Excellent news today for GAA, Soccer and Rugby followers in the North today following confirmation from the Northern Ireland Executive that some £138m has been allocated for the refurbishment of key stadia in the North.
Largest single grant goes to the GAA (£61.4 m) including a complete rebuild of Casement Park whilst a further £14.7m is allocated to Ravenhill for building of two new stands and a significantly improved car park – in addition to previous grants. Soccer’s Windsor Park refurbishment means the I.F.A get some £25.2m for that and an additional £36m goes to considerably improving other Irish League grounds in Belfast and Derry. That is expected to include a new stadium for Glentoran, close to the George Best Airport. Final plans will be revealed later.
Sports Minister Neville McCausland announcing the package said: “”The Executive approval represents an important step forward in rectifying the long-standing deficit in stadium provision in Northern Ireland.
“I consider that advancing these proposals will secure the long-term future of international football, rugby and Gaelic Games. This major investment is great news for our economy and in particular for our local construction sector.”
Mr McCausland went on : “Modern, fit-for-purpose and spectator-friendly stadium facilities can only enhance the sports’ standing and will assist the development of the three sports from grassroots right up to international levels.
“Although our primary focus has been on the development of the main regional stadiums it is plain that football clubs in Northern Ireland face substantial difficulties due to systemically low and dwindling attendances largely due to the poor facilities at grounds.
“This needs to be rectified and I am particularly pleased that the Executive have endorsed proposals to tackle this deficit as a priority, alongside the development of the three main stadiums.”
The Ulster GAA council have welcomed the news thanking the Executive for approving the grants in the difficult financial circumstances prevailing.
“In particular Ulster GAA welcomes the commitment of Capital Funding for the re-development of Casement Park, Belfast in order to meet the GAA’s Strategic Stadium needs. We also look forward to exploring the potential of other future funding programmes to meet other GAA infrastructure needs.
We are indebted to the various officials within Department Culture, Arts and Leisure and Sport NI and we acknowledge their input in the process. Ulster GAA is also grateful to the Minister to for Culture Arts and Leisure Nelson McCausland MLA for his commitment to this process and also to his Ministerial colleagues in the Executive and the former holders of the office of Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure.
The President of Ulster Council GAA, Aogan O Fearghail commenting on the Ministerial announcement said:
“The Ulster Council is pleased that after several years of work by the Stadium Project Board led by Tom Daly as Chairman and Danny Murphy as Provincial Director, we now have a real level of commitment around the future funding for the Casement Park project due to the announcement made today.
I am grateful to all of those who have made a contribution to this on-going process and would highlight the continuing input from officials of both the Antrim County Committee GAA and the Central Council GAA and our own Project Steering Board. I am grateful to the Association for their continued support in the development of this project, particularly the Director General Paraic Duffy for his assistance and guidance.”
Amongst Northern Ireland sports fans there is concern that there has been no allocation to Swimming or Athletics whilst a significant number of comments from the public cannot understand why so much has been spent on developing or re-developing three regional Stadia when in the opinion of many one “state of the art” venue would suffice. Monaghan may also be a “loser” long term as once Casement Park is rebuilt with a 40,000 stadium it is ‘almost certain’ that major Ulster GAA games (inc the Senior Finals ) will revert to Casement)