Casement Park

Sunak Promises Pounds, But....

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted that the UK government will make a “significant contribution” to the redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast but has refused to say how much money the government would be willing to put up or if it would happen in time for Euro 2028.

The Belfast GAA venue is one of ten stadiums in Ireland and the UK – including the Aviva in Dublin – due to host matches during Euro 2028, however the ground has been closed since 2013 and with costs soaring in recent years latest estimates suggest that it could cost up to £300 million to redevelop.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

Stormont, the Irish government and the GAA have all pledged funding.Hhowever, it is feared that time could be running out with UEFA due to make a decision on the stadium’s viability for Europe’s premier soccer competition.

Last week, during a visit to Belfast, Rishi Sunak promised funding for the stadium project but did not reveal how much, or when, it would be approved.

Meanwhile, just hours before the Prime Minister’s visit, a new report was published which revealed that hosting the UEFA Euro 2028 Championship games at Casement Park will provide a significant economic boost for the North – worth at least £106 million.

Informed by data and analysis from a range of sources including Tourism NI, the NI Hotel Federation and the Irish FA, the report by Grant Thornton sets out expected accommodation spend of £52 million and other local expenditure of £54 million in bars, restaurants and other retail outlets prompted by the five game days in June 2028.

While the economic impact of all 51 games across the UK and Ireland is calculated at £2.6 billion - which equates to a pro-rata contribution of £255 million for the North of Ireland - the Grant Thornton report takes a more considered and prudent view of hosting games in Belfast.

With Casement Park named as one of the ten preferred stadia venues, Ulster GAA has been working closely with the Irish Football Association, UEFA and government departments in Belfast and London over the last two years to ensure Belfast benefits from the economic and sporting legacy of the joint bid.

The Grant Thornton report, commissioned by Ulster GAA, is based solely on the economic and tourism impact of the Euros five games in June 2028 and does not reflect the significant contribution of the construction of the stadium or hosting major GAA games and other events that will take place in the years ahead.

Ulster GAA and the Irish FA have recently written a joint letter to Prime Minister Sunak seeking clarification on the UK Government’s long-standing commitment to invest in Casement Park and facilitate its hosting role in the UEFA Euro 2028 Championship.

According to Andrew Webb, Chief Economist, Grant Thornton and the report’s author, major events like the Euros are a key catalyst in support of Tourism NI’s aim to increase the value of tourism in the North and the Executive’s commitment to grow inward investment.  

Commenting, he said: “While the economic and sporting legacy of Belfast hosting the Euros is considerable, the long-term growth in visitor numbers and the positive statement of intent that it sends out to international investors is perhaps the greatest prize of all. 

“In terms of size, scale and international reach the Euros is an unparalleled event for Northern Ireland and it not only puts us on the map for future large-scale events, but it creates the right circumstances that supports inward investment, creating jobs and growing the economy.”

Commenting on the report, Brian McAvoy, Chief Executive, Ulster GAA added: “Grant Thornton’s report is unambiguous in its analysis of both the short and long term economic, tourism and inward investment opportunities that the Euros can unlock for all of our people.

“Ulster GAA has been working hard to ensure that it has taken every step required to deliver this exceptional opportunity for our society, and we will continue to work closely with the Irish FA and the UEFA team in the weeks ahead to deliver on the economic and sporting legacy of the Euros.

“However, we want and need to see progress, now, on the long-standing commitments given to deliver Casement Park. In the joint letter sent by Ulster GAA and the Irish FA to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, last weekend, we thanked him and the government for their previous public commitments to invest in the project.  We also called for clarity on the Casement Park and Euro 2028 funding position to enable the NI Executive to, then, take the necessary steps to deliver this landmark stadium. With the announcement of the impending dissolution of the UK Parliament within days this matter is now beyond urgent.

“If Euro 2028 can be hosted in Belfast, what a powerful message it would send out on the 30th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in 2028, shining a global light on the progress our community has made in building peace, prosperity and reconciliation.”