The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has suggested bus passengers, hauliers and motorists can look forward to one hour long journeys between Derry and Monaghan, once the A5 project is completed.
Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig MacLochlainn, however, has insisted that the major road scheme must only be the first step in redressing years of infrastructural neglect of Ireland’s fourth largest city and its north-western hinterland of Donegal and Tyrone.
The Buncrana-based senator said: “If someone gets out a map of the island of Ireland [see graphic] and looks at the motorway and rail infrastructure, they will see there is a huge gap in the north west of our island.
“There is no motorway, rail or air link [from Dublin] to Derry city, which is the fourth largest city on this island.
“There is no rail, motorway or air link connecting the fourth largest city on this island to the capital city.”
The Inishowen senator was speaking in the Seanad on Wednesday a day after the Taoiseach, whose government is contributing £75 million to the construction of the A5, told the Dáil the road scheme would be a major boost for the north west.
The Taoiseach said: “When I was looking at the travel times the other day, I noted that when the road has been completed, it will take an hour to drive from Emyvale to Derry.
“It will be quicker to drive from the northern part of Monaghan to Derry than to Dublin.
“This shows how infrastructure of this nature can change a country. We are very committed to this project.”
But Senator MacLochlainn, a long-standing campaigner for the A5, said the new road was only the first step in compensating for decades of under-investment.
“That neglect has severely impacted the entire region,” he maintained.
Senator MacLochlainn said ‘Ireland 2040 - Our Plan’, the Dublin government’s draft National Planning Framework (NPF) needed to properly acknowledge Derry as the strategically important city it is.
The draft ‘Ireland 2040’ document, which was published last year, stated: “There are few large towns in the Northern and Western Region as a whole, with the strongest urban influence north of Galway City being the cross-border North West City Region focused on Derry city in Northern Ireland.”
This doesn’t go far enough, warned Senator MacLochlainn.
“It is vital that the NPF does not yet again leave behind the North West of Ireland, which has a population of 500,000 people. It is critical that we get this right.
“We are talking about the next 20 years of investment. It will be linked to the government’s capital plan.
“When the draft NPF was published, it caused huge alarm and shock in Donegal, Derry and Tyrone. I will tell the House why.
“Donegal County Council (DCC) is led by its chief executive, Seamus Neely. Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) is led by its chief executive, John Kelpie.
“They are both visionary men who have worked together and come forward with a North West City Region, which is a plan to turn around the neglect and underdevelopment of the entire North West.
“It is a plan that can deliver prosperity to our people and connect our region to the rest of this island,” he said.
In a joint submission to the ‘Ireland 2040’ document, which was first published last year, DCSDC and DCC, raised concerns about the prominence of Derry, on the documents and accompanying maps.
“Derry is the third largest city with a functional territory which lies within the NPF jurisdictional area; it has a population in excess of 100,000 people and as such is a Tier 3 City. Derry City is not named in the maps within the Issues Paper.
“Council would hope that this will be rectified in any future drafts.”
They further argued: “With the suburbs of Derry City extending into Donegal, and the work to date by both councils in setting the foundation stones for a North West City Region, there is a strong case for the formal inclusion of this space as an attractive alternative location to Dublin.”
Senator MacLochlainn concluded: “I ask the government to listen to the appeal in the submission that came late last year from DCC and DCSDC and to make sure that when the final draft of the national planning framework is published, the North West City Region of Donegal, Derry and Tyrone, which has 500,000 people, is connected and given the resources it needs.”