European Football Championship

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Arts and Leisure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 24th September 2001.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 3:00 pm, 24th September 2001

2. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline any contacts he has had with the Scottish Executive to discuss the possibility of jointly hosting the European football championship in 2008.

(AQO 141/01)

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

There has been no formal contact at ministerial level, but informal contact has been taking place at official level. I understand that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) has been considering making a bid to host the European football championships in 2008. Some preliminary work has been done, which has indicated that a bid by the SFA would be feasible. However, no decision as to whether to submit a bid can be taken until the Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) criteria for hosting the championships are published. Those criteria will determine whether the facilities needed require a joint bid, but even if that were the case, there is no expectation at this stage that Northern Ireland would be involved.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I understand that the SFA has approached the Welsh Football Association and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) regarding a joint bid. Will the Irish Football Association (IFA), in conjunction with the Minister, use this as an opportunity to promote Northern Ireland, which is better placed logistically to accommodate a joint bid with Scotland? It would give us the opportunity to develop a new stadium, which the Province badly needs.

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

I am unaware of approaches made to either the Welsh Football Association or the FAI. The IFA is the body concerned with football in Northern Ireland, and, therefore, that which has any possibility of making a joint bid with the SFA. Under the current criteria, UEFA require six stadia with capacities of 30,000, one of which must be able to hold 50,000. I understand that the SFA can proceed with its bid because it has the infrastructure in place and does not need help from anyone. Should the criteria change from six stadia to eight or 10, Scotland might have to look to Wales, the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland.

There is no stadium in Northern Ireland that comes close to the requirement of 30,000 seats. The biggest is Windsor Park, which, I believe, can hold 12,000. If the IFA were to go forward with Scotland, and were awarded the bid, with support from the Government and this House, there would be time to redevelop Windsor Park or to build a new stadium with 30,000 seats or more. However, that is only speculation at the minute, and I cannot react to speculation.

Photo of Mr Norman Boyd Mr Norman Boyd NIUP

Does the Minister agree that for Northern Ireland to be considered — and I fully support that sentiment — our existing national soccer stadium, Windsor Park, and all other Irish League grounds require funding for essential repairs and improvements?

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

I refer Mr Boyd to the previous answer regarding facilities. We should not assume that Northern Ireland is a joint bidder with the SFA. The SFA is waiting to find out if the criteria change, and, if they do, how it addresses that is its own matter. I agree that there is a need to upgrade a stadium here in order to meet international standards. Windsor Park currently does not meet them.

Photo of Mr Billy Hutchinson Mr Billy Hutchinson PUP

The Minister has answered my question.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Would that all Members were prepared to act in that way when Ministers have answered their questions.