Editorial: GAA must be told to up its​​​​​​​ support​​​​​​​ for Casement

News Letter editorial on Friday October 6 2023
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​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.

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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.