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Govt announces €800m for cross-border projects



Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced “nearly €1 billion” for cross-border projects which he said “is the largest ever package of Government funding for cross-border initiatives”.

“The return of the power-sharing executive is hugely important for the people of Northern Ireland, and has brought renewed hope,” he said.

The package includes €600 million to the A5 upgrade in Derry, which is frequently used by people travelling to Donegal from much of the country. The upgrade will begin “later this year”.

Two other projects announced today will also “bring northwest road connectivity on a par with other parts of the islands”.

The package also includes €50 million for the redevelopment of Casement Park GAA stadium in west Belfast, which will “maximise the benefits” of “the joint hosting by Ireland and the UK” for “the UEFA Euro 2028 championship”.

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Tánaiste Micheál Martin said “there was an expectation that the Irish Government would come up with a contribution” for Casement Park, but no specific figures were agreed upon with the UK government.

“It brings clarity which can then inform the UK government’s response,” he said.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the projects have been talked about ‘for decades’

“The Government has also decided to fund a major regeneration of the Battle of the Boyne site in Co Meath” to the tune of €10m from the Shared Island Fund, the Taoiseach added.

The Cabinet agreed “to move ahead with our long-standing commitments to the Narrow Water Bridge” connecting the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth to the Mourne Mountains in Co Down and “we believe the contract for the new bridge can be signed as early as next month”.

Mr Martin said that “iconic and strategically important projects that have been talked about for decades” have been approved.

Read more: Funding gap remains for Casement Park despite investment

He said that funding for the Narrow Water Bridge – which has completed the tender stage – is a “massive investment” and is “hugely important”.

Mr Martin announced €24m to tackle educational disadvantage north and south, while a new shared Ireland enterprise scheme will get an initial €30m.

The money released through the coalition’s Shared Island initiative also includes €12.5m to increase the frequency of the Belfast/Dublin rail link to hourly services.

“This will double the existing service [and] can be done as soon as next year,” the Taoiseach said.

The €800m funding “shows our commitment to working with the new Executive, and with the UK government, to make the island of Ireland a better place for everyone who calls it home”.

Leo Varadkar said the funding will make the island of Ireland ‘a better place for everyone’

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that the “shared island approach is good for everyone on this island”.

The Taoiseach was asked whether people in Northern Ireland might see this as an “all-Ireland ambition” rather than a “shared island ambition”.

He said that the funding will not solely benefit Northern Ireland but will also help border counties.

Mr Martin challenged the language in the question saying that “this is about partnership”.

“It’s not about offering,” he said, “it really is about a shared island” and the projects “were jointly agreed”.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, welcomed the investment.

“The announcement by the Irish Government to invest in communities, sports, roads and education in the North will better the lives of everyone who shares this island,” she said.

“I will continue to work with all parties in the Executive, and the Irish and British governments, to deliver the best possible opportunities in life for all communities.”

SDLP MLA and leader of the opposition in the Northern Ireland Assembly Matthew O’Toole welcomed the Irish government’s commitment of funding for infrastructure projects.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime, he said: “These are not just small piecemeal contributions, these are meaningful, substantial pieces of capital funding from the Irish Government that are going to make a real visible difference to people’s lives north of the border and south.

Meanwhile, Steve Aiken, who is the Ulster Unionist Party’s MLA for south Antrim, also welcomed the funding announcement but raised concerns about the redevelopment of Casement Park.

“Casement Park is going to be interesting because…we probably need about another €100 million to do it so it’s going to be challenging and interesting to see how we close that gap,” Mr Aiken said.

DUP says Casement Park funding gap remains

In a statement, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said the funding announcement “is a restoration of a promise it first made in June 2007 to the Northern Ireland Executive then led by Dr Paisley.”

He said: “Following the financial crash, the Republic of Ireland’s Government were unable to keep that funding commitment and whilst the A8 Belfast to Larne Road upgrade was completed, the A5 has been delayed due to legal, technical and financial considerations.

“Whilst the overall cost of this cross-border project has significantly increased over the years we welcome the decision taken by the Irish Government to restore their funding commitment.

“With a significant squeeze on capital budgets today’s announcement will allow for a greater degree of certainty on the A5 build next steps.”

However, he said it was not the Government’s job or responsibility to provide money for public services and general Northern Ireland infrastructure.

He said: “Whilst we welcome support from the Irish Government for genuine cross-border projects that demonstrate mutual benefit to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it is not the job or the responsibility of the Republic’s Government to provide financial support for the provision of public services and general Northern Ireland infrastructure.

“That is a matter for the UK Government and must be done so in accordance with our needs base as set out in evidence provided to the UK Government.

“We reiterate our position that whilst the Irish Government have made a commitment to provide an allocation of their resource to the construction of the Casement Park project, this does not deal with the substantive funding gap that exists as a result of the massive increase in costs over the period.

“It is right that the GAA receives its allocation from the Northern Ireland Executive as previously agreed and in line with the allocations to the three supporting bodies but we cannot see how significant additional UK taxpayer resources will be available at a time when other vital public services are in need of additional resource and capital allocations.

“It will be for the UK government to clarify its position in the coming period.”

Additional reporting from PA

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