Heaton-Harris suggests Casement Park won’t lose out on chance to host Euro 2028

Chris Heaton-Harris has suggested that Northern Ireland will not miss out on the chance to co-host the European Football Championships in 2028.

The Northern Ireland Secretary was asked about funding to redevelop Casement Park amid reports the west Belfast stadium could be axed by UEFA from the list of Euro 2028 host venues.

Speaking at the British Irish Council on Friday, Mr Heaton-Harris repeated the assertion that an announcement will be made after the July 4 General Election.

British Irish Council summit
Stormont deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly during the British-Irish Council (BIC) summit at the Comis Hotel on the Isle of Man (Peter Byrne/PA)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted the Government would make a “substantial contribution” to the redevelopment of Casement Park last month, but refused to say how much or if it will happen in time for the competition.

Asked on Friday about whether the Government reneging on its commitment to fund the redevelopment of Casement Park and whether that would affect Northern Ireland’s chances of hosting the Euros, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I think you’ll find that there’ll be an announcement almost certainly by the new government on this in the future, which will suggest the premise of your question might not be correct.”

Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, who was also at the council summit on the Isle of Man, said: “There have been a number of discussions and, as indicated, it is likely that this issue will be touched on again after the General Election, but we’re not anticipating any news prior to the General Election certainly on it.

“I’m privy to some of those discussions with the UK Government, Chris Heaton-Harris would be more privy to some of that than I would be.”

Stormont junior minister Aisling Reilly has said it would be “unthinkable” for Northern Ireland to miss out on the chance of co-hosting the 2028 Euro competition.

“There’s actually not very many people who have had the opportunity to play on Casement Park,” the Sinn Fein MLA said.

Workmen at Casement Park GAA stadium in Belfast
Workmen at Casement Park GAA stadium in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I am one of those people who have had the opportunity to play in Casement Park on a number of occasions.

“I know what it feels like to walk down the tunnel and to play on the pitch and the opportunities that that has afforded me. Unfortunately, a decade of people have missed out on that opportunity.

“But it’s not about the sport. It’s about the legacy of what it will bring. It’s about what it’s going to do for the economy, what it’s going to do for local businesses, what it’s going to do for Belfast, for the North.

“It’s unthinkable that we would miss out on the opportunity to host the Euros, particularly when we’re seeing it being played on our screens now in Germany and we see the buzz around Germany.

“Imagine seeing that in Belfast, imagine seeing that in the North and the opportunities that that would afford us. So for me not having Casement built is unthinkable.”