A BRIDGE TOO FAR?

In March I wrote about the ongoing controversy over the plan for a new cross-border bridge at Narrow Water linking County Down near Warrenpoint with Omeath in the Carlingford peninsula in County Louth. Now the project has been given the go-ahead by the Northern Ireland Finance Minister Sammy Wilson of the DUP and the way has been cleared for funding of €17.4m to be obtained from the Special EU Programmes Body under the INTERREG scheme. The BBC reports that the scheme for the bridge 660 metres (2,165 feet) long will be subject to various conditions in relation to its upkeep by Newry and Mourne Council as well as Louth County Council.

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

They have been talking about the project since 1976 when the East Border Region committee was formed by ten councils on both sides of the border, years before the Anglo-Irish agreement or the Good Friday agreement. The provisional EU offer of help last year was welcomed by the EBR Committee Chair, Councillor Jackie Crowe, a Sinn Féin member from Monaghan.

Proposed Bridge

Proposed Bridge

The approved scheme is for a single carriageway cable-stayed bridge across Carlingford Lough, which will be able to open to enable tall ships, leisure craft and other marine vessels access to Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin in Newry. The total length of the scheme is 660m while the towers have a height of 90m and 37m respectively. The design is by Roughan O’Donovan Consulting Engineers, who were also responsible for the new Boyne Bridge on the M1 near Drogheda.

Margaret Ritchie MP

Margaret Ritchie MP

The SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has taken a keen interest in the project since her involvement with the East Border Region Committee as a Councillor in 1985. She paid tribute to people such as her predecessor Eddie McGrady, Jim McCart, Donal O’Tierney and Barney Carr, who she said had never faltered from their belief in the bridge and who had shaped the economic debate for it and kept the project alive during very difficult political times in the North. In March she had raised questions with Sammy Wilson and accused him of dragging his feet in approving the Stormont contribution to the project.

Following a meeting with the Minister today Ms Ritchie said she was delighted to confirm that residual funding had been secured to allow the construction of the Narrow Water Bridge, which she described as one of the most important North South projects to be brought forward.

“Narrow Water Bridge will enable, not only many jobs to be provided in construction, but also will be a vital gateway to the Mournes on completion. It will be an important catalyst for economic investment and tourism not only in South Down and the Cooley Peninsula but throughout the island of Ireland. The project is a shining example of how far we have come as a community and in our North South relations. It also symbolises the future of our economy, which is in our tourism product, and this is now something, thanks to the peace process that we can export worldwide“, she said.

The MP said she had been making robust representations to secure funding for this project for considerable time and previously had met with all other funders including the Taoiseach, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement Committee in Dublin. She said today was a very positive day for the Narrow Water Bridge project, the people of Warrenpoint, Kilkeel and the Mournes and she thanked everybody who she said had worked so hard to bring the project to this now very advanced stage.

Narrow Water project

Narrow Water project

UPDATE: Tuesday 9th July
But wait a second! Just when it seemed that Northern approval for the project was almost ready, there’s been a development on the other side of the border with Louth County Council placing the project on hold, owing to high tendering costs (and I wonder how much has been spent already on design fees and other preparatory work).

South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie has demanded a meeting with the Taoiseach over the delay and says she wants both the British and Irish Governments to provide alternative resources to ensure the delivery of the Narrow Water Bridge project. She said:-

“I am disappointed by the decision of Louth County Council to put the Narrow Water Bridge project on hold due to the fact that tenders for the construction of the bridge were much higher than the financial envelope available for the project. I acknowledge the fact that Louth County Council has put the project on hold whilst they pursue alternative sources of funding.

I have already requested a meeting with the Taoiseach to impress upon him the importance of delivering this important piece of North/South infrastructure, and the fact that this project, on completion, would act as a stimulus to the local economy through increased visitor numbers, business investment opportunities, and make a contribution to job creation in the construction industry.
Already, the Bridge has received planning and marine consent as well as the financial support of the Special European Union Programmes Body, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
Furthermore, we await the outcome of the decision on the Bridge Order from the Minister for Regional Development, and only yesterday I had urged Minister Kennedy to process that application for the Bridge Order to approval stage as quickly as possible. Due to the importance of this bridge to under-pinning economic investment in the local area, I would be urging the Taoiseach to explore and to try and provide additional funding for the project and to examine if the European Union might have resources to assist with reducing the shortfall.

