Funding approval for the first bridge to link Northern Ireland with the Republic has been hailed a “victory for the people” by a local MP.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson yesterday gave the green light for funding to be released for the £14m Narrow Water Bridge to be constructed across Carlingford Lough — linking Co Down with Co Louth in the Republic.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said plans for the 660-metre bridge have been in the making since 1976 and expressed her delight it had finally reached pre-construction stage.
The only thing that stands in the way of construction — which is due to begin in July and finish in 2015 — is approval from Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy.
A public consultation process into the bridge will end next week and Mr Kennedy will consider any objections to it. He will then either initiate a public inquiry or sign the Bridge Order.
Ms Ritchie urged the minister not to delay giving his approval so that construction can begin.
“Getting funding for the bridge is a victory for the people and I urge Mr Kennedy to give the project his approval.
“This is a cross-border venture for the betterment of the people in the North and South of Ireland.
“It will bring a massive boost to the local tourism, construction and engineering industries,” she said.
“I would like to thank everyone on the cross-border Narrow Water Bridge committee for all of their hard work over the years. It is finally paying off.”
Councillor Gerald Mallon, chairman of East Border Region, a lead partner in the project, said the bridge will “provide a catalyst for both economic development and tourism within the region”.
Sinn Fein president and Louth TD Gerry Adams said: “The Narrow Water Bridge is a crucial investment project that can significantly enhance the local economies of communities on both sides of the border.”
Louth Fine Gael councillor Martin Murnaghan said the project was a “golden opportunity” to increase tourism and boost jobs north and south of the border. Newry man Vincent Small, whose quantity surveying job requires him to travel all over Ireland, welcomed the development.
“It will certainly take a lot of traffic out of Newry,” he said.
“Lorries come off the ships at Warrenpoint and currently have to go into the city if they are heading down south. It will also make Warrenpoint Port a lot busier as the lorries can come off and head straight south.”
Five construction firms are currently in the running to be awarded the contract— two from Northern Ireland, two from the Republic and one international company.
The successful applicant is to be announced next week.
Currently traffic to and from Warrenpoint Port from the Republic must pass through Newry, adding to congestion. It’s thought the bridge could cut 45 minutes off that journey each way. Louth County Council will be responsible for cost overruns and pay all maintenance costs. Newry and Mourne Council will meet operational costs.