Bridge over troubled water swept aside after EU withdraws £15m funding
Friday, November 15th, 2013
Business, Community, News
On 19th July 2011 I wrote an article for a newspaper I previously worked for.
The headline for that article was simple and to the point: ‘Bridge over troubled water swept aside’.
At the time of writing it I knew the chance of resurrecting the potential bridge was dead in the water, pun intended.
Afterall, the proposed bridge has been in the planning for almost 40 years, initially the brain child of the late Councillor Tommy Elmore from Omeath along with Dr O’Tierney from Warrenpoint, who started a campaign to build a bridge across Carlingford Lough at Narrow Water.
Councillor Elmore applied for European Funds to build the bridge some 35 years ago and it was unsuccessful. Michael Curran assisted Elmore to put the application to the International Fund for Ireland for 3 million punts to build the bridge.
Then the terrible tragedy of the bombing at Narrow Water happened, with 18 British soldiers and an English tourist losing their lives. After this tragedy there was no appetite for building a bridge.
However, much to my surprise, the bridge remained on the political agenda and little over a year after that headline, Narrow Water Bridge looked set to be realised after funding announcements from the European Union and Louth County Council amongst others.
There was a real feeling of optimism just 13 monthes ago when the Special EU Programmes Body announced that it was putting forward €17.4m in funding towards building the bridge.
The multi million pound investment would have seen a single carriageway cable stayed opening bridge across the Newry River tying into the existing A2 Roundabout and linking Co Down with Co Louth.
‘Iconic’, ‘catalyst’, ‘symbolic’ and ‘historic’ were just some of the words used by local political representatives to describe the news after a hard fought campaign to get the bridge to this stage.
Much to their credit, and of course to my own surprise, Sinn Fein and the SDLP finally found some common ground and showed real political will and commitment to the project. It wasn’t without public spats and political football though, with both trying to claim the bridge was ‘their’ project.
Sinn Fein even saw fit to erect a banner with their leading MLA’s featured on it, stating, ‘Sinn Fein supports the Narrow Water Bridge’… Just in case we forgot.
Despite the tussle between the big two Nationalist parties for the project, this was a united effort and one that would have reaped rewards, not just for the politicians who would inevitably have claimed the glory come election time, but for the people of Newry & Mourne as well as Louth.
Despite Ireland – North and South – being in the midst of horrendous austerity measures and the worst economic recession since the Wall Street Crash of 1929, this bridge would have signifed the possible green shoots of recovery and a welcome shot in the arm.
Afterall, during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ Newry enjoyed unprecedented business from across the border, with people travelling from Dublin and further afield to enjoy great Euro rates and filling shopping trolleys and car boots with alcohol, food and clothes.
That business though, has all but dried up so the news of Narrow Water Bridge really couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.
The bridge would of course, have opened up new customers for businesses on both sides of the border and it would also have attracted visitors to Slieve Gullion and the Mourne Mountains, the Cooley Peninsula and Warrenpoint.
But it seems a comedy of errors has confined this highly anticipated bridge to the dustbins of history once again.
Louth County Council’s role in that should not be understated after a calamitious error back in July 2013, after tenders received from construction companies for the project ran ‘substantially above the allocated budget’ according to Louth Council.
Stalling by Stormont Finance Minister Sammy Wilson didn’t help either.
Whether the SDLP and Sinn Fein can unite locally for other projects in the future that will benefit the local community remains in doubt.
But…. we can cross that bridge when it comes.
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