Undoubtedly, this will be a blow for the local community in Warrenpoint and in the Cooley Peninsula who fought hard for the project, and knowing their determination, I know they will not allow this setback to daunt them in pursuit of the Narrow Water Bridge. I and my colleagues in the SDLP are determined to continue our fight for this project along with the local community, the Chambers of Commerce, and other public representatives to ensure that this important piece of North/South tourist infrastructure is delivered to the Carlingford Lough area. At this time, the financial support and solidarity of both the British and Irish Governments as well as the Northern Ireland Executive is required to deliver this project which would assist in making a contribution to the local economy in South Down and the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth.”

So perhaps it will be a bridge too far, after all the talk.

NARROW WATER BRIDGE

In March I wrote about the ongoing controversy over the plan for a new cross-border bridge at Narrow Water linking County Down near Warrenpoint with Omeath in the Carlingford peninsula in County Louth. Now the project has been given the go-ahead by the Northern Ireland Finance Minister Sammy Wilson of the DUP and the way has been cleared for funding of €17.4m to be obtained from the Special EU Programmes Body under the INTERREG scheme. The BBC reports that the scheme for the bridge 660 metres (2,165 feet) long will be subject to various conditions in relation to its upkeep by Newry and Mourne Council as well as Louth County Council.

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

They have been talking about the project since 1976 when the East Border Region committee was formed by ten councils on both sides of the border, years before the Anglo-Irish agreement or the Good Friday agreement. The provisional EU offer of help last year was welcomed by the EBR Committee Chair, Councillor Jackie Crowe, a Sinn Féin member from Monaghan.

Proposed Bridge

Proposed Bridge

The approved scheme is for a single carriageway cable-stayed bridge across Carlingford Lough, which will be able to open to enable tall ships, leisure craft and other marine vessels access to Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin in Newry. The total length of the scheme is 660m while the towers have a height of 90m and 37m respectively. The design is by Roughan O’Donovan Consulting Engineers, who were also responsible for the new Boyne Bridge on the M1 near Drogheda.

Margaret Ritchie MP

Margaret Ritchie MP

The SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has taken a keen interest in the project since her involvement with the East Border Region Committee as a Councillor in 1985. She paid tribute to people such as her predecessor Eddie McGrady, Jim McCart, Donal O’Tierney and Barney Carr, who she said had never faltered from their belief in the bridge and who had shaped the economic debate for it and kept the project alive during very difficult political times in the North. In March she had raised questions with Sammy Wilson and accused him of dragging his feet in approving the Stormont contribution to the project.

Following a meeting with the Minister today Ms Ritchie said  she was delighted to confirm that residual funding had been secured to allow the construction of the Narrow Water Bridge, which she described as one of the most important North South projects to be brought forward.

“Narrow Water Bridge will enable, not only many jobs to be provided in construction, but also will be a vital gateway to the Mournes on completion. It will be an important catalyst for economic investment and tourism not only in South Down and the Cooley Peninsula but throughout the island of Ireland. The project is a shining example of how far we have come as a community and in our North South relations. It also symbolises the future of our economy, which is in our tourism product, and this is now something, thanks to the peace process that we can export worldwide“, she said.

The MP said she had been making robust representations to secure funding for this project for considerable time and previously had met with all other funders including the Taoiseach, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement Committee in Dublin. She said today was a very positive day for the Narrow Water Bridge project, the people of Warrenpoint, Kilkeel and the Mournes and she thanked everybody who she said had worked so hard to bring the project to this now very advanced stage.

Narrow Water project

Narrow Water project

 

A BRIDGE TOO FAR?

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

First things first. If you came here looking for a commentary on the Allied advance in the Second World War and battles such as the bridge at Arnhem, then you will be disappointed. I am sorry if I misled you. But the title seemed appropriate for the ongoing controversy over the proposed bridge at Narrow Water at the head of Carlingford Lough. They have been talking about the project since 1976 when the East Border Region committee was formed by ten councils on both sides of the border, years before the Anglo-Irish agreement or the Good Friday agreement.

