Editorial: The huge costs to the public of the Casement GAA stadium are not justified
Among the charges that can be laid against Chris Heaton-Harris as secretary of state is one of naivete.
Mr Heaton-Harris was naive when in May he was asked about the funding of Casement Park GAA stadium, he merely replied, with an emerging smile, that it would be found.
Perhaps Mr Heaton-Harris was thinking that he was displaying a governmental generosity with which everyone would agree. After all, the IFA of all organisations had backed this plan to upgrade Casement and use it as a Euros venue. But, for all the pressure on football fans and unionists to endorse this plan, it is flawed from a sporting perspective and utterly unjustifiable from a cost one.
The three big sports of rugby, football and GAA in Northern Ireland rejected a plan that began to emerge 20 years ago of a single sports stadium. That was a pity, but it is what happened, in part because a venue could not be agreed. GAA never got its share, of £62 million, to which it is entitled, indeed with inflation (despite the GAA's own culpability in delays). That would be closer to £90 million now. But the cost of Casement has spiralled to perhaps £150m+ after VAT.
It is completely unacceptable for Mr Heaton-Harris merely to smile smugly and tell the wealthy GAA what it wants to hear, that it will get a blank cheque. This is particularly so in a time of extreme financial constraint for vital public services. It is also utterly wrong to depict expenditure on Casement as merely a good news story about the Euros. It is, of course, wonderful for Northern Ireland to see such a tournament played here but lamentable that no football stadium is worthy of hosting it.
Northern Ireland fans have reacted with notable restraint, merely expressing “disappointment” in a letter exchange with the IFA. Mr Heaton-Harris’s response is the same as before, hailing the plan and saying that all will be well.