up.

Despite the shameful attempts by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to claim otherwise, lower inflation does not mean lower food prices, quite the opposite, in fact.

Such brazen BS from Jeremy Hunt is part of the myth perpetuated by the right-wing media (which constitutes the vast majority, especially of the press, in the UK) is that the Conservatives can be trusted with the economy, while Labour always makes a mess of it.

The actual truth is that Britain does better under Labour governments.

Here's the twisted nature of most media misrepresentation: the last Labour PM, Gordon Brown, was blamed for a global financial crisis; yet the current Conservatives are excused most of their financial failings because of Covid-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with barely a mention of their pet project, Brexit.

Governments have to take responsibility for their own actions. Government is about decision-making.

This cabal of bankers and charlatans have decided to make the rich richer and don't worry about the poor.

Ulster GAA's Casement Park Project Sponsor Stephen McGeehan. Pic: Hugh Russell
Ulster GAA's Casement Park Project Sponsor Stephen McGeehan. Pic: Hugh Russell Ulster GAA's Casement Park Project Sponsor Stephen McGeehan. Pic: Hugh Russell

Back to the cost of Casement.

Be honest – what was your answer to that question above?

I'll wager you reckoned that maybe a quarter of major infrastructure projects go over budget. The cannier among you, who sensed the point I'm likely to make, might have said around a half of all such schemes cost more than anticipated.

However, unless you've read 'Range' and have a good memory, I doubt you'll have even been close to being correct.

Epstein wrote this: 'Bent Flyvberg, chair of Major Programme Management at Oxford University's business school, has shown that around 90 percent of major infrastructure projects worldwide go over project….'

Ninety per cent. 90. Per. Cent.

So those projects that come in on, or under, budget are very much in the minority.

And that's not just 'one of those stats', the type that says a team hasn't won at a certain venue for 60 years (without pointing out that they only played there once in that timeframe).

Second question: by what percentage on average do such projects go over budget?

The answer to that is 28 per cent.

With a little thought, you'll realise that some projects can go over budget by much more than 28 per cent. (Yes, some will also not go over by much).

This might seem a slightly contrary way to be advocating for Casement: it's going to cost a lot; in fact, it's almost certainly going to cost even more than you think.

Yet facts and reality are necessary tools in this tough modern world.

Casement Park isn't going to be built on sunlit uplands. No Union-flag draped unicorns (Unioncorns?) will help haul the bricks and girders into place.

It is going to be built in an area that desperately needs regeneration and jobs (west Belfast), in a small place that desperately needs regeneration and jobs (Northern Ireland/ the north of Ireland/ whatever you want to call it).

Instead of politicians bickering about those terms, they should get on with helping improve people's lives.

Here's the important thing.

When Casement does get built, most of the money will be going into wage packets, going back into the community. A positive effect rippling out from west Belfast into the pockets of labourers and tradespeople from the local area and further afield.

The British government, despite all their many faults, has already indicated that the money will be made available to fund the project.

Excellent.

I would ask those local politicians quibbling about the cost – and I accept it will be a high cost – to do a couple of things for me first:

Campaign to recoup some of the BILLIONS wasted/ siphoned off on at best vastly-overpriced, at worst utterly useless personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid crisis; and

Campaign to clamp down on the multi-national companies who pay little or no tax on massive profits.

Making progress on either of those fronts would make the cost of Casement seem like a drop in the ocean.

Money can always be found by governments, when the will is there.

With those figures of 90 per cent and 28 per cent (on average) in mind, perhaps we can also avoid bleating about Casement going over budget, as it probably will.

It happens. Almost always.

That won't make Casement 'a white elephant'.

Soccer got Windsor Park re-developed. Rugby got Ravenhill/ Kingspan Stadium.

The GAA, which attracts the biggest attendances, deserves to have its provincial stadium built.

The longer the wait, the greater the cost.