Casement Park will be built one way or another, Benn insists

Casement Park in Belfast will be built “one way or another”, new Northern Ireland Secretary Hilary Benn has pledged.

However, Mr Benn said it was not clear if the long-delayed redevelopment of the GAA stadium could be completed in time to host matches at the 2028 European Football Championships.

On his first visit to Northern Ireland since his appointment in Sir Keir Starmer’s Cabinet, Mr Benn said Casement Park was “probably the most urgent issue” on his desk.

Aerial view of Casement Park GAA stadium
The Casement Park stadium is currently derelict (Niall Carson/PA)

There has been mounting speculation that the stadium is set to be axed as a venue for the Euros 2028.

The derelict west Belfast ground has been earmarked to play host to five matches in the showpiece tournament being hosted in the UK and Ireland.

However, the funding required to build the stadium in time for the tournament is still not in place, prompting concerns that the delays will see Belfast missing out on the tournament.

Ulster GAA and the Irish FA recently wrote to former prime minister Rishi Sunak asking the Government to bridge the funding gap.

Mr Benn confirmed that it was a “very important project” for him.

He said: “There are two issues. The first is the cost, which has continued to escalate.

“I think originally when it was conceived it was going to be something like £77 million. I have yet to receive a full detailed briefing which I will get tomorrow on the current estimated costs, but it’s a lot more money than that.

“There is a certain amount in the pot but not enough to cover the increased cost.

“The second (issue) is we are into extra time on trying to get it built for the Euros. That is about discussions with Uefa.

“I am looking at this urgently, it is probably the most urgent issue on my desk.

“One way or another, if it is possible in time for the Euros, if not, one way or another Casement Park will have to be built.”

He added: “I am looking to see what can be done.”

Orange digger outside Casement Park GAA stadium
Contractors with excavators at Casement Park (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Benn was asked to give a timescale on when a decision would be made about additional Government funding for the stadium.

He said: “I think the honest answer is as soon as I am in a position to announce anything, so you will just have to bear with me.”

Costs for the long-delayed Casement project have spiralled with reports suggesting the projected costs could have reached £308 million.

In 2011, the Stormont executive committed £62.5 million to the project.

Earlier this year, the Irish Government offered £40 million towards it, and the GAA has said it will contribute £15 million.

A spokesperson for Irish premier Simon Harris welcomed Mr Benn’s comments.

The spokesperson said: “Simon Harris has been clear that he would like to see Casement Park delivered in time to host Euro 2028 games in Belfast.

“The Taoiseach remains absolutely committed to this being the case and will work with Prime Minister Starmer and the British Government to that end.”