Hosting Euros 'could bring more than £100m to NI'

Casement Park artists' impression
An artist's impression of the new proposed stadium [GAA]

Hosting Euro 2028 games in Northern Ireland could be worth more than £106m to the local economy, according to a new analysis.

The economic assessment, by accountants Grant Thornton, was commissioned by Ulster GAA.

Northern Ireland is due to host five games in the football championships at Casement Park in west Belfast.

But the stadium site remains derelict and redevelopment work has yet to begin.

At the weekend, the Irish FA and the GAA sent a joint letter to the prime minister urging him to clarify the funding for the project.

There is still no clarity on how much money Westminster is prepared to contribute to the Casement Park project.

In February, the Irish government said it would contribute €50m (£43m) for the stadium's redevelopment.

Deirdre Hargey
The UK government has to put "money on the table." says the Economy Minister Deirdre Hargey [PA]

Northern Ireland's Economy Minister Deirdre Hargey said the potential financial windfall from the Euros demonstrates an “urgent” need to find the money to redevelop the stadium.

The report estimated 150,000 fans would attend the five games at Casement Park including 40,000 visitors coming from outside Northern Ireland.

That would equate to £52m spent on accommodation and a further £54m spent across retail and hospitality.

The report said the economic impact of the whole tournament, all 51 games across the UK and Ireland, is calculated at £2.6bn.

On a pro-rata basis, Northern Ireland’s five games would equate to £255m of an economic impact.

It also said the stadium has the potential to create a further economic boost worth tens of millions of pounds each year through the hosting of sporting fixtures and concerts.

Birds' eye view of Casement Park
The stadium site remains derelict and redevelopment work has yet to begin [PA]

The Grant Thornton analysis said it takes a more “prudent view” on the potential economic boost from hosting five games at a newly developed Casement Park.

Andrew Webb, chief economist at Grant Thornton, said that “while the economic and sporting legacy of Belfast hosting the Euros is considerable, the long-term growth in visitor numbers and the positive statement of intent that it sends out to international investors is perhaps the greatest prize of all".

“In terms of size, scale and international reach the Euros is an unparalleled event for Northern Ireland and it not only puts us on the map for future large-scale events, but it creates the right circumstances that supports inward investment, creating jobs and growing the economy,” he added.

The Irish FA is partnering with the GAA to host the games in Northern Ireland.

The chief executive of Ulster GAA, Brian McAvoy, said the report was "unambiguous" in its analysis of short and long-term economic, tourism and inward investment opportunities that the Euros could bring.

“We want and need to see progress, now, on the long-standing commitments given to deliver Casement Park," he added.

'No confirmation or clarity' on Casement

On Thursday night, a Westminster spokesperson could not provide BBC News NI with any information on how much money the UK government is willing to contribute towards the build.

"The Northern Ireland Department for Communities is responsible for the procurement process for the redevelopment of Casement Park, including direct engagement with local partners on their funding contribution," the spokesperson said.

"The UK government will continue to work closely with the Department for Communities regarding the cost of the Casement Park. We remain committed to ensuring Euro 2028 leaves a lasting legacy across the UK."

Earlier this week, Communities Minister Gordon Lyons said there was "no confirmation or clarity" from the UK government on funding for the project, the cost of which could exceed £300m.

Workers behind gates at Casement Park Stadium
Northern Ireland is due to host five games in the football championships at Casement Park in west Belfast [BBC]

Letter to Rishi Sunak

It has also emerged that Ulster GAA and the Irish FA wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the weekend.

They have since said that "with the announcement of the impending dissolution of the UK Parliament within days this matter is now beyond urgent".

In the letter they called for the prime minister to clarify the available funding.

The letter stated that "current delay in confirmation of funding from the UK Treasury for Casement Park and, by extension Euro 2028, is jeopardising the inclusion of Northern Ireland".

It continued: "The UEFA deadlines to be met as part of the planning and delivery process are already upon us. Therefore, we appeal to you to provide urgent clarity on the Casement Park funding position to enable the Northern Ireland Executive to bring its own position forward.

"It would be a devastating blow to both the Irish FA and GAA, as well as Northern Ireland as a whole, if the opportunity to host this flagship international tournament simply, ‘times out’."

'Commitment' given to Ulster GAA

Deirdre Hargey told BBC News NI the "clock was ticking".

"The focus now has to be on the British Government – they need to put the money on the table," she said.

“They need to show us the commitment that they gave to underwrite it (Casement Park), the commitment they gave to the Ulster GAA. That now has to be realised.”

She added: “It’s an opportunity that we cannot allow to be lost in the time ahead."

Ms Hargey did not specify a figure but said the government needed to clarify its position “urgently”.

The Stormont executive has already pledged to pay at least £62.5m of the Casement redevelopment costs.

Asked if more money could come from the executive, she said: “I think we would need to look at that, but firstly we need to know what the British government are going to come forward with.”

The GAA has promised £15m and indicated that is its limit.

Ms Hargey said that the GAA is currently paying for clearance work on the west Belfast site and the priority was a financial contribution from the UK government.

She said the Grant Thornton report illustrated the potential benefits to the tourist and hospitality industry from staging five matches in Belfast during the tournament in the summer of 2028.

“If we can show that we can do the Euros well, that really opens the door to the potential of hosting other major events in Casement - but also beyond Casement as well,” she added.