‘There’s no money for it’ says a series of callers to Stephen Nolan’s radio programme, when informed by Stephen that the IFA are confident that the long awaited development at what was for generations the home GAA in Belfast.
Before going any further we should pause at this point and let this state of affairs sink in. I don’t mean the absence of Stormont, I mean the IFA, the original representative soccer body on the island until the FAI broke away, is delivering this piece of news.
After years of deadlock it is the IFA, in alignment with the FAI and the English FA, the two senior bodies administering soccer (what some of us used to call foreign games, others our dirty little secret) promising money for a flagship GAA stadium.
WTF, as the kids might say? Well, the planning issues were completed under Stormont. Back in September there was little more than scepticism when Ulster GAA’s Stephen McGeehan (the association’s Casement Park Project Sponsor) first broke the news.
Casement is the smallest of those ten stadiums which made the shortlist, just behind the Aviva in Dublin, in the UK and Republic of Ireland’s joint bid to host Euro 2028, but it will meet the minimum size standards that Windsor Park cannot.
It is not the only one that’s not been built yet. Everton’s Bramley-Moore Dock is expected to host around 53,000 spectators, is under construction and expected to be built by 2024, which is when planners hope that work on Casement will begin.
It is Northern Ireland’s only opportunity to play in that game and no doubt given the messy headlines over the years since the Brexit Referendum across Europe, its inclusion in the bid will no doubt aid the chances of it succeeding. [Whoo hoo!! – Ed]
The fact that this is a joint enterprise between the UK and Irish government’s probably goes some way to explain the optimism of both the IFA and Ulster GAA. When contacted by the Nolan show, the Department for Communities deferred to the IFA.
That means no Northern Irish politician of either stripe is in a position to stop it, hold it up, or use it as a bargaining chip in some underhand stratagem to get something they couldn’t build a local cross community consensus for.
West Belfast, courtesy of the Irish and British Government’s will get the world class facility they should have had nearly ten years ago when it fell into a planning hole and then rapidly ran out of the budget capacity of Stormont’s funding formulas.
It also addresses that problem I mentioned yesterday of negative incentives for local politicians to finally take on and build upon the genuine possibilities of devolved power to reshape the future of Northern Ireland on expanded lines of the C21.
There has been ‘no money’ in politics for so long it has been a safe bet that no change was on the horizon. But with the expansion of spending with the arrival of Fianna Fáil in the south and Sunak’s need for quick wins in GB, that may be changing.
It holds out the possibility for international sport too, including perhaps for the first time in a generation, bringing the Irish rugby team matches back to Belfast. And hopefully in the process bringing West Belfast into the mainstream life of the city.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty