CASEMENT Park excites strong negative opinions in some unionists. For one thing, this is a park named after a man who was hanged for treason; for another it’s located on the edge of West Belfast where they  say they wouldn’t feel comfortable attending an event; and for another it’s intended primarily to host games of a Gaelic nature. 

Some unionists respond to GAA events the way some Irish towns respond to the billeting of immigrants in their locality. Large groups of young nationalist men –  and/or women – gather in one place urged on by a substantial body of passionate nationalists; cue feelings of anxiety or even alarm.

Once in a blue moon a unionist leader will attend a Gaelic game. Arlene Foster attended the 2018 Ulster Final between Donegal and Fermanagh (while carefully remaining off-stage during the Irish national anthem). This was hailed as a generous, forward-looking gesture by her. You got that? A unionist leader attending a Gaelic game was considered a very big deal.  Arlene almost certainly wasn’t asked to buy a ticket for the game. So of course the idea of forking out a lot of  public money for a Gaelic games stadium sets a lot of unionist nerves jangling. 

It didn’t have to be like this, of course. It could all have been sorted out in 2008. 

Back then, all the major Stormont parties were agreed that a ‘national’ sports stadium should be built on the site of Long Kesh. This stadium would seat 40,000 spectators and would be used for the three major sports of rugby, soccer and Gaelic games. It would be a massive sign that we’d moved forward as a society. In the place where men had been interned, where vicious beatings had taken place, where men had died on hunger strike, a dazzling new stadium would arise, catering for all sporting tastes. The swords of the past would be beaten into the ploughshares of the future, you might say. 

Only then the DUP leader Peter Robinson went on his holidays to Florida. Perhaps  he got bitten by a mosquito or suffered sunstroke. But while in Florida Peter wrote a letter home with some startling news: there’d be no sports stadium on the Long Kesh site. Why? Because some people might mistake the whole project as building a shrine to terrorism. 

So what was united as one was split into three parts. Rugby got its stadium at Ravenhill; soccer got its upgrade at Windsor Park; and Gaelic games got... well, so far it’s got zilch. 

Why was Casement Park not developed years ago, like the other two?  Well, all sorts of reasons. Complaints from the people living in the area, problems with financing, but no, Virginia, nothing to do with antipathy to all things Gaelic/Irish. Perish the thought. 

And so here we are today, with a green light finally given to the development of Casement Park. There’s smiling film footage of the British Secretary of State assuring us all that Casement would be built, don’t worry, I guarantee it. There’s even said to be in a letter by him promising as much. Signed, sealed and guaranteed delivery, you might say.

Or maybe you’d better not. In the 16 years since Peter Robinson sent his letter,  prices have gone up. What was believed back then would cost something under £100 million now will cost something more than £200 million. The stamp on Robinson’s letter may prove the costliest ever licked by a unionist leader. 

Meanwhile, David Jeffrey, who has managed Linfield FC and Ballymena FC, has urged the abandonment of Casement Park's Euro bid because the whole thing’s too expensive, too divisive, and besides, at most only five games of Euro 28 would be played in it. 

Please, Virginia  – do stop using those rude words.