'No guarantee' over stadium cash
Past government pledges to stump up £110 million for three new sports stadiums in Northern Ireland cannot be taken for granted in the current financial climate, a senior official has warned.
Sports minister Nelson McCausland will have to bid again for the capital funds needed to develop the venues for gaelic games, football and rugby and there is no guarantee he will be successful, according to his departmental deputy secretary Edgar Jardine.
Last year the Stormont Executive gave the go-ahead for the tri-stadia project after the planned multi-sports venue at the Maze was scuppered, but the Treasury's anticipated £2 billion cut to Northern Ireland's block grant effectively means all bets are off.
Confirming that Mr McCausland will sign off on the stadium business plans submitted by the GAA, the Irish Football Association and Ulster Rugby "within days", Mr Jardine cautioned members of Stormont's Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee that there will be more hurdles to clear before building starts.
"Essentially, back in June of last year the executive gave us the agreement to go ahead with the OBC (outline business case) within that £110 million envelope and that's where we are, but there was always a recognition that would need to go through the normal budgetary process," he said. "The way DFP (Department of Finance and Personnel) are managing the budget going forward is that all the money in ISNI 2, the second phase of the investment strategy (NI), is wiped and we all start from square one.
"Now, do we hold some sort of leverage by the fact that we were there before and the money was in it? Possibly. But I don't think in this very tight CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) situation that we can take anything for granted. We will certainly make our case and our minister will make our case very strongly."
After the plans are rubber stamped by Mr McCausland, they will go to officials in the finance department for scrutiny. Ultimately they will need to be given the green light by the executive if the project is to become reality.
The GAA intends to demolish the existing 32,300-capacity facility at Casement Park and replace it with a new 40,000-capacity venue. The IFA wants to refurbish the north and west stands at Windsor Park and totally redevelop the south and east stands, enlarging the capacity from 13,500 to 18,000. Ulster Rugby hopes to redevelop three sides of Ravenhill to raise the capacity from 11,700 to 15,000.