Road Network

I wish to highlight a cross-Border issue of great importance to the people of the north west, namely, the N2-A5 link between Dublin, Derry and Letterkenny. Anyone who has travelled around County Donegal to support Senator Ó Domhnaill in the past few days will recognise the need to progress that road with as much speed as possible.

Considerable work has been done by the North-South Ministerial Council on this project and I acknowledge that a commitment has been made on funding. Discussions are now focused on the technical aspects of who pays what, where and why. Disputes have arisen with certain landowners on the project. I had the opportunity to attend public consultations concerning parts of the road.

It is important the Minister of State provides further clarity on the status of this project, either in his reply or through the Minister for Transport. When I raise the issue of the road from Dublin to Strabane and Ballybofey, I find that people speak about it in a partitionist way. They speak about the stretch from Aughnacloy to Derry but not the parts on either side. The Minister of State will probably tell me that the NRA is in charge of the rest of it and, therefore, we cannot discuss it. If this is a single project, there should be a consensus on how it should proceed because there is no point in allowing one side to advance more rapidly than the other.

Over the weekend, I spoke to landowners in Lifford who are confused about the level of detail and when things are happening. If that is the case in Lifford, I am sure it is the same along the other parts of the road located in the Republic. The NRA is not communicating with us to the same degree as appears to be the case for the A5. In the good times, employment growth was not very visible in my area, although a certain number of jobs were created in Letterkenny and we welcomed every job we got. I want to highlight the fact that since we developed our infrastructure, Project Kelvin has been commenced in the north west even though this has been a much more challenging time economically. Like most people, I do not have an idea of the detail of the project. If I was asked to give a detailed breakdown of what Project Kelvin entails, all I would be able to say is that €30 million has been invested to provide for high-speed data connectivity to America. That is as much as I need to know. A serious expression of interest that was submitted after the project was implemented has led to an application for planning permission in the Border area between Bridgend and Derry. It seems that similar progress on the job creation front has been made in Buncrana.

It is clear, therefore, that if we put the infrastructure in place, the jobs will follow regardless of whether the corporation tax rate is changed or equalised across the island of Ireland. The fact that the rate of corporation tax was better in Donegal than it was in Derry did not result in the same level of investment that exists now that Project Kelvin has been put in place. The road project I am raising is another example of necessary infrastructure. There is a need for high-speed road access from Dublin to Letterkenny and on to Bridgend. There is no reason we should not look for EU funding for such a project. Similarly, a railway service between Dublin and Donegal town is needed. At the moment, one can travel from Dublin to Belfast by rail and then take another train from the same station to Derry. We need a link. If a cross-Border element is needed, perhaps the Belfast line can be extended to Letterkenny or Bridgend. We should be looking at that. The railway infrastructure exists to bring one from Dublin to Derry. It just needs to be upgraded.

Access is key. There is a PSO route between Dublin and Derry. As things stand, the best way of travelling between the two cities is by air. I drive to Dublin week in, week out. If the level of detail we want is in the reply to be provided by the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, that is fair enough. We have not got that level of detail so far. We are familiar with the generality of what is happening. We would like to get details of the timescales so we know when things will happen on the ground. We want to know how they will affect the A5-N2, which is a single road even though it is known by two names. I assume that even in these economically challenging times, the Minister of State will underscore the repeated commitments that have been made with regard to the road. Perhaps that is a dangerous assumption. For the people of the north west, this road is the equivalent of the motorways that have been built throughout most of the rest of the island of Ireland.

I wish to respond to Senator Keaveney on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey. I thank the Senator for raising this issue.

Under the March 2007 agreement between the Irish and British Governments on a funding package to support the restored Northern Ireland Executive, the Government made a commitment to provide funding of £400 million, or €580 million, as part of a roads investment package for Northern Ireland. This will contribute to the upgrading to dual carriageway status of the A5 road between Aughnacloy and Derry. The Government remains committed to this contribution despite the difficult economic situation. Its contribution will be made on the basis of the expenditure incurred during the development and construction phases. In this context, the drawdown of funding will depend on the achievement of agreed project milestones and clearance by the cross-Border roads steering group and the North-South Ministerial Council.

