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Why Casement Park Won't Be Built In Time For Euro 2028

Updated: Jan 26

Euro 2028 is coming to Great Britain and Ireland, this after Turkey withdrew its bid for the tournament to bid for the 2032 Euros alongside Italy.

Now the UK and its devolved governments can begin planning for the tournament along with its partner in this endeavour the Republic of Ireland.

Whilst most venues will be in England including the Etihad, St James Park and Wembley the national stadiums of the other association will also be used including Hampden Park for Scotland, The Aviva Stadium for the Republic of Ireland and the Principality Stadium for Wales.

But there’s one association where the venue to host selected matches does not exist, that’s Casement Park in Belfast.

The choice of Casement Park is controversial in many areas of Northern Irish society, given the sectarianism that has plagued the region since its inception. This is why I personally think it won’t be built in time for the tournament. But a few notes to take into consideration before we get into the main points., starting with the stadium itself, it’s use and location.

Casement Park has always been one of the largest sports stadia in Northern Ireland and has been home of Antrim Gaelic Athletic Association since it first opened in 1953.

To explain the GAA to someone who knows nothing of Irish history, the GAA in Northern Ireland is seen primarily by Unionist (Or pro UK side) as an organisation that promotes the values of Irish republicanism and separation from the United Kingdom and ultimately unification with the Republic of Ireland. The stadium is named after Irish Nationalist Roger Casement who was executed by British for trying to gain German military aid for the Republican cause. It's also based in largely Catholic, pro republican part of Belfast.

Casement Park has never been a home to association football.

The GAA who ultimately own Casement Park have been trying to replacement since 2006, the GAA has a history of not allowing its grounds to be used by “non-Gaelic games” sports. Originally called Rule 44, The GAA came under pressure to remove or change this rule so that Croke Park the national Stadium of the Gaelic games could be used in a bid for Euro 2008. Subsequently the GAA was once again asked to look at this rule as the Irish Rugby Team and Republic of Ireland football team needed a temporary stadium whilst Lansdowne Road was being rebuilt into the Aviva Stadium. The problem is that the rules current wording is ambiguous at best because though the rule did change, it only changed for one venue Croke Park. Meaning that Non-Gaelic Games are not technically permitted under GAA Rule 5.1. Meaning Cork City can’t play European qualifying matches at bigger stadium say if they came up against a Premier League Club in the Europa League or Conference League. Though I should point out the GAA can ultimately decide to lease its venues under the rules if it so deems fit.

What I also should mention is up until the early 70s you would be banned from the GAA for playing Rugby Union, Association Football, Hockey, Cricket really any sport not sanctioned by the GAA.

That’s the GAA side of things done, now we look at the Irish Football Association.

The IFA is national governing football body for Northern Ireland, it was once in its history the governing body of the island Ireland but because it was based in Belfast and seen by Dublin as a unionist organisation it became superseded by the Football Association of Ireland for the Republic of Ireland.

The IFA national stadium is Windsor Park it’s been their home since 1910 and is owned by the IFA however the stadium is built on land owned by Linfield who also call stadium home and it’s been their home since 1905.

The stadium holds 18,500 spectators and would be too small to host games at Euro 2028 despite the renovations performed on the stadium in 2015.

Linfield do not sell out this stadium, they don’t come close selling it out, whilst the Northern Irish football team do.

The Irish Football Association to their credit are in favour of Casement Park largely seeing that it would bring a major tournament to Belfast and could inspire the next generation to play the game and continue to improve the standing of the Northern Ireland team in the world rankings.

Their manager Michael O’Neil who is catholic and played Gaelic football in the 80’s whilst also playing and winning trophies in Association football like the school’s FA Cup.  O’Neill is very much in favour of Casement Park and said that Northern Ireland fans are going to have to accept reality of their team potentially playing at Casement Park if they qualify.

Speaking of the fans my next point is the Northern Ireland Fans.

If I could summarise their thoughts in one sentence it would be this the chant they were singing against Slovenia “You can shove the Casement up your Arse”.

The Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs has questioned the legacy of having a Gaelic venue host the first major international tournament to be held in Northern Ireland.

They also claim that they wouldn’t feel safe in this area of Belfast as it’s a republican area that would probably be supporting the Republic of Ireland, hypothetically of course.

The DUP or Democratic Unionist Party are the leading party of the Ulster unionist community although no longer the largest party in Northern Ireland that’s Sinn Fein, the stadium is a political football the DUP agreed a set amount money that would fund sports stadia in Northern Ireland, it included funds for renovation of Windsor Park which was completed, it also included Ulster Rugby stadium Ravenhill which was completed and it included Casement Park which as you know is yet to be completed.

The DUP’s argument is that these projects receive equitable funding and their current shortfall on funding for the new stadium with the GAA set to Part fund the project and the Ulster executive at Stormont, the original cost was projected at £77.5 Million but has now spiralled to £100 million.

There are offers from the UK Government to make up for some of that shortfall even the Irish government has said it would contribute. But the DUP have said that if the UK government could put the money into a sports stadium why is there no additional money for Health and Education.

