GAA addresses troubled Casement Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh projects

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has said it hopes the long-awaited redevelopment of Casement Park will commence this year, while detailing a cost increase for the renovation of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The two stadia have proved a significant challenge for the GAA in recent years and were on the agenda as its annual report was presented. In March 2019, the estimated cost of the redevelopment project for Belfast’s Casement Park rose to £110m (€130.7m/$142.6m), having originally been estimated to cost £77.5m.

The stadium has been closed since 2013 and development plans still await planning permission seven years after the last match was staged there. The proposed 34,000-capacity redevelopment has been hit over the past three years by the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Now in the midst of a second planning application, GAA director general Tom Ryan has expressed his hope that the restoration of the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive will put the project back on track.

“The agreement tabled jointly by the Irish and British Governments, signed up to by the local parties, provides a firm commitment to deliver a new Casement Park as part of the Regional Stadia Programme,” wrote Ryan (pictured) in his Annual Report. “It is hoped that a positive planning decision for the 34,000-capacity stadium at the West Belfast site will be made within months.”

However, the NI Executive’s budget for the redevelopment dates back to 2010-11 and Ryan warned that it wouldn’t cover the likely increased costs a decade later. In the report, Ryan said the GAA will need to secure additional public funding to ensure delivery of Casement Park, adding that he “sincerely hopes” that 2020 will finally see physical works commence at the site. Ryan indicated that the GAA’s contribution would not exceed the £15m agreed to in 2011, stating that “our resources are finite as well”.

Meanwhile, Ryan said the ultimate cost of the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh is projected at €96m (£80.7m/$104.6m), €17.5m more than what was initially outlined. Cork County Board owns Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which has a capacity of 45,000, making it one of the largest GAA venues after its reopening in 2017.

Addressing the cost rise, Ryan wrote in the report: “Project costs escalated and budgetary control proved inadequate. Costs also increased due to the emergence of elements that were never within the original scope but subsequently proved to be needed – the pitch being foremost among those.

“To exacerbate those problems, the income streams identified to fund the project failed to materialise. The sale of 10-year premium seats was undersubscribed and land that was earmarked to be sold to fund part of the build cost proved to be overvalued.

“That sale is now pending. Several significant elements are still under negotiation. Hence the ultimate cost of the project is still not finalised, but an ultimate cost of €96m is reliably projected. A bank facility was negotiated to allow the project to reach completion.

“This loan was cosigned by the Cork County Board, the Páirc Uí Chaoimh Stadium company and the Croke Park Stadium company. In addition, a further round of financial support was required from Central GAA over the past 18 months. This was to fund critical stadium completion works, including the pitch.

“This additional funding took the form of a loan of €10m. The Current Position Bank borrowings for the project currently stand at €21.5m. There is also a debt owed to Croke Park of €10m. The anticipated resolution of various ongoing negotiations and the sale of assets will leave an underlying long-term debt in the region of €20m.”

Ryan has acknowledged that tackling this debt will be “very challenging” for both the Cork County Committee and its Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium company subsidiary. However, he added: “All avenues will have to be explored to resolve matters. The wider Association expects and knows that Cork GAA and its proud club base fully respects the gravity of the financial problem now facing them.

“There is a clear and simple expectation that Cork will face this challenge head on and deal with it. I know that Cork does realise the scale of the issue and does accept its role in resolving it.”

Image: GAA