The proposed structure would link County Down just beyond Narrow Water Castle with the opposite side of the shore near Omeath in County Louth. The project eventually received planning permission and the prospect of EU funding of €17.4m last year. This green light was welcomed by the East Border Region Committee Chair, Councillor Jackie Crowe, a Sinn Féin member from Monaghan.

Proposed Bridge

Proposed Bridge

The approved scheme is for a single carriageway cable-stayed bridge across Carlingford Lough, which will be able to open to enable tall ships, leisure craft and other marine vessels access to Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin in Newry. The total length of the scheme is 620m while the towers have a height of 90m and 37m respectively. The design is by Roughan O’Donovan Consulting Engineers, who were also responsible for the new Boyne Bridge on the M1 near Drogheda.In his statement welcoming the project on 24th October 2012, Councillor Crowe is quoted as saying that the proposed bridge was:-

a genuinely symbolic cross border project providing the first bridge linking Ireland and Northern Ireland and will provide a momentous tourism and economic catalyst for the whole of the region. The Bridge development will provide much needed jobs in the construction sector in the short term and will undoubtedly enhance the tourism potential of the region as it acts as a gateway to the Mournes and Cooley Mountains”.

And I thought Sinn Féin always referred to the island of “Ireland” as a 32-county entity……but perhaps this was a statement drawn up by someone else. It also seems to contain an error often repeated by others that this is the first such cross-border bridge. Surely Councillor Crowe has heard of the projects successfully pursued with the Irish government by his party colleagues in Monaghan to get two small cross-border bridges rebuilt which the British Army had blocked in the early 1970s? Annaghroe and Knockaginny bridges across the River Blackwater connected Glaslough in County Monaghan and Caledon in County Tyrone and were re-opened in October 2010 by the then Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, whose colleague in government Dermot Ahern was very supportive of the Narrow Water project as a Louth TD and Minister for Justice.

It seems the progress of the Narrow Water project, described by its promoters as “iconic” and “histooric”, is not going to be as smooth as they hoped. Is it a bridge too far for unionists? Last November the First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson requested an investigation into the decision to grant EU funding. He rejected a claim by the SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie that he wanted money channelled away from North-South infrastructure schemes towards community projects involving former loyalist paramilitaries. The following month, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson told the Assembly there was a “political smell” about the application for funding. He questioned the speed with which the Stormont Environment Minister, Alex Attwood of the SDLP, had granted planning permission for the bridge.

Margaret Ritchie MP

Margaret Ritchie MP

Now Margaret Ritchie has accused Sammy Wilson of dragging his feet and hiding behind other government departments when it comes to approving funding for the project. She quoted Mr Wilson’s argument that he could not approve the outstanding £2m for the Narrow Water Bridge until the Department of Regional Development had prepared a Roads Order. Ms Ritchie said she had now received confirmation from the Department for Regional Development that it is currently preparing the draft Roads Order, which is expected to published next month. But according to the Minister Danny Kennedy, she said, the formal making of the Order will not happen until the Department for Finance approves the business case.

Ms Ritchie said this response clearly states that the Minister for Finance can make the decision to approve the Narrow Water Bridge funding now and that this decision is not held back by the work of the Department of Regional Development, despite claims to the contrary. She said if it remained the case that Sammy Wilson is not prepared to approve the funding then the First and Deputy First Ministers must ensure a decision is taken without further delay, in the interests of the wider community and the tourism industry in the Mourne area and throughout the island. Furthermore as this is an important North-South economic development project there is now a clear need for the direct intervention of the British and Irish Governments to ensure that this project faces no more unnecessary delay, she added.

The MP has taken a keen interest in the project since her involvement with the East Border Region Committee as a Councillor in 1985. She paid tribute to people such as her predecessor Eddie McGrady, Jim McCart, Donal O’Tierney and Barney Carr, who she said had never faltered from their belief in the bridge and who had shaped the economic debate for it and kept the project alive during very difficult political times in the North.

Narrow Water project

Narrow Water project