Ulster GAA’s Belfast Rising bags €71m bonanza

ULSTER GAA scored a windfall victory yesterday with news they will receive £61.4million (€71,458,841) in public funding toward the reconstruction of Casement Park.

The west Belfast venue, which is now set to become the province’s primary venue ahead of St Tiernach’s Park in Clones, was the major winner on a day when Ravenhill rugby grounds and soccer’s Windsor Park received £14.7m (€17,105,470) and £25.2m (€29,323,663) respectively.

The amount of funding was what the Ulster Council officials had asked for. A central plank in their Belfast Rising initiative, the redevelopment of Casement Park into a 40,000-seated stadium is expected to cost over £100m (€116,361,942).

Ironically, the procurement of the funding is a significant achievement for the stadium project board, which was co-led by provincial secretary Danny Murphy and former chairman Tom Daly, who recently withdrew his candidacy for the GAA presidency.

Sports Minister Nelson McCausland 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.”

The work will see the grounds modernised and increase capacity as part of their separate ambitious plans.

McCausland added: “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 cash injection follows the failure to build a multi-sport stadium at the site of the former Maze prison after which the Executive pledged to instead plough the money into developing grounds already held by the three sporting codes.

Speaking in December, Murphy was tentative about the project after officials awaited news of the funding following months of lobbying.

“Until a political decision is made, there is no guarantee what may or may not arrive so it would be very speculative to comment,” he said.

However, Murphy’s concerns were allayed when the £61.4m (€71,458, 841) allocation was accounted for in the Northern Assembly’s draft budget a couple of weeks later.

Last November, it was suggested by a Croke Park official the International Rules could take place in Casement Park in 2013.

Casement Park and Pairc Ui Chaoimh are the GAA’s main capital projects for the foreseeable future with the former expected to receive £15m (€17,454,291) from Croke Park on top of what they will now be getting in public funding.

Picture: Ulster Council GAA Secretary Danny Murphy (Sportsfile)

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