Casement Park redevelopment ‘outside control of NI Executive’

The redevelopment of Casement Park is outside of the control of the Northern Ireland Executive, Communities minister Gordon Lyons has told MLAs.

A DUP MP has also told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that he understood that the total cost of the rebuild of the GAA stadium in west Belfast had reached £220 million.

The Irish Government has pledged 50 million euro (£42.7 million) for the redevelopment of the stadium, which has been earmarked to host matches during the Euro 2028 football tournament, as part of a funding package for projects benefiting Northern Ireland.

Ulster GAA said it is confident the stadium will be built in line with Uefa timelines.

casement park redevelopment ‘outside control of ni executive’

Casement Park was listed as one of the stadiums where games will played during the Euro 2028 football tournament, but the site is currently derelict (Niall Carson/PA)

However, uncertainty remains over the rest of the funding for the project.

European football’s governing body Uefa confirmed last year that the UK and Ireland will jointly host the Euros.

As part of the successful bid, Casement Park was listed as one of the stadiums where games will be played.

But the site is derelict and plans by the GAA to redevelop it with a 34,000 capacity have been mired in controversy and hit by delays.

The project has been delayed by a series of legal challenges and was further complicated by the lack of a functioning Executive at Stormont for two years.

The redevelopment has also been hit by rising costs, with an original projected price tag of £77.5 million now believed to have spiralled much higher.

The GAA is part-funding the project but has yet to reach an agreement with Stormont on how to cover the multimillion-pound shortfall. As well as the contribution from Dublin, the UK Government has indicated it is prepared to offer additional funding.

casement park redevelopment ‘outside control of ni executive’

Communities minister Gordon Lyons said there were a number of outstanding funding issues with the project (Liam McBurney/PA)

During ministerial question time at Stormont, SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said the funds pledged by the Irish Government made it a good day for sport across Northern Ireland.

Mr Lyons responded: “There are a number of outstanding issues, both in terms of the quantum of funding and in terms of the total cost and where that funding is coming from.

“I look forward to further clarity on that.”

Mr McCrossan asked the minister if he had had conversations with the UK Government about finding the rest of the money.

The DUP minister said: “It is not going to be within my gift; this is outside the control of any one department or outside of the control of the Northern Ireland Executive.

“I have explained the difficulties that exist around uncertainty, uncertainty in terms of cost, uncertainty in terms of funding.

“But I can commit that I will provide that information to the House as soon as I can.”

Earlier, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris also faced questions about the Casement funding when he appeared before MPs at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

He said he was “very, very keen” to see games played at the GAA stadium.

Mr Heaton-Harris added: “There have been issues with a contractor not being appointed so there are actually no figures available now as to what that total cost would be.

“I am very wary that contractors, when bidding for a contract like Casement Park, might choose to think that the taxpayers’ largesse is infinite in this space.

“I want to make sure it is completely understood that while there will be a decent taxpayers’ contribution, it has to be done on a value for money basis.

“I think this Government has demonstrated with what it has done with HS2, that if it something becomes way too expensive then things have to change.

“That is quite a big caveat because there are no final figures here to determine what the cost (will be).”

DUP MP Jim Shannon said his understanding was that the price tag for the project was now £220 million.

casement park redevelopment ‘outside control of ni executive’

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris gave evidence to MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, saying he was ‘very keen’ to see games played at site (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

He said: “I would suggest the Northern Ireland Executive would have a question to ask whether that project can go ahead or not.

“That is a massive, massive burden upon the Northern Ireland Executive to try to deliver something which clearly will impact upon other services in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Heaton-Harris said he had not seen the figure Mr Shannon was referring to and added that sports stadia can bring “massive economic and financial gain”.

Tom Daly, Ulster GAA stadium board chairman, thanked the Irish Government for its “hugely significant and important contribution”.

He added: “We have been working closely with the Taoiseach’s office to bring the Irish Government on board to contribute to the Ulster GAA’s overall partnership funding package for the stadium which reflects its ambition to foster long-lasting sporting, cultural and economic opportunities in the province.

“Throughout the process the Taoiseach and all of Government have been steadfast and consistent in their support for, and commitment to, helping Ulster GAA deliver a modern, fit-for-purpose GAA stadium for the whole community.”

Contractors began assessing planned ground works at the stadium on Monday.

The maintenance and pre-enabling works will run until April, when the demolition of the existing terraces will begin.

The GAA is undertaking the initial phase of works amid ongoing uncertainty over the funding of the redevelopment.

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