Unionists target GAA stadium, university campus
Unionists target GAA stadium, university campus


Opposition to investment in a sports stadium in a nationalist area of Belfast could bring anti-Catholic discrimination in the north of Ireland to an international stage.

Europe’s largest international soccer tournament is set to take place across Ireland and Britain in 2028 after a rival bid from Turkey was withdrawn.

Sinn Féin First Minister designate Michelle O’Neill has described it as “the opportunity of a lifetime” for west Belfast – but the DUP has sought to pull the brake on the redevelopment of the Casement sports stadium.

The party is trying to block the allocation of funds for plans to redevelop the Gaelic sports venue, which has been dormant since 2013, into a 34,000 capacity bowl.

Casement Park would host at least four games alongside Dublin’s larger Aviva stadium which holds more than 51,000 people.

Six venues in England including Wembley are also included alongside Hampden Park in Scotland and the Principality Stadium in Wales.

Located in the middle of Andersonstown in west Belfast, the development would provide a major boost for a deprived nationalist area, an idea which has brought a predictable reaction from unionists.

DUP Assembly member Stephen Dunne said that “the idea of Casement Park being given a blank cheque with additional public funds needs a reality check.

“We will oppose any plans to allocate additional resources to meet the GAA’s shortfall in the Casement Park project from NI Executive budgets at a time when hospitals and schools need additional and necessary resources,” he said.


The controversy comes on the back of revelations of new efforts by the Six County authorities to prevent the development of third-level education in the mainly Catholic city of Derry.

A Stormont department has been revisiting the discrimination of the 1960s in a bid to halt a 60-year campaign for university expansion of the Magee campus.

In 1965, the Lockwood report recommended the North’s second university be located in predominately unionist Coleraine rather than Derry, a decision which was a catalyst for the civil rights campaign.

A decades-long effort to right that wrong has been backed by economists and academics alike. The Dublin government has recently committed to more investment at the campus than the North’s ‘Economy Department’ has over a 10-year period.

But a new effort to expand the University of Ulster (UU) campus of 5,000 students is being stymied.

Ministerial briefing documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that Stormont civil servants compiled a list of objections to university expansion in Derry, claiming it would undermine Belfast and Coleraine.

It came three months after the ‘New Decade, New Approach agreement’ in which Stormont parties and ministers from London and Dublin committed to expand Magee to 10,000 students.

While admitting he had “no clarity on costs”, one senior civil servant claimed expansion in Derry would cost Belfast “hundreds of millions” of pounds.

Campaigners for Derry University Group (DUG) said neither Stormont nor university chiefs could be trusted to run Magee.

“This is an anti-Derry attack sheet for ministers, pure and simple,” it said.

“This is Lockwood Part II. In 1964, civil servants from the Stormont Department of Labour told Lockwood not to build in Derry.

“Sixty years on, we see nothing has changed, said the Derry University Group (DUG), which is campaigning for the university.

“Neither UU nor Stormont can be trusted to run Magee fairly, justly or in the interests of the people of Derry. We need autonomy and we need it now.”

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