Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Funding to redevelop Casement Park stadium in west Belfast remains a “big difficulty”, Stormont’s new Communities Minister Gordon Lyons has said.
Mr Lyons said the final cost of revamping the GAA stadium, which is earmarked as a venue for matches at the Euro 2028 football tournament, has not been finalised, but would be considerably more than originally envisaged in 2011.
European football’s governing body Uefa confirmed last year that Ireland and the UK will jointly host the Euros.
As part of the successful bid, Casement Park was listed as one of the stadiums where games will be played.
But the site is derelict and plans by the GAA to redevelop it with a 34,000 capacity have been mired in controversy and hit by delays.
The project has been been delayed by a series of legal challenges and was further complicated by the lack of a functioning Executive at Stormont for two years.
The redevelopment has also been hit by rising costs, with an original projected price tag of £77.5 million now believed to have spiralled well above £100 million.
The GAA is part-funding the project but has yet to reach an agreement with Stormont on how to cover a multimillion-pound shortfall. The Irish and UK governments have indicated they are prepared to offer additional funding.
Mr Lyons told BBC Northern Ireland: “The big difficulty that we face with Casement is going to be the issue of funding, because the money that was made available and that we stand over is not going to be enough to cover the expected costs, and that does have consequences.”
Mr Lyons said the final cost is not yet known, but added: “I think it is fair to say it is going to be considerably more than what was originally envisaged back in 2011.”
He also said there was no clarity on additional funding being offered from Dublin or Westminster.
“That is going to be key if this is going to be progressed, that we have an understanding of how much that is, but that is not something we have at this moment in time.”
Asked if the stadium would be built in time for the Euros, Mr Lyons said: “That is entirely dependent on the funding envelope being made available.
“What we do need to have, if there will be additional UK public funds committed to Casement Park, I think it is important that we see that investment in football as well.
“A footballing tournament should have a footballing legacy, and I am really keen to see that progressed.”
The DUP minister insisted he would support all sports across Northern Ireland.
He said: “I am going to be the minister for sports, not for one particular sport, not for one particular section of society.
“I know the benefit of sport. I know it is played in many different areas in many different ways.
“I am going to be a champion for sport in Northern Ireland and nobody should have any fear about me being in this position.”