A casualty of the UK’s general election timetable could be the Antrim county board of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Parliament will dissolve this week and the vote on 4 July is expected to return a Labour government, placing previous plans on hold.

The GAA is counting on a hefty contribution from taxpayers to the cost of a new stadium in west Belfast to facilitate the hosting of five European championship soccer matches in the summer of 2028. The current UK government has resisted a firm commitment and the next may choose to do the same, concerned about value for money.

On Friday 14 June, the first game of Euro 2024, the quadrennial football extravaganza for national teams, kicks off in Munich. The tournament ends in Berlin on 16 July and 51 games over more than a month have been allocated to 10 stadiums around Germany. Each stadium is built and available, in constant use by the Bundesliga football clubs and they all host a full list of fixtures every year.

There would be resistance in Germany to building a new stadium for just five games over a few short weeks. It is rare for ghost stadiums to be commissioned when the World Cup or the Euro tournaments are routed to big developed countries like Germany – they have plenty of stadiums in place and enough regular club fixtures to keep them busy.

Less wealthy countries, including South Africa and Brazil, have not been so lucky and have costly stadiums lying idle as souvenirs of their few weeks hosting the World Cups of 2010 and 2014. The 2004 Olympics was held in Athens and the country’s first baseball stadium, with 8,700 seats, was constructed in the southern suburb of Hellenikon. America’s favourite game did not catch on in Greece and the venue was demolished in 2023.

The 2028 Euro tournament, to be hosted jointly by Ireland’s FAI and the four UK associations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, will also see 51 games across 10 venues, but only nine have been identified.

All political parties in Northern Ireland are behind the proposed stadium

One of the these is the Aviva in Dublin and eight in various cities around Britain, plus a venue to be built for the occasion in Northern Ireland where there would otherwise be no stadium large enough. This unbuilt stadium is Casement Park in west Belfast and the latest cost estimate is €362m.

There is no firm commitment from the UK treasury but former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pledged €47m last February from the apparently plentiful resources of the Department of Finance. The GAA will own the new venue and has offered €18m, 5% of the total cost, while the Northern Ireland Executive has pledged €73m.

The funding breakdown looks like what is listed in Table 1.

Political parties

All political parties in Northern Ireland are behind the proposed stadium: the contribution from the cash-strapped Stormont Executive will presumably join the queue at the UK treasury alongside its many other demands.

The scheme even enjoys the support of the Irish Football Association for what would become a GAA property.

The accountancy firm Grant Thornton has just produced a report, commissioned by the GAA, arguing that the project would yield benefits for the broader Northern Ireland economy sufficient to justify the capital cost.

There is a tradition in the Republic, notwithstanding the Public Spending Code, of assigning to project promoters the task of appointing consulting firms to do cost-benefit studies.

None has ever given a negative verdict to my knowledge.

The Grant Thornton report identifies benefits including extra turnover for bars, restaurants and hotels, none of whom have volunteered finance for the project, and the report asserts further intangible benefits for Northern Ireland as these reports invariably do.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has informed the NI’s Communities Minister that His Majesty’s Government “... will not accept a position where it is expected to cover the scale of funding gap there appears to exist”.


Treasury departments and finance ministries around the world are sceptical of stadium projects and the UK treasury is no different. There is no case for spending hundreds of millions on a stadium in Belfast, which will rarely be used – both the rugby and soccer teams have adequate stadiums, modernised with public funds at Windsor Park and Ravenhill, while the Ulster finals in Gaelic football are played in Clones, a short spin down the road.

Antrim is a rare participant and there is no Ulster championship at all in hurling.

There will be few games at Casement when the Euro circus leaves town and no case has been made for spending this giant sum on another stadium in Belfast.