Editorial: GAA must be told to up its support for Casement
In the early 2000s, there was growing speculation about a single new sports stadium in Northern Ireland.
It could have been one of the best such venues in the British Isles, and would have benefited GAA, football and rugby. There was controversy over the location for such a stadium, with significant support for it being placed at the Maze near Lisburn, but also major opposition. Those who said such a stadium should be in NI’s capital city suggested locations such as the Titanic Quarter.
Agreement in the end was not possible and Northern Ireland chose an all-things-to-all-men approach. In the same way that we, as a small society, have three airports – City of Derry, Belfast International and Belfast City – so we had to have three stadia: an improved Ravenhill, Windsor Park, and Casement.
That latter project was to get most funding, of £62m, compared to £25m for Windsor, and £15m for rugby (soccer was to get extra money too). Casement has run into planning problems, rooted in safety concerns and local opposition. More than a decade later, it has not been built.
But a redeveloped Casement will be the only Northern Ireland venue big enough for the Euros 2028, to be held in the UK and Ireland. Chris Heaton-Harris recently implied it will be funded, whatever the cost. But the cost has soared from an estimated £77m to £160m. The GAA says it will continue only to pay £15m. The government seems set to write a blank cheque at a time of severe financial constraint in the NHS. With the Euros now near, once work begins taxpayers will have to fund further shortfalls.
It is reasonable to inflation-link the original £62m offer which would bring it up to £90m but wrong to go beyond that. And it would be scandalous if the wealthy GAA was not forced to increase its contribution markedly – and another example of London pandering to demands popular with Irish republicans.