By David Young, PA
Stormont’s Sports Minister has said she is pressing for the redeveloped Casement Park to be a potential venue for the 2030 football World Cup.
Deirdre Hargey said she was engaging with Economy Minister Diane Dodds on what Northern Ireland could offer as part of the proposed joint UK/Irish bid to host the showpiece tournament.
Casement Park in west Belfast currently lies derelict, but a long-delayed redeveloped project is set to get under way.
During Assembly question time, SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said the planned 34,000 seater GAA venue had “global” potential.
He urged the minister to ensure that Casement was at the “centre” of the World Cup bid, so matches could be hosted in Belfast.
“There is at the minute plans for a joint British-Irish World Cup bid for 2030, the truth is that Casement Park will probably be the only stadium in Northern Ireland that would be capable of hosting World Cup games,” he said.
(Stormont's Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey)
The minister said Mrs Dodds was the lead Stormont minister in respect of engaging with other administrations on the bid.
“It would be the stadium that would actually really advance in terms of that competition,” she said.
“Obviously the Minister of the Economy takes the lead on the engagement that’s happening with London, but in my capacity as Sports Minister we have been engaged proactively with our officials and also in engaging with the minister in terms of saying of what the potential of facilities such as Casement can do as part of that bid,” she said.
“We’ll continue to keep that engagement going.”
Years of delay and dispute over the major infrastructure project in west Belfast have seen the estimated cost soar from an initial £77 million to £112 million, and Stormont officials have conceded the final bill will be larger still.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon recommended the project for planning approval last October.
The GAA’s efforts to develop the old Casement Park stadium have been mired in controversy, with initial planning approval for a 38,000-capacity venue quashed by the High Court in 2014 following a challenge by nearby residents.
The revised redevelopment plan envisages a 34,000-plus venue.