Damien Duff questions if €50m investment of Casement Park is a wise decision

Damien Duff questions if €50m investment of Casement Park is a wise decision

Former Chelsea and Ireland footballer Damien Duff has questioned whether the €50 million investment promised towards the refurbishment of Casement Park is a wise decision.

This week, the Irish government announced that it would provide £42.8 million (€50 million) towards the controversial redevelopment of the Casement Park GAA stadium in west Belfast. The announcement was made yesterday by Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as part of a package of over £685 million (€800 million) for Shared Island investment priorities, including upgrading the A5 road in Northern Ireland.

The stadium is one of the grounds chosen for the joint UK-Ireland Euros bid in 2028. While other stadiums in the UK and Ireland are more prepared, the 34,500-seat venue, which last hosted a match on June 10, 2013, during the 2013 Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final between Antrim and Monaghan, requires significant renovations to be ready for the tournament in four years.

Critics have questioned whether the funds allocated for the renovation could be better spent on other services, such as schools and hospitals in Northern Ireland.

David Healy, a former Northern Ireland footballer, stated last year, “Let’s not forget, we’re in a cost-of-living crisis. When you weigh it up against the health service and the education system, is it fair? You just need to talk to headteachers about the pressures they are under.

“I know teachers who are spending some of their own money on equipment to help educate the kids. That’s a sad state of affairs. I’m sure people high up in education and health are pulling their hair out hearing that £150 million is going to be spent on a sports stadium.

“This is nothing against Antrim or Ulster GAA. Let’s be honest, Casement should have been rebuilt at the same time as Windsor and Ravenhill. I’m not across all the ins and outs to know exactly why that didn’t happen.”

An artist's impression of the redeveloped Casement Park (Image: casementpark.ie)

Damien Duff, who isn't afraid to speak his mind like his Northern Ireland counterpart Healy, has also questioned whether spending that much money on a stadium is prudent and has suggested that investing in academics would be a better idea.

"Will Casement Park bring through footballers? Maybe in a roundabout way. Academies, for me, are where the future of Irish football is," said Duff.

“Fifty million euros, how many games will it host? Four? Great. We’ll go to the toilet four times. I’d rather it be spent on academies.

“It’s not always black and white. Some people would prefer to spend it on stadiums. People get peed off because a lot of stuff comes down to common sense, and not a lot of people have that."

The GAA has also weighed in on the investment, stating that the project is now in the hands of the UK government, with the total project producing different figures. Sources from Westminster have claimed that the cost could now be as much as £300 million. The initial price, calculated a decade ago, was £77.5 million.

Brian McAvoy, Ulster GAA chief executive, added, "There is a limit to what we can do, and that's why we've gone to the Irish government—we would have little scope for moving beyond that [£15 million contribution], but I think we did well here," he told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster Programme.

"We'll see what comes of the overall terms of the overall funding rounds because obviously the ball is very much in the court of the UK government and the executive; that's really where the ball lies now."