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Funding gap remains for Casement Park despite investment

Named for the 1916 leader Roger Casement, the Antrim GAA ground on Belfast’s Andersonstown Road was opened in 1953.

The story goes that reclaimed steel from American Airforce hangers in Co Fermanagh, abandoned after the Second World War, were used in the construction.

Between the mid-1950s and 1971, it hosted eight Ulster finals.

Those were difficult days in Belfast due to the Troubles and the violence may have played into the decision to shift big Ulster championship clashes to St Tiernach’s Park in Clones.

In 2006 plans were floated for a multi-sports stadium at the site of the former Maze prison outside Lisburn.

It was to be a 42,500 seater, servicing Gaelic Games, soccer and rugby.

Several years later the plan was scrapped in favour of separate stadium developments for each of the sporting codes.

The GAA’s original plan was for a 40,000 seater stadium at Casement, but residents living in adjoining streets were opposed to the scale of the proposed development.

Games were still being played there, but with expectations of a major redevelopment, the decision was taken in 2013 to shut the ground to facilitate it.

As soccer and rugby got on with their developments without too much hassle, the GAA found itself embroiled in a lengthy planning wrangle which ended up in the courts.

In 2017 the GAA revised down its plans with a reduced capacity of 34,000.

But the proposal coincided with a collapse of the Stormont institutions and the courts ruled that civil servants did not have the power to take big planning decisions in the absence of ministers.

That put the project on ice once again. All the while the costs were going up.

When it was first envisaged, £76 million was the projected bill.

£15m of that was to be provided by the GAA, the rest from the Stormont Executive.

Now it is estimated that the cost could be twice that, possibly more, raising questions about who would pick up the bill.

There was political resistance in some quarters to the notion that Stormont would keep pumping in cash.

Both the Irish and British governments floated the possibility of money from their respective exchequers.

All the while the grass grew long on what was widely regarded as one of the finest playing surfaces in Ireland.

Today’s announcement of a considerable investment by the Shared Island Fund will be welcomed.

But it does not solve all Casement Park’s problems.

It has been nominated as one of the grounds to stage Euro 2028 games jointly hosted by Ireland and the UK.

It is one of only two Irish stadia, the other being the Aviva in Dublin.

Soccer’s governing body UEFA has told the GAA that it wants to see major works started by May 2024 and the entire ground completed by 2027.

There is still a funding gap, the focus now will be on what the UK government might do to help bridge it.

Casement Park clearance work ahead of major redevelopment for Euro 2028

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