£138m upgrade for sports grounds
Three landmark sports grounds linked to Gaelic games, soccer and rugby are to benefit from a £138 million refurbishment package approved by Stormont ministers.
The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed the investment that will see the GAA's Casement Park in west Belfast get £61.4 million, with £14.7 million for Ravenhill rugby ground in the south of the city and £25.2 million for soccer's Windsor Park.
There are also plans for an additional figure of around £36 million to benefit Irish League soccer grounds under the long-awaited investment scheme.
Sports Minister Nelson McCausland said: "The Executive approval represents an important step forward in rectifying the long-standing deficit in stadium provision in Northern Ireland.
"I consider that advancing these proposals will secure the long-term future of international football, rugby and Gaelic Games. This major investment is great news for our economy and in particular for our local construction sector."
The work will see the grounds modernise and increase capacity as part of their separate ambitious plans.
Mr McCausland added: "Modern, fit-for-purpose and spectator-friendly stadium facilities can only enhance the sports' standing and will assist the development of the three sports from grassroots right up to international levels.
"Although our primary focus has been on the development of the main regional stadiums it is plain that football clubs in Northern Ireland face substantial difficulties due to systemically low and dwindling attendances largely due to the poor facilities at grounds.
"This needs to be rectified and I am particularly pleased that the Executive have endorsed proposals to tackle this deficit as a priority, alongside the development of the three main stadiums."
The cash injection follows the failure to build a multi-sport stadium at the site of the former Maze prison after which the Executive pledged to instead plough the money into developing grounds already held by the three sporting codes.