Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has insisted that the time has come to finally build a new Casement Park — declaring that it should be a ‘world class’ venue capable of hosting matches in the Euro 2028 finals.
In the Belfast Telegraph’s latest exclusive sporting interview with a political party leader, Long added that she felt an opportunity was wasted when plans to build an international sports stadium, due to be located on the site of the former Maze prison, were shelved in 2009.
Two years later, it was announced that millions of pounds of government money would be invested to redevelop Windsor Park, Ravenhill and Casement.
While the football and rugby stadiums were transformed, not a brick has been laid at the GAA ground following a series of delays including legal challenges from local residents. Originally the Northern Ireland Executive was going to hand over £61.4m to help modernise the venue but construction costs have soared since then.
Long said: “I know there are issues, particularly around construction costs, but there are also opportunities to create jobs and economic opportunities and it is important we don’t lose sight of that.
“I think we have to be willing to take risks. We did it with Titanic Belfast and other places and we have to be willing to do it with our sporting infrastructure. We should not run away from the opportunity to have something that is genuinely world class.
“I am understanding of the issues the residents have, but if we can get that over the line and be part of actually hosting some of the Euro 2028 games, that would be a massive boost for Northern Ireland. We are now in a situation where Casement for 2028 is the only game in town and we need to crack on and get it done.”
In the interview, Long discussed a number of other key sporting issues including the controversy over sub-regional stadia funding for football, the prospect of an all-Ireland football team and GAA grounds and competitions being named after IRA members.
The Alliance leader also speaks about her sporting hero, favourite sporting moment, what sport means to her and her family and what her party intend doing for sport after the election.