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Narrow Water Bridge can be delivered on time – Tánaiste

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The Tánaiste has said the Narrow Water Bridge linking Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can be built “on time and within budget”.

Micheál Martin said the project was inspired by the cross-border communities in the Omeath area in Co Louth and Narrow Water in Co Down, who have wanted the bridge built for years.

When complete, the 195m cable-stayed bridge will provide a direct link between the Mourne Mountains and the Cooley Peninsula, where Carlingford Lough meets the Newry River.

Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians will be able to use the bridge, which is expected to be completed in 2027.

An allocation of more than €102 million plus VAT is being provided towards the project from the Irish Government’s Shared Island Fund.

Asked whether there are concerns about the timeline and cost of the project, Mr Martin said he believes it can be built on time and within its budget.

Taoiseach Simon Harris visited the Omeath site along with Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Minister of State Malcom Noonan

The bridge’s developer, BAM, is also building the National Children’s Hospital in Dublin, a project that has suffered from delays and spiralling costs for years.

Taoiseach Simon Harris and Mr Martin said there are “frustrations” in Government about the National Children’s Hospital, but both stressed the need for the tendering process to be separate to politics, and said they have confidence in Louth County Council to oversee the bridge project.

“There’s set systems for the council to oversee the project.

“(BAM) have used the last three weeks very effectively, in terms of getting started with the dry weather, so I think we can get this project done on time and within budget,” Mr Martin said.

All of the funding for the project is being provided by the Government’s Shared Island Unit

Mr Harris said: “I think they’re two very separate and distinct projects. I think it is a statement of fact that there is frustration on the part of the Government and on the part of the people of Ireland in relation to some aspects in terms of the completion of a hospital that is now 92% complete.

“As myself and the Tánaiste and others in Government have said, there obviously is a need for the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board to continue to robustly enforce all of the provisions of the contract, a contract that also includes a penalty clause. So that is a separate and distinct conversation.

“I think it’s challenging when we’re in politics that we’re obviously commenting on an issue where I’m very conscious there’s a robust exchange that needs to continue there between the hospital development board and the developer.

“In relation to this project, obviously, projects are separately tendered, they’re tendered independent to politicians for quite a good reason, and according to EU procurement law.

“(BAM) have a track record in terms of the delivery of bridges – they’ve delivered two very prominent ones on this island in relatively recent years. I have confidence in Louth County Council overseeing the delivery of this.”

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The bridge will connect the A2 Newry to Warrenpoint dual carriageway with the R173 at Omeath.

It will also open to allow the passage of ships through and on to the Newry Canal.

The goal of the infrastructure project is to provide increased tourism and connectivity to the east border region.

It is anticipated that it will help economic development and increase employment levels in the area.

Stormont Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd said there will be “new memories made” and that he remembers travelling across to Omeath by boat, but that his mother was “terrified of water”.

“I’m sure she would have a wry smile on her face today realising that now you’ll be able to walk across, cycle across or drive across in the future.”

Taoiseach Simon Harris, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Minister of State Malcolm Noonan and Northern Ireland’s infrastructure minister John O’Dowd

Mr Harris said “every cent” of the total €106 million cost represents “a really, really positive investment”.

“I don’t think any one of us can fully capture the benefits that this is going to bring, the benefits in terms of connectedness, in terms of communities wanting to engage, but also the really practical benefit, and it is the hugely economic benefits that we’re going to see from this in terms of tourism.

“There is so much untapped potential in this region of this island and this bridge is going to play a very important role in (that).”

Mr Martin said the idea that two cross-border communities from different traditions wanting the bridge is “iconic in terms of building bridges between people”.

He said he met a child at the event in Omeath whose peers will be able to use the bridge.

“They will enjoy the benefits of this bridge for generations to come.”

He added: “It really is that iconic dimension to this project that really has captured my imagination and has inspired me over the years.

“Because this is our life project, really, in terms of the island of Ireland, in terms of reconciling communities, people going about their normal lives, and then attracting an awful lot more people to this region, which this bridge will attract.

“It will be an incredible catalyst for generations to come in terms of economics, tourism, biodiversity, greenways, you name it.”

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