O’Neill says Casement Park will be built on her watch

Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Casement Park will be built “on my watch”, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said.

Ms O’Neill made the comments as she addressed a major rally on Irish unification in Belfast on Saturday.

More than 2,000 people attended the Ireland’s Future Pathway to Change event in the SSE Arena.

Ms O’Neill referred to the ongoing uncertainty over funding for the rebuilding of Casement Park in west Belfast.

Sinn Fein’s President Mary Lou McDonald sits with former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald with former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams (Brian Lawless/PA) Photo by Brian Lawless

The derelict ground has been earmarked as a venue for five Euro 2028 matches.

However, the funding needed to build the stadium in time for the tournament is still not in place and there are concerns the delays will see Belfast missing out on a tournament being jointly hosted by Ireland and the UK.

Ms O’Neill said: “Casement Park will be built on my watch.”

She also said she had a positive relationship with the North’s deputy First Minister, the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly.

Ms O’Neill added: “We have common ground, the common ground is prosperity for everybody.

“Our common ground is around trying to build our community.”

She said Westminster had shown it would never serve the interests of people in Northern Ireland, which demonstrated the need for constitutional change.

Eleven political parties from across the island are taking part in the event on Saturday.

Former taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald are also due to speak at the event, while former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is also in attendence.

DUP founding member Wallace Thompson speaking at the Ireland’s Future event
DUP founding member Wallace Thompson speaks at the Ireland’s Future event (Brian Lawless/PA) Photo by Brian Lawless

Opening the event, senator Frances Black, Ireland’s Future chair, said: “It is undeniable that change is imminent.”

The Alliance Party’s Nuala McAllister took part in a panel discussion after party leader Naomi Long withdrew.

Ms McAllister said the priority for her party was to reform the Stormont powersharing institutions.

She said: “We do not want to create a divide here where we radicalise on either side.”

DUP founding member Wallace Thompson and loyalist paramilitary David Adams are also taking part in a panel discussion called The Protestant Perspective.

The stated aim of Ireland’s Future is to promote debate and discussion about what a united Ireland would look like, and is campaigning for a referendum on reunification.

The group says Brexit has created a fresh impetus for constitutional change, with more people looking at unification as a way to mitigate the consequences of the UK’s departure from the EU.