Belfast Telegraph

Johnson's backing of DUP bridge over North Channel fantasy politics, says Sinn Fein

The Oresund Bridge, a five-mile road and rail link from Denmark to Sweden
The Oresund Bridge, a five-mile road and rail link from Denmark to Sweden
Boris Johnston
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein has branded Boris Johnson's support for a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland as "fantasy politics" to avoid addressing the chaos of Brexit.

The Tory leadership favourite backed the proposal during a hustings event in Belfast on Tuesday.

The DUP, which is championing the idea, said it could be a catalyst for economic growth.

But the Ulster Unionists expressed scepticism and suggested the money might be better spent upgrading roads here.

Sinn Fein Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady said: "Boris Johnson has a penchant for talking about and engaging in fantasy politics rather than addressing the reality of the chaos of the Tory Party, the British parliamentary system, and the mess that is Brexit."

Addressing Northern Ireland Tory party members, Mr Johnson said: "I am an enthusiast for that idea, I'm going to put it out there.

"I think it's a good idea but again that is the kind of project that should be pursued by a dynamic Northern Ireland government championed by local people with local consent and interest, backed by local business and mobilised by the politicians in Northern Ireland.

"That's what should happen. I'm all in favour of it but it's got to be supported by people here in Northern Ireland."

When asked by the hustings chair Iain Dale about the financing of such a project, Mr Johnson replied: "With infrastructure projects, finance is not the issue.

"The issue is political will, the issue is getting the business community to see that this could be something that works for them, the issue is getting popular demand and popular consent for a great infrastructure project, and that is why you need Stormont."

DUP East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons said it was encouraging to see "growing support" for the bridge proposal.

"If created it would be a catalyst for further economic growth in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, whilst also recognising the strong economic, cultural and social links between the two regions," he said. "With foolish Brexit proposals that would want to see Northern Ireland cut off from its biggest market of Great Britain, it is important that we are progressive and forward-thinking."

The DUP has suggested a feasibility study into the project.

But UUP MLA John Stewart said several issues must be addressed.

"Could a bridge be constructed that could withstand the weather and sea conditions in the North Channel?" he asked.

"Secondly, what would be the cost and who would be putting up the cash? It would clearly be hugely expensive and would either be privately funded with tolls being charged for many decades to recoup the cost, or else require a serious amount of UK Government funding.

"Thirdly, do we actually need such a bridge? Given the poor state of so many roads in Northern Ireland, many people might prefer to see any resources that might be made available used to bring existing roads up to scratch."

Mr Stewart suggested completing long-delayed projects such as the York Street Interchange would be a priority.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hasn't ruled out the bridge proposal. But speaking during a visit to Dublin in May, she said she believed there were other ways of strengthening relations between Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"I have representations made to me about the idea of a bridge; there are obviously a lot of challenges and things to be discussed there," she added.

Last year architect Professor Alan Dunlop proposed two options for the bridge which could connect either Larne and Portpatrick or the Mull of Kintyre with Torr Head, and estimated the cost to be between £15bn and £20bn.

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