Jarlath Burns: ‘I’m now pessimistic that the Euros will be played in Casement Park’

GAA president believes the big loser will be the game of soccer in Northern Ireland

GAA president Jarlath Burns is pessimistic about the chances of Casement Park hosting Euro 2028 games. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Jarlath Burns fears time is running out for Casement Park to be ready for Euro 2028, with the GAA president now downbeat on the likelihood of Belfast hosting games in four years.

The perpetually delayed redevelopment of Casement Park continues to be mired in political wrangling and as there is still no comprehensive funding package in place, Burns believes the venue is unlikely to be completed in time for the Euros.

“The whole project is being run by the Strategic Investment Board and they have been telling us that in order to get the tenders in and to find out what it’s going to cost, it’s going to take six weeks and then there’s going to have to be another four weeks for appeals to that,” said Burns at the launch of the 2024 All-Ireland senior hurling championship.

“We’re working away, we’re clearing the site and that, but at the end of the day it’s Uefa, and their timelines are important. It has to be up and running for almost a year before you can actually say that it’s properly functional, so I’m now pessimistic that the Euros will be played in Casement Park.”

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The Belfast venue, which closed its gates in 2013, was one of the 10 included as part of the UK and Ireland’s successful bid last October to host the Euro 2028 tournament.

In February, the Irish Government, as part of an €800 million cross-Border funding package, committed €50 million (£42 million) to the redevelopment of Casement Park while the GAA has pledged £15 million (€17.5 million). The British government has said it will make “a significant contribution” but no exact figure has been put on the table.

The spiralling costs hang like a cloud over the derelict site. The original estimate was £77 million (€90 million) but that has grown exponentially over the last decade and one recent costing suggested the price could now exceed £300 million (€355 million).

And with British politicians currently busy on the election trail ahead of July 4th, hopes of progress in the foreseeable future are not bright.

Preparation work has begun at Casement Park in Belfast to upgrade it for Euro 2028.

“Whenever an election is called, you enter into what we call purdah, where governments are not allowed to make big donations or big announcements,” added Burns.

“It’s very handy for the Conservative government that they get out of having to do it. The Gaelic Athletic Association will always be in a very precarious position when we find ourselves depending on the goodwill of the British government. It’s never worked out for us before.

“I’m very, very disappointed with the pace of how it’s gone. It’s not looking as if we’re going to get the Euros.

“As somebody who was born and reared in Northern Ireland with a particular affinity to west Belfast, because that’s where my wife is from, I would have felt that it would have had the same impact as U2 playing in Sarajevo at the end of their Zoo TV tour.

“It was sending out the message that this city is now back, it’s now a modern, major European city.

“Having attended the final of the Europa League in the Aviva [last month], I can see what Uefa bring to a stadium and to an event. West Belfast deserves that and we’re not getting it.

“It’s just a great pity because the carrot was dangled in front of us and then it was taken away. And actually the big loser here is going to be the game of soccer in Northern Ireland, society and the economy.

“The Department for the Economy were waiting to weigh in with all sorts of other things that were going to come from there. It’s just a pity.

“But we’re still very hopeful and expectant that we’re going to get the funds to make a provincial stadium where we can play our Ulster finals.”

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times