The Irish Government has pulled a promised 27million euro (£23.7m) for a major Northern Ireland roads project this year blaming the lack of a Stormont Executive.
However, it did confirm it was fully committed to providing the entire £75m pledged for the work with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying if the Northern Ireland power-sharing institutions are reformed this year the money would be found.
The A5 Western Transport Corridor project has been much delayed after successive legal challenges since it was first announced in 2007. There have been scores of deaths leading to it being labelled the “most dangerous road on these islands”.
Last year the Department of Infrastructure said it was considering using special powers from Westminster to ensure work could begin by the end of 2019.
But in the Dail on Tuesday afternoon, the Taoiseach announced a “re-profiling” of 100m euro – with the largest (27m euro) initially intended for the A5 project – going toward the Republic’s national children’s hospital in Dublin which has been at the centre of an overspend scandal.
Mr Varadkar said: “Should Sinn Fein and others take up their responsibilities in government, form an executive and approve that project we will find the money to go ahead with it this year.
“But as they [Sinn Fein] have failed to take up their responsibilities and deliver infrastructure projects that 27m euro payment that we were to pay to the Northern Ireland Executive this year does not fall.”
West Tyrone SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, who has campaigned for the project, accused Sinn Fein and the DUP of “abandoning the people” over their continued failure to form a government.
He described the current road as the “most dangerous on these islands”.
He added: “The A5 Scheme is vitally important for the North West and West of this province. It will save countless lives while increasing the economic situation for businesses and individuals alike.”
The project will upgrade the road from the border at Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone to Londonderry to a dual carriageway. It has been claimed the existing road was not fit for purpose – pointing to the high number of accidents and deaths.
Between September 2016 and December 2018, 38 people had died along the full stretch of the existing A5 road.
When complete, the new A5 dual carriageway will run for 53 miles between Newbuildings, outside Londonderry, and Aughnacloy. It was first estimated to cost between £650m and £850m.
The Irish government had pledged to provide £400m, however, this was drastically reduced in 2011. And in November 2015 and after the Fresh Start Agreement, Dublin pledged to provide £75m.
In September last year a Belfast Telegraph report found close to £80m had already been spent on the project.
Ireland’s Department of Transport confirmed no money would be cut from its promised share and it believed it would be “early 2020” before the project could begin blaming the legal challenges for ongoing delays.
“The A5 project goes ahead, this is merely a timing adjustment,” a spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Infrastructure added: “As the A5 is an Executive flagship project, funding from the NI block is assured.
“We continue to liaise regularly with our counterparts in Dublin and having had recent discussions with both DTTAS and Department of the Taoiseach we have no concerns at this stage about Ireland’s contribution to the construction costs being made available when work is ready to commence.
“Subject to the completion of ongoing work and statutory procedures, work on the section from New Buildings to north of Strabane could commence on site in late 2019.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital