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'No money' to fix bridge where Mark Durkan's father died

The partially collapsed wall of the bridge outside Coalisland. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

A STORMONT department has been accused of putting lives at risk by failing to repair a bridge close to where SDLP MP Mark Durkan's father tragically died in a car crash.

Brendan Durkan, a senior RUC officer, was killed in 1961 when his car came off a bridge and plunged into a canal in Co Tyrone.

A new bridge was constructed, following the crash, to ease the sharp corner where the road crossed the waterway outside Coalisland - but residents fear it could now also be the scene of further tragedy after part of its wall recently collapsed.

Despite the concerns the Department for Regional Development has said there are "no funds" available to repair the bridge.

It is the latest casualty of Stormont executive spending cuts that have led to a huge backlog in road repairs.

One resident said the bridge on Gortgonis Road has had the "gaping hole" for the past two months.

"There are young people on bicycles and a load of cars and lorries going over that bridge every day," he said.

"If nothing is done about it, it's only a matter of time before someone falls in."

SDLP councillor Malachy Quinn warned that failing to fix the bridge could lead to further tragedy.

"Why has it been like that for two months? It is a danger and it needs to be looked at seriously before an accident happens," he said.

"It has tragedy linked with the SDLP because Mark Durkan's father died at that spot so we know accidents can happen there.

"The hole in the bridge should be a priority to be fixed because if not it could lead to injury or death."

Foyle MP and former SDLP leader Mark Durkan was only around a year old when his father died in the car accident.

Brendan Durkan, originally from Newry, was one of the most senior Catholic police officers in the RUC and police records show he was considered one of the finest officers of his generation before his untimely death just days short of his 39th birthday.

He reached the rank of District Inspector, equivalent to today's rank of Superintendent.

During his 21-year RUC career he worked in Belfast, Derry, Coleraine, Cookstown, Kesh, Magherafelt and Ballinamallard.

The new bridge was built to realign the road over Coalisland canal where there was previously a very tight bend.

The original humped bridge can still be seen just feet from the new crossing amid the briars and bushes.

But over the years residents have complained that the new bridge remains perilous for road users because of its narrow width and a blind bend.

Mr Durkan (55) did not wish to comment, but expressed his support for the concerns of local residents.

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) is in charge of Transport NI, formerly known as the Roads Service.

Earlier this year regional development minister Danny Kennedy warned that budget savings of £60m could not be delivered "without an impact on core services".

The UUP MLA said it could affect pothole and traffic light repairs, and the cutting of grass verges near junctions.

A DRD spokeswoman said "there are no funds currently available for the repair" of the bridge.

"Transport NI have plans to place a chain-link fence at the bridge this week until a full repair can be programmed when resources are available," she said.

She added: "There has been no accident history recorded at this site."

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