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Editor's Viewpoint

Cross-border cash must be welcomed

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Mr Martin can point to the political impact of the investment as well

Mr Martin can point to the political impact of the investment as well

Mr Martin can point to the political impact of the investment as well

Taoiseach Micheal Martin is playing a cute game with his commitment in the Irish budget to give £452m towards cross-border infrastructure projects. It is a pledge which he hopes will pay dividends on both sides of the border.

It puts flesh on the bones of his Shared Island Unit which was derided by his critics, especially Sinn Fein, as some kind of nebulous Irish unity lite project. With his own popularity waning he will be hoping that the promised investment will steal some of Sinn Fein's clothes. The republican party's welcome for the announcement was suitably muted as they realise the government is always in a position to undermine their own populist, but untested, policies on all sorts of issues.

The money, most of which was first proposed more than a decade ago but then withdrawn in 2011 due to financial pressures on the Dublin government, will go towards the long delayed A5, the Ulster Canal connection from Clones to Upper Lough Erne, the Narrow Water Bridge and cross-border greenways.

It will be an enormous boost to the beleaguered Northern Ireland economy providing Covid-19 does not denude the Dail's coffers again. The investment would also open the way for other cross-border projects bringing the prospect of prosperity to an area which has suffered a lack of funding for far too long.

Mr Martin can point to the political impact of the investment as well.

It ties in with his vision of a shared island but in an unthreatening way. Sinn Fein without the levers of power in the Republic can continue to argue for an Irish unity poll but the Taoiseach's approach is much more pragmatic and easier to sell to unionists.

Instead of pushing for an end to partition - an unrealistic prospect in the near to medium future - he is demonstrating how co-operation between the two parts of the island is of mutual benefit. Shared infrastructure builds confidence whereas threats of an Irish unity poll causes polarisation.

In essence, he is taking the heat out of the unity question, repurposing traditional republican ideology, and his move should be welcomed by unionists.

It is now up to the NI Executive to begin fashioning policies to make the best possible use of this potential windfall. The NI economy has been severely hit by the pandemic but cooperation with its nearest neighbour offers hope of a new foundation when the financial pressures of Covid-19 ease. Mr Martin has laid his cards on the table. The NI Executive should show its own hand.

Belfast Telegraph