The Government has officially approved a 116 billion euro investment plan for the country over the next two decades amid criticism the details were not given enough consideration.
Project Ireland 2040 was officially given the go-ahead by the Taoiseach and ministers at a special Cabinet meeting at IT Sligo on Friday.
Leo Varadkar said it was one of the most important things the government had done and would do.
“Today we launch an ambitious plan for the future of Ireland reimagining our country,” Mr Varadkar said.
“It marks a significant milestone in our country’s development, the point at which we put the lost decade behind us and move forward into a new decade of expansion.
“The point at which we make a transformative investment to prepare our country for the coming times and for better times.”
The aim of the multibillion-euro economic and social package is to make Ireland a better place to live.
By 2040 an additional one million people are expected to be living in Ireland.
The package includes plans for the construction of 500,000 new homes; a two billion euro urban regeneration and development fund for the country’s five main cities; a new Atlantic Corridor; improving transport links from Donegal to Cork; three new hospitals to tackle long waiting lists in public hospitals; a series of road upgrades and 22 billion euro for climate change measures.
Among the measures are a new runway at Dublin Airport; investment in Donegal and Knock airports, a 500 million euro innovation fund; and a one billion euro rural regeneration development fund.
A Government spokesman said the plan was developed in the context of Brexit and future-proofing Ireland for the impact of the UK leaving the European Union.
The plan is made up of the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan.
Opposition TDs have been critical of the project maintaining the draft version was not given enough consideration and there was nothing new in it.
Former Labour public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin said the Government had side-stepped a Dail vote on the plan and that it would be wide open to legal objection.
Members of the opposition had thought they would have the opportunity to have their say.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said it was a landmark day for the country.
“To be able to put together a strategic coherent both planning framework and capital development plan that will enable us to accommodate a growing population of an additional million people over the lifetime of the plan is really, I think, testament to the amount of work that’s being going on on it,” Mr Creed said.
He rejected criticism that there had not been enough consideration on the finer details.
“I know there has been reference made that it’s rushed,” Mr Creed said.
“It’s anything but.
“It’s something that began in 2014, has involved extensive stakeholder consultation, numerous engagements at an Oireachtas level.
“I think what we have now is the distilled wisdom of all of that consultation and input.”
He added: “The money will follow the plan.”
Mr Creed said the Government was aiming to have future development balanced regionally.
“Dublin in the context of urban regeneration will have significant investment but there is also opportunity for the regions, creating a gravitational pull from Dublin along the Atlantic Corridor, along the West of Ireland from Cork to Limerick and onwards,” he said.
The plan was formally unveiled on Friday afternoon after the Cabinet meeting.
It will be backed by about 90 billion euro worth of Exchequer funding and a further 25 billion euro from commercial State-owned enterprises.
Business Minister Heather Humphreys said it was “the first time ever that we’ve had a planning framework that’s underpinned by investment”.
“It’s a very exciting day,” she added.
She said her department will be announcing a 500 million euro disruptive technologies fund.
“It’s about cutting out jobs for the future,” Ms Humphreys said.
She added the plan is based on a very modest and conservative increase in growth of 2.2% growth per annum.
“I feel this plan will actually strength the country in terms of Brexit and the challenges we face there so I’m satisfied what we’re doing here today is helping us to further Brexit-proof the economy,” she said.
A considerable chunk of the 116 billion euro is expected to be spent on transport infrastructure including an expansion of the Luas, the construction of the Metro North as well as a new Metro link between Sandyford and Swords incorporating Dublin Airport, and a Dart expansion.
Transport Minister Shane Ross said this was the end of a lost decade for Irish transport and the changes that will be announced will remedy the situation.
“What we’ve seen is a kind of desert of projects,” Mr Ross said.
“[That is] what we are remedying today in the plan.”
He described the measures as exciting, transformative and a revolution in Irish transport.
“We’re going to see by 2040 I think an unrecognisable change in the transport landscape in Ireland,” he said.
Project Ireland 2040 will be a statutory document unlike the 2002 National Spatial Strategy, which was heavily criticised.