Thursday, 16 February 2012
The Deputy's question relates to the A5 roads project. In 2006 the Government gave a commitment to co-fund the construction of the A5 through Northern Ireland to Derry, thus improving access to Letterkenny and north County Donegal. Until the end of 2011, funding of £19 million was paid by the Government towards the planning of the project. A further £3 million was paid in February 2012 towards the completion of the public inquiry on the project.
At the North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting on 18 November 2011, Ministers noted that the provision of further funding by the Irish Government for the A5 road was being deferred but that the Government will provide £25 million per annum in 2015 and 2016 towards the project. It should be noted that this is the most significant commitment the current Government has made to any non-public private partnership roads project in the country. It was also noted that a new funding and implementation plan for the project would be prepared for agreement at the next North-South Ministerial Council transport meeting with endorsement at the next North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting.
The Minister for Regional Development, Mr. Danny Kennedy, MLA, has announced that following a re-evaluation of the Northern Ireland roads programme, funding has been secured for two significant elements of the A5 dual carriageway project, between Derry and Strabane and Omagh and Ballygawley. This is very welcome as it will improve journey times between north County Donegal and the greater Dublin area. It is anticipated, subject to the outcome of the public inquiry on the project, that both sections could commence construction later this year. This announcement will be reflected in the revised implementation.
As the Minister is aware, the A5 upgrade is a vital infrastructural project which will link Dublin with Derry. Once completed, the main cities of the country will be linked up. It is disappointing to note funding will be provided in 2015. My Northern colleagues, including Pat Doherty, MP, have fought tooth and nail to secure funding for the project in the North. Why is it necessary to wait until 2015 before making funding available? County Donegal and the north-west region in general have been isolated for far too long and do not have the infrastructure they need. Counties Derry, Donegal, Monaghan and Tyrone are the worst road traffic accident blackspots in the country. The number of lives that would be saved if the A5 road infrastructure were in place is another factor that should be taken into account. I am disappointed by the Minister's decision as this commitment is a part of an agreement between two sovereign governments, namely, the St. Andrews Agreement. I ask him to review the funding schedule and allocate more money towards the A5 road project. The timeframe envisaged by the Minister is too long, especially in light of the commitment made by our Northern counterparts.
We have made a commitment to provide €25 million in 2015 and 2016 and that money will be provided. We will review the position if the economic and budgetary circumstances dramatically change before 2015. That is the only context in which we could review the recently published capital investment plan. Things are different in Northern Ireland which has access to very large transfers from the UK taxpayer which it does not have to repay, unlike the money we are borrowing from the EU and IMF. If we had a united Ireland, which Sinn Féin strongly advocates, as does my party, we would not be able to build the A5 and would have to cancel the project announced yesterday by the Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, MLA, because we would not have access to the UK taxpayer to pay for our roads.
While I understand that funding is tight, the A5 project is of vital importance to the north west. It is the lifeblood of the region and will provide significant benefits, including attracting industry and creating employment both directly on the road project and in ancillary areas. The House discussed the Government's Action Plan on Jobs earlier. The A5 project would create direct and indirect jobs and it is important it should proceed.
I agree that upgrading the A5 is important and beneficial, not only for Derry but also for north County Donegal. I am pleased, therefore, that with the help of the British sovereign and taxpayers, the Minister for Regional Development in Northern Ireland, Danny Kennedy, MLA, is able to proceed with construction of sections of the road. Unfortunately, owing to the financial position in which we find ourselves, we cannot complete the sections of road in this jurisdiction just yet. However, we will make contributions from 2015 onwards.
A little more consistency from Sinn Féin on this matter would be helpful. When the Government cut €750 million from the capital budget Sinn Féin heavily criticised its decision and suggested all the money saved should be invested in water and none of it in roads. The €7 billion stimulus plan produced by Sinn Féin some months ago, funding for which was to be provided by the National Pensions Reserve Fund and European Investment Bank, did not propose to invest anything in roads. If one examines the detail of Sinn Féin policy, it is to oppose road construction in the Republic and advocate it in Northern Ireland. Consistency from the party in the North and South, not only on transport but also on school cuts, welfare, property charges and just about everything else, would be interesting.