The A5 project was discussed at the transport sectoral meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council on 20 October last. At the meeting, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and his Northern counterparts agreed the new A5 project milestones and payment schedule that were approved by the cross-Border roads steering group earlier in the year. In addition, they noted that development work has been continuing on the project to meet the next key milestone, which is the publication of draft orders in November 2010. It is anticipated that such publication will take place this week. The Government's investment in the A5 project will support economic prosperity and development in Northern Ireland, and in the island as a whole, by improving cross-Border links and reducing journey times. It will facilitate access to the entire north west of the island, including Derry and Letterkenny. It will be to the mutual benefit of both populations and will improve journey times, access to markets and safety along the route. Tourism and trade will benefit from enhanced connectivity and accessibility. The A5 project is being implemented by the roads service in Northern Ireland. The procurement process has been completed. Contractors have been appointed to three sections of the route — first, between New Buildings and the south of Strabane; second between the south of Strabane and the south of Omagh; and third, between the south of Omagh and the Border at Aughnacloy. Construction is expected to begin in August 2012. The project's expected completion date is July 2015.

Regarding the N2, the Minister for Transport is responsible for overall policy and funding in respect of the national roads programme element of Transport 21. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007, the construction, improvement and maintenance of individual national roads is a matter for the NRA, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. The NRA is reviewing its investment plans for the national roads network. The review is taking place on the basis of a commitment in the renewed programme for Government. It will take account of the infrastructure investment priorities 2010-16 document, which was published in July this year. Senators will appreciate that progress on particular road schemes depends on the availability of funds within a significantly reduced capital budget. Significant improvements have been made on the N2 in County Monaghan, including the bypassing of the major towns of Carrickmacross, Castleblayney and Monaghan. These improvements have reduced congestion in the towns, significantly reduced journey times and provided safer roads.

It is important to highlight the opening of two other cross-Border roads on 20 October last. These projects have significantly improved cross-Border infrastructure. The two remaining cross-Border roads which were closed during the Troubles — at Knockaginny and Annaghroe on the Monaghan-Tyrone border — have been reinstated as a result of cross-Border co-operation involving Monaghan County Council, Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council and Armagh City and District Council. The Government funded the replacement of the two bridges and the approach roads in County Monaghan, as provided for in the national development plan. The approach roads in Northern Ireland have been funded by the roads service in that jurisdiction. The restoration of the Knockaginny and Annaghroe bridges opens access to the communities between Monaghan, Dungannon and Armagh, allows for more economic and productive use of farmland in the areas they serve and reduces journey times between the natural hinterlands of Dungannon, Monaghan and Armagh. It will facilitate the re-establishment of the interdependence of the three market towns in question, which used to be accessed over these bridges.

Cross-Border investment initiatives of this nature, notably the A5 road project, have long-term benefits for the island as a whole. They help to enhance co-operation between both populations and improve economic opportunities for all. I am sure Senator Keaveney will tell me what I have failed to deal with in my reply.

I will. The Minister of State's comment that the two remaining cross-Border bridges have been reopened is inaccurate. I have mentioned a third road, Coney Road-Canning's Lane, on a number of occasions. The road in question is still closed. If it were opened, it would improve access between the communities of Muff and Culmore, which are on either side of the Border. Perhaps the Minister of State can ask the NRA to give me more details of its plans for link roads from the new A5 at Strabane to Ballybofey, and from the new A5 at Derry to Letterkenny. There is no point in the authorities on either side of the Border investing €500 million in this cross-Border route while ignoring the link roads from towns in the Republic to the new route. To do so would send a great message to the people of Donegal about their importance in the national scene. We have waited long enough for a dual carriageway, at a time when motorways were being built elsewhere. It is vital that the NRA does not abandon us while it talks about financial constraints. We should be the financial priority at this point. I hope the Minister of State can convey that message to the NRA.

I will do that.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 November 2010.