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High-speed train to Belfast on Dublin's Brexit shopping list

By Kevin Doyle

Ireland will seek money for a 'rapid rail link' between Dublin and Belfast as part of the Brexit negotiations, the Irish Independent has reported.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan believes a special fund may also be needed to help improve ports as the country looks to diversify trading partners.

He said the Irish Government is "encouraged" by the draft negotiation paper drawn up by the EU as it acknowledges Ireland's "unique circumstances" in relation to Brexit.

But Mr Flanagan said the government will need support in "revisiting" its priorities for infrastructure investment.

"I'd like to be able to see rail users travel from Dublin to Belfast in an hour. That will take capital expenditure and these are issues upon which I feel consideration should be given in the context of the negotiations," he commented.

Currently, a direct train from Connolly Station in Dublin to Belfast Central takes around two hours and 10 minutes.

Mr Flanagan said keeping strong connections between North and South would be a key outcome, as would Ireland's ability to increase trade with EU countries. "I see a need to diversify. That will mean our airports and ports will be hugely important to us in that endeavour.

"I'm thinking in particular our access points to the continent and the French ports," he said.

Asked who would pay for infrastructure improvements to help Ireland fend off the worst impacts of Brexit, Mr Flanagan replied: "That's a matter down the road but Europe has always looked favourably to states that do suffer peripherality and the need to get our goods to market."

He noted that 40% of food exports from Ireland currently go to the UK, while over 50% of goods coming through Warrenpoint Port in Co Down are destined for the Republic.

"The maintenance of the open border is essential to all of this. That's where the Good Friday Agreement and the honouring of Good Friday Agreement in terms of movement of people and trading of services is important," he stated.

However, the minister warned the delay in establishing a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland is hampering the government's negotiation position in Europe. Talks between the Northern Ireland parties to restore power-sharing at Stormont have been ongoing since elections on March 2.

"There is an urgency and I'm calling on the DUP and Sinn Fein to engage in the necessary level of compromise that will allow them to surmount these challenges," Mr Flanagan added.

Sinn Fein senator Niall O Donnghaile welcomed Mr Flanagan's comments.

Mr O Donnghaile said: "Sinn Fein has for a long time been championing the need for improved rail and other infrastructural connections between Ireland's two main cities.

"An hourly rail link between Dublin and Belfast makes economic, social and practical sense. There are increasing demands from within the business, retail and tourism sectors for this much needed and no doubt transformative service to be developed.

"At a time when the unwanted repercussions of Brexit threatens the economy of Ireland, North and South, I look forward to engaging with the Minister collaboratively to explore how all stakeholders can come together to help drive this much needed initiative forward."

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