NIENTE PONTE A NARROW WATER, L’UE RITIRA I FONDI
EU funding worth £15m has been withdrawn from the cross-border bridge project at Narrow Water, it has been announced.
The proposals for the bridge which would have linked Co Down with Co Louth were approved by the then Finance Minister Sammy Wilson in May after financial backing was secured.
It gained support from the assembly and the Irish government as well as the EU which was to provide €17.4m from the Special EU Programmes Body.
But plans were halted in July after Louth County Council officials said there was a shortfall in funding as tenders for construction were considerably higher than had been estimated.
This has been very frustrating for us, this is a long 40 year campaign, this is a people’s project.
Jim Boylan, Narrow Water Action Group
Only on Wednesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny had said during Leader’s Questions that he backed the project but was concerned about funding deadlines.
It was the subject of an All Party Convention in Dundalk on Friday where representatives from both sides of the border agreed on a formal declaration of support.
But it emerged that the EU had already made its decision.
“Following comprehensive discussions on the financial viability of the Narrow Water Bridge with the project’s Lead Partner (East Border Region Ltd and Louth County Council), the SEUPB has decided to withdraw the letter of offer,” a statement said.
“The additional funding required to deliver the project has not been secured.
“The SEUPB is now exploring options for the reallocation of this funding to eligible projects capable of being delivered by December 2015 to ensure that the drawdown of funds from the European Commission is maximised and that no money is lost to the Northern Ireland or Ireland economies.”
Jim Boylan from Narrow Water Action Group said their campaign is not over.
“We’ve been working behind the scenes with both Louth County Council and Newry Mourne Council. We do not see this project as dead, it’s still very much alive,” he stated.
“It’s unfortunate that the EU has issued this statement and we would plead with them to keep it open because there’s not much funding needed and that funding can be got.
“This is the biggest symbol of a shared future. We have people from all sections of our community fighting for this and this is the biggest tourist project in the whole of the island at the minute.”
With meetings planned in the next few days with the First and deputy First Ministers and in the very near future and an expected meeting with the Taoiseach, it would have been obvious to await the outcome of these meetings to ascertain if the funding gap was going to be met.
Margaret Ritchie, SDLP
SDLP MP for South Down, Margaret Ritchie said the “premature” decision was both disappointing and surprising.
“The SEUPB is very much aware of the efforts being made to secure the required additional funding from both the NI Executive and the Irish Government,” she said.
“While we are in no doubt that the problems with funding arose due to the underestimation in the costs of the project by Co Louth Council, we were all in agreement, including the SEUPB, as proven by independent advice they sought, that the Narrow Water Bridge project would be a economic catalyst for the development of South Down and Louth, and was value for money.
“The independent advice sought by the SEUBP clearly stated that even at the most pessimistic of evaluations the bridge at Narrow Water will provide value for money and indeed the travel benefits of the bridge have increased significantly between 2002 and 2013.”
Sinn Féin MLA Caitríona Ruane said she was disappointed at the withdrawal of offer but believes that the project can still go ahead in the near future.
Ms Ruane said: “Along with Sinn Féin Louth TD Gerry Adams I attended the all-party convention called by Louth County Council this morning to discuss what needs to be done to ensure the project proceeds.
“The funding necessary to make the bridge a reality was already in place. All that was needed was a commitment for a €6m funding package from the Taoiseach and the Department of Transport.
“When Gerry Adams raised this issue with the Taoiseach in the Dáil this week, Enda Kenny said that he was in support of the project. I am disappointed that the Taoiseach’s actions did not match his words.”