'Unfair' to suggest concerns over spiralling Casement Park costs are driven by sectarianism

Preparation work for the planned redevelopment of Casement Park stadium in west Belfast. Photo: Jonathan Porter/Press EyePreparation work for the planned redevelopment of Casement Park stadium in west Belfast. Photo: Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Preparation work for the planned redevelopment of Casement Park stadium in west Belfast. Photo: Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Concerns over the Casement Park development project are a response to the “significant funding shortfall,” not sectarianism, Gordon Lyons has said.

Communities minister Mr Lyons said talks are ongoing to establish exactly how the cost of the rebuild can be met – with one weekend report suggesting the ‘worse case scenario’ cost could be as high as £308 million.

A number of elected representatives and commentators have expressed concerns that the project, which was estimated to cost £77.5m when the plans were revealed ten years ago, is no longer viable in its current form.

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The west Belfast GAA stadium is one of ten across the UK and Ireland provisionally approved as host venues for EURO 2028 matches.

When complete, it will be the only stadium in Northern Ireland with the minimum 30,000 seating capacity stipulated by Uefa.

On Sunday, Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “I believe it needs to be built. I believe that some of the opposition to it, I think, smacks of sectarianism in many cases.”

Mrs Long said officials cannot bid for something in 2010, and then expect it to cost the same in 2024.

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“If you want these things to happen, you need to do them in a timely way and you need to do them to budget,” she told the BBC NI’s ‘Sunday Politics’ programme.

However, she also said: “We don’t actually know what Casement is going to cost and that causes me concern.

“We have to do our due diligence, we have to deliver on time and we have to deliver on budget, and that applies to Casement just as it does to any other project. But there’s no reason why Casement should see any less support than the other stadiums did.”

Stormont’s executive committed £62.5m to the project back in 2011, while the GAA said it would pay £15m. The Irish government has said recently that it is prepared to pay more than £40m to get it built.

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Following talks with the UK Sports Minister Stuart Andrew at Stormont on Monday, Gordon Lyons said the Casement Park funding shortfall was not on the agenda.

Mr Lyons told the BBC that the focus was on funding for sub-regional football stadia in Northern Ireland.

Commenting on the Casement Park controversy, Mr Lyons said it was important to get clarity on where the funding was going to come from.

He also rejected the “sectarianism” claim made by Mrs Long.

"It is unfair for people to say that sectarianism is at play here, what is at play is a significant funding issue – the issue here is not about sectarianism.

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"We need clarity from funding partners and that is something we continue to discuss," he said.

At the weekend, the Irish News quoted a “high level source” within the GAA as saying the £308m figure is a “worst case scenario” amount that includes financial contingencies, as well as additional costs associated with meeting UEFA requirements in terms of the stadium’s structure and hosting facilities.

“The actual cost of building the stadium will still be in around £200m. There are other factors that include being UEFA compliant, hosting the Euros and significant other costs including contingency-associated costs,” the source said.

In a statement on Friday evening, a NIO spokesperson said: “The UK government will need to receive confirmation of the updated cost of the Casement Park project from the Department for Communities before detailed consideration can be given to allocating taxpayers' money, particularly given wider public sector funding challenges.”