Sub-regional funding announcement could pave the way for progress on Casement Park

Premiership soccer clubs set to get a slice of £36m to upgrade stadia

Stormont First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said a UK Government decision on the level of funding it is prepared to commit to redevelop Casement Park is imminent
Announcement of Sub-regional Stadia funding for the 12 Sports Direct Premiership clubs on Wednesday will pave the way for progress on the funding of the redevelopment of Casement Park (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sports Minister Gordon Lyons is set to release the long-awaited Sub-Regional Stadia funding in an announcement on Wednesday, which could bring more clarity to the funding of Casement Park.

Local clubs are hoping the Communities Minister will release £36m for facilities with the promise of more to come.

Representatives of all 12 Sports Direct Premiership clubs have been invited to Windsor Park for the announcement, which will be linked to plans to rebuild Casement Park.

The figure of £36m could rise to over £100m of funding for local football if the Casement Park project gets the green light.

The minister spoke on the matter of the long-overdue Sub-regional stadia funding on a visit to The Coleraine Showgrounds last week, stating: “You can expect news on sub-regional stadia funding very soon.”

Northern Ireland will be back on home turf at Windsor Park on Monday night (Liam McBurney/PA)
The IFA were granted £25m 10 years ago to upgrade Windsor Park

An emergency meeting of Stormont’s Finance Committee was called on Monday to rubber stamp the release of funds before tomorrow’s announcement.

It is thought the original £36m will be made available to clubs ready to act now to upgrade stadia and facilities.

Some clubs are ‘shovel ready’ while others have more work to do but it is anticipated the funding will be enough to keep everyone happy.

This includes the IFA, who are hoping to receive funding to build a National Training Centre, following on from the £25m the association received to upgrade Windsor Park 10 years ago.

It is thought more funds on top of the £36m will be made available in tandem with an announcement on Casement Park.

However, Stormont insiders have warned that the minister will come under pressure if he announces funding to football without addressing the issue of Casement Park.

“It’s possible, but the minister would then be asked to clarify the situation with Casement, because the clock is ticking”, said one source.

“A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes, a lot of choreography because all the parties want to get this right.”

Communities Minister Gordon Lyons met fellow ministers Caoimhe Archibald and Andrew Muir about the Victoria Square apartments
Sports Minister Gordon Lyons is set to announce the £36m of Sub-regional Stadia funding for Premiership soccer clubs on Wednesday morning (Liam McBurney/PA)

The IFA nominated the home of Antrim GAA in West Belfast to host Euro 2028 games as part of a joint venture with the UK and Ireland.

But the race is on as the major building work required to make Casement suitable to host Euro 2028 games must start no later than the end of next month for the project to be finished in time.

Like football and rugby, the GAA was promised £72m of Sub-regional stadia funding thirteen years ago; Ulster Rugby upgraded Ravenhill, the IFA upgraded Windsor Park but the GAA’s plans to upgrade Casement were held up by protests from local residents.

Since the funding was announced in March 2011, costs have spiralled and the cost of rebuilding Casement, in line with UEFA requirements for Euro 2028, is estimated to be between £200-£300m.

Rishi Sunak’s government has been asked to pick up the bulk of the shortfall, but there have been mixed messages in recent months from Chris Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The IFA is aware that UEFA cannot wait forever and have plenty of alternative venues should Casement Park be ruled out.