EU support is major boost for Northern Ireland stadium plans
The European Commission has disclosed that the use of public funds for the redevelopment of regional stadia in Northern Ireland does conform with EU law.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure pledged to provide £110million for the Casement Park, Ravenhill and Windsor Park projects but the funding package was placed in doubt after Crusaders launched a legal challenge.
The Crues had argued that the deal breached EU fair trading legislation and that a government grant of £25million towards the redevelopment of Windsor Park could unfairly extend the dominance of Linfield in local football.
After winning the right to legally challenge the plan, the north Belfast club gave their backing to an outline settlement put forward by a judicial review over the project. The European Commission has now ruled that the agreement was "consistent" with EU state aid rules.
Joaquín Almunia, the Commission's Vice President in charge of competition policy, said: "The reconstruction of the three stadiums will contribute to the regeneration of disadvantaged urban communities in Belfast.
"It will furthermore promote social cohesion across religious divides and encourage communities to come together through the most popular sports of the region."
Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has welcomed the decision by the European Commission. "I welcome the conclusion that the Director General for Competition at the European Commission has reached that this project is compatible state aid and that financing it was necessary and proportionate," said the Minister.
"This is helpful and allows us to move forward. I will take time to fully read the decision but I want to thank the European Commission for the priority they have given in reaching this decision."
* Ballymena United and Glenavon have agreed on their kit colours for the Irish Cup Final on Saturday, May 3 at Windsor Park.
As there was a clash of colours for the big occasion the toss of a coin was needed to see who would be left feeling blue and it was the Sky Blues who scored first.
United will relive their 1981 Irish Cup Final victory over Glenavon by donning the blue and white stripes again while Glenavon will wear orange shirts and black shorts.