Irish Government makes €50m commitment to Casement Park

Featured image credit: Ulster GAA/Populous

The much-delayed Casement Park stadium project in Belfast has received further positive news with the announcement that the Irish Government has pledged €50m (£42.8m/$54m) towards the scheme.

The funding for Casement Park is part of wider investment commitments of over €800m for Shared Island projects. The Irish Government has committed €50m through the Shared Island Fund to contribute to construction of a redeveloped Casement Park in Belfast as a “landmark sports infrastructure project”, in particular with a view to its scheduled role as a host venue for the UEFA Euro 2028 tournament.

Ireland will jointly host the national team football event with the UK and Casement Park is due to be Northern Ireland’s sole host stadium. The redevelopment project is owned and managed by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Ulster Council in cooperation with the Northern Ireland authorities, who are working to bring together an overall funding package to deliver the redeveloped stadium.

The Irish Government has stressed that consistent with its policy on funding for large scale sports infrastructure, principles for funding of the project will be agreed such that it is “accessible to and will benefit a range of sports, and is operated to facilitate equality, diversity and inclusion in sport, including supporting cross-community relationships in Northern Ireland and across the island”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar added: “The return of the power-sharing Executive is hugely important for the people of Northern Ireland and has brought renewed hope for what can be achieved through the Good Friday Agreement.

“The funding announced shows our commitment to working with the new Executive, and with the UK Government, to make the island of Ireland a better place for everyone who calls it home.

“The redevelopment of Casement Park stadium in Belfast will help maximise the benefit for Northern Ireland of hosting games in the UEFA Euro 2028 championship which is a major East-West project.”

Ulster GAA last week announced that initial development work would commence on the new Casement Park, stating the news was an “important step forward” for the stadium venture.

Activity commencing this week, which will continue throughout March, will be focused on initial ground works and this will be followed by site clearance from April to June, including the removal of the old terracing.  

Ulster GAA said the Department for Communities (DfC) is leading the procurement of the main construction contract for the project through UK Government frameworks for major strategic infrastructure projects. 

In November, Ulster GAA announced that Heron Bros would no longer be delivering the main works contract for a redeveloped Casement Park. Heron Bros had been Ulster GAA’s long-standing construction contractor for the Casement Park project and participated fully in a due diligence exercise after its joint venture partner, Buckingham Group Contracting, fell into administration.

Ulster GAA said that Heron Bros demonstrated its capacity and capability to bring the project forward, but restrictions of the Public Contract Regulations prevented the governing body from pursuing its preferred option of retaining and modifying the existing contract for the work.

Casement Park has been closed since 2013. Plans for a new venue have been on the table for more than 10 years but the project has stalled due to financial and planning issues.

Work on a new 34,578-seat Gaelic sports stadium, designed by Populous, had initially been due to begin in the first half of 2022. Planning permission was granted in July 2021, and in October it was announced that Euro 2028 will be co-hosted by England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Commenting on the Irish Government’s funding package, Ulster GAA yesterday (Tuesday) said it was confident that the stadium will be built in line with UEFA timelines, with GAA games being played at the stadium in 2027.

Tom Daly, Ulster GAA Stadium Board chairperson, added: “We welcome, and thank, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Government for the hugely significant and important contribution to support the construction of Casement Park which will leave a legacy not only for the Gaels of Antrim and Ulster, but for all of society.

“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.

“We also recognise that this will contribute significantly to both North South and East West relationships.”

Costs have reportedly risen significantly from the originally intended £77.5m (€90.5m/$97.5m). The GAA has pledged £15m towards the project, but is yet to reach a deal with Stormont to complete the financing package.