Sinn Fein Councillor Barney O’Hagan says key road projects still priority

Sinn F�in councillor Barney O'Hagan. (0211MM14)
Sinn F�in councillor Barney O'Hagan. (0211MM14)

There has been much speculation following the delay of the A5 project, however at a meeting organised by Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty with the Office of FMdFM, those in attendance, including parties from across Ireland were encouraged to hear that the project was still an Executive priority and that the Dublin government also remained in support of it going ahead.

Joint First Minister, Martin McGuinness MLA explained that while there could be a year to 18 months delay, once it has been given the go-ahead following the resolution of the outstanding issues, the road would receive immediate funding to push forward with what is essentially a project of huge economic significance.

The North West has been particularly hard hit with the recession through job losses and emigration, especially in the construction sector.

The need for significant investment to tackle disadvantage and enhance the competitiveness of the region is clearly recognised by Sinn Féin public representatives and we will continue to do all that we can at local, Assembly, Dáil and European levels. The A5 is central to economic development and the A6 should also be brought to shovel-ready preparation so that it too can proceed as soon as finance becomes available. It can not be a case of either or - both projects must be progressed.

The authorities north and south need to maintain a strong focus on closer collaboration to ensure the planning process and preparations of contracts are developed and that all Ts are crossed and Is dotted to ensure that the work can be completed without further obstacle.

The delay in the A5 construction has caused widespread frustration to the thousands of people who use the road each day and to those of us who recognise the potential of the Western Transport Corridor to develop the North West and redress the infrastructural deficit west of the Bann.

I welcome the DRD Minister’s comment that the scheme was ‘delayed’ and not ‘abandoned’, that it remains an Executive priority and that the necessary assessment in respect of the EU Habitat Directive – which caused the delay - is ongoing.

A cross-party delegation also travelled to Dublin to discuss the construction with an Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Transport Minister Leo Varadkar. The delegation sought re-affirmation from an Taoiseach that the funding of £25m in 2015 and £25m in 2016 for the A5 Western Transport Corridor would still be available and that the originally pledged funding of £400m from the Irish Government for the project will be honoured, and included in the next budgetary periods. It was also suggested that through the North South Ministerial Council, the two Departments be directed to develop a revised Funding and Implementation Plan for the project. An Taoiseach pledged his continued support for the project stating that it remains a priority.

The area that the A5 will service has a population of over 500,000 with no first class link either by road, air or rail to Dublin or Belfast; the first and second cities on the island.

It is unacceptable that Derry City, the hub of the North West is the only major area of population (I believe in Europe) without a motorway within 25 miles of its boundaries. The A5 will change all of that and open the entire North West region up for economic development and must be top of any road construction projects by both Dublin and Belfast administrations.

An Taoiseach and Minister of Transport Leo Varadkar have now reiterated the same commitment to the A5 as given recently by Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson from the Assembly Executive. First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have stated that monies in the next round of funding will be ring-fenced for the completion of the A5.

The A5 has been temporarily delayed and not abandoned but the present funding was in danger of being lost back to the British Exchequer and it was agreed that these monies, rather than being returned, would be used for other projects in the present round of funding. The decision by the First Ministers to ring-fence money for the project will ensure that it will proceed as soon as the current glitches are resolved. This is good news for the entire North West region as the road will open up a gateway, attracting inward investment, cut journey times to Dublin and increase safety for road users.