Ukip's McNarry called a 'Poundworld Farage' in bust-up over £46m upgrade for Derry rail line
Northern Ireland's only Ukip MLA has been described as "a Poundworld version of Nigel Farage" after criticising spending on a popular rail route.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has announced the second phase of the upgrade of the Derry to Coleraine rail line will begin in two weeks - although it will cost a whopping £26m more than originally estimated.
But despite more than doubling in cost, Mr Kennedy said the work was essential as passenger numbers were soaring.
The cost of the passing loop and signalling works has spiralled to £46m from the original estimate of £20m, meaning the project was delayed significantly.
Yesterday in the Assembly Ukip's David McNarry called on the UUP minister to resign. He claimed the minister had overridden advice from his permanent secretary at the Department for Regional Development and David Strahan, the chief executive of Translink, by going ahead with the project.
But Mr Kennedy retorted: "I am sorry that Mr McNarry has become the Victor Meldrew of this Chamber and can see nothing of a positive nature, particularly, it seems, from his erstwhile colleagues (McNarry used to be an Ulster Unionist), but we will leave that aside.
"It might be easy to make hits like that from the luxury of Strangford, but when you need transport connectivity to be improved between Belfast and Londonderry, this is essential work."
Arguing the project was "very much needed" in the north west, he said he was disappointed by the "ongoing tone from Mr McNarry which leaves him little more than a Poundworld version of (Ukip leader) Nigel Farage".
The passing loop will be laid at Bellarena. This will pave the way for the rest of the project.
Mr Kennedy told the Belfast Telegraph later that he was equally committed to restoring Derry's Victorian former rail station to its former glory as soon as financial constraints were lifted
"I have always said I was fully committed to upgrading this railway line and I have had to dig deep to find the money to allow it to proceed, but I am delighted that work can begin before the end of June," he said. "The number of passengers using this line last year was 2.2 million, an increase of 12%, which made me all the more determined to find the funding to allow the project to go ahead.
"The overall cost at £46m is higher than originally envisaged but reflects the market we are competing in."
East Londonderry MLA John Dallat said the line between Northern Ireland's two main cities now carried more passengers than the Belfast-Dublin Line.
"We must now see progress on the creation of a new state-of -the-art station in Derry," he said.
Eamonn McCann from rail lobby group Into The West welcomed the start of the upgrade work, but added: "We are anxious about Mr Kennedy's pledge that phase 2 will be 'substantially' completed by December next year.
"'Substantially' is a flexible word in this context.
"We have too much experience of ambiguous wording and of repeated failure to meet deadline delays to take anything for granted," he added.