This is what the DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said.

“We have been very clear, the funding that was set aside for regional stadia in Northern Ireland, that was Windsor Park for football, Ravenhill for Ulster Rugby and Casement for GAA, that was done on an equitable basis, we will not be withdrawing from that principle, we will not see that principle undermined.

“We are very clear, the (Stormont) Executive doesn’t have money, the additional money that is required for this stadium.

“It is massive the amount of extra money that is now required, over and above what was set aside by the Executive.”

 “Some people are talking now in figures of between £150 million and £200 million to complete the stadium. I don’t know how accurate that is.

“Construction costs are going up all the time and frankly, the Executive does not have the funding sitting around that it can allocate to cover those extra costs.

“The money is there that was set aside on an equal basis with football at Windsor Park and rugby at Ravenhill.

“But I have to ask the question of the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris), if you have money for Casement Park, why haven’t you got money for the health service? Why are we facing cuts in education? Why don’t we have the budget that Northern Ireland needs to deliver effective public services?

“That is something we have been pressing the Government on and the Government is telling us there isn’t extra money, and yet if money is made available for Casement, I think that raises a lot of questions.”

Asked about his reaction to the Irish Government offering to support the project, Sir Jeffrey said: “I can’t speak for the Irish Government, that is a matter for them.

“It is a joint bid between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in terms of hosting the Euros, so we know the Irish Government is obviously going to contribute to whatever additional funding is required in their jurisdiction.

“But I think we need to approach this on the basis of equality, and I would have concern where the Irish Government are stepping in – in the circumstances where the principle of equality is not respected.”

In Northern Ireland there’s no functioning government and there are several issues as to why the executive keeps collapsing.

 It seems rather funny to me that the DUP the more right-wing party of Ulster Unionism is okay with funding a stadium of Association Football and Rugby Union but when comes to a stadium for the GAA which ultimately people who support the DUP will probably never step foot in, they seem have a problem financing it. It seems that a party founded on the principles of a man in Ian Paisley who despised Catholics, Republicanism and saw his fellow citizens as second class to him.

I would hazard a guess that most Unionism supporters would just like to get on with their lives and have a functioning government and maybe an international event watched by million to show how far Northern Irish society have come in a relatively short space of time. I’m thinking particularly of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

The DUP still acting like the troubles are still in effect when most people just want to move on, if the DUP wanted to extend an olive branch, they could just fund the bloody stadium accept what money they can get, have an international tournament in Northern Ireland and we can all for five minutes think they’ve changed.

It’s time to look at Sinn Fein the largest Republican Party in Northern Ireland as Casement Park is in an area of largely Sinn Fein supporters. It’s been a goal of theirs to see that stadium built.

In the past it’s been used to hold political rallies for Republican causes.

Their leadership has responded to the DUP with Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

“I find it incomprehensible that anybody would be against something that brings so much obvious good for everybody,” she said.

“This is a good news story for everybody right across the North, for sport, for the economy, for relationships between Britain and Ireland, north and south.

“So, I think rather than complaining about or looking a gift horse in the mouth, we need to grab this now with both hands, make it happen, and of course get the executive back up and running.”

“There will be a contribution from Dublin, it’s not a confirmed figure, it would be a substantial investment from Dublin and rightly so,” she said.

“It’s a very, very important part of sporting infrastructure, particularly for Gaels in the north, but beyond that I’m sure the GAA will confirm, but it will be open for use by other sporting codes and for other purposes.

“So, Dublin will be a partner in this, equally British government and of course, the GAA itself.

She added: “It can happen now, and the Euro 28 gives that impetus and that context for this incredible project to be finally taken over.”

“I think that everybody in politics should take their lead from the sporting associations themselves,”

“Because what I know is that the IFA and the IRFU, along with the GAA, are very much behind this project, and I think they’re leading from the front.

“And I want to commend them for their collaboration, for their sense of what is good collectively for everybody across the north.

“And I think everybody in politics, let’s just take note of that and follow that example.”

Having studied the troubles in history and being of Irish ancestry I know there’s still a feeling of ill will between the divide of Northern Ireland. I understand neither side covered themselves in glory. From the IRA to the UVF, Sinn Fein to the DUP.

However, I propose to you, that this situation never needed to happen in the first place because there was once a plan to build a proper National Stadium for Northern Ireland one that would have collectively hosted not just the Northern Ireland national football team, not just the Rugby Union but also Antrim GAA as well.

This was the plan to build a £55 million stadium at the site of the former Maze Prison in Lisburn which had initial support from three political parties including Sinn Fein and more importantly the then Chief Executive of Irish Football Association. If it had been built, then it could have hosted events in the 2012 Olympics and had a capacity of around forty thousand.

But it was killed by the then finance minister and former DUP leader Peter Robinson that killed the project that even the then Sports Minister who was a DUP representative was in favour of.

Instead, they agreed to keep the three sports separate in a city with no parking. It could be a place where all would have come together and show the beauty of the human spirit unfortunately it was ruined.

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