By Cillian Sherlock, PA
The Minister for Finance has said the Government “won’t be found wanting” in its financial support for upgrades to the A5 road but said it is still subject to a planning process in Northern Ireland.
Michael McGrath was responding to a question from Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty, who said 47 people have died on the road since the project was approved in 2007, including three members of the same family in a collision in April.
The A5 is one of the North’s busiest routes and connects Dublin to Donegal and Derry.
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Mr McGrath said this was a “stark statistic” as he acknowledged the project was about road safety as well as economic development.
He said: “That most recent tragedy was absolutely awful and our deepest sympathies go to the family and the community concerned.
“Just to reiterate the support of the Irish Government for this project, which has been long delayed and has been in gestation for a long number of years.”
Mr Doherty said the A5 was a vital infrastructure project agreed under the St Andrews Agreement 16 years ago.
He said: “It was recognised at the time that this project was needed to unlock the economic potential of the northwest region that remains deprived and risks falling further behind without action.”
Mr Doherty said the dual carriageway upgrade would also save lives.
Mr McGrath said the project is governed by the planning process of Northern Ireland and there have been very significant delays and legal challenges.
He said he hoped the next stage of the public inquiry process on Monday represented a significant milestone that the project is moving towards approval.
Mr McGrath said the Government has committed £75 million (€86 million) once the project is approved, but said that remains uncertain.
He added that £25 million had been approved in the current year if the project is approved.
Mr McGrath acknowledged costs have changed, but said: “There is a willingness on the part of the Irish Government to re-examine this issue and see what more we can do to bring about fruition of this project.
“But we do need partners that we can sit down and negotiate with and have a discussion with in the form of the British Government and the Northern Ireland executive.”
Mr Doherty welcomed the continued commitment but called for the Government to return to an agreement of financing 50 per cent of the road.
He said: “This road upgrade will prevent 2,877 casualties in the next 60 years, never mind the lives that will be saved.”
Mr McGrath reiterated that the project was still under a statutory planning process in Northern Ireland.
He said: “The next step here is to have an agreed and an approved project.”
Mr McGrath added: “We recognise how important it is economically, socially, and of course from a road safety point of view, but we do need to have a project that is approved.”
He said the Government is backing up its words “with cash” under its Shared Island Fund.