News

Bridge where Mark Durkan's father died still unfixed

The bridge at Gortgonis Road, Coalisland
Brendan Hughes

A bridge where SDLP MP Mark Durkan's father died in a car crash has remained broken for three months despite fears that motorists are being placed at risk.

Brendan Durkan, a senior RUC officer, was tragically killed in May 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 be the scene of further tragedy after part of its wall collapsed around three months ago.

It remains unfixed more than six weeks after The Irish News asked the Department for Regional Development (DRD) about residents' concerns over the "gaping hole".

At the time the department said there were "no funds" available to repair the Gortgonis Road bridge, although it now says repair work should start before the end of the month.

The DRD has been left without a minister after Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy resigned last week amid the political fall-out over the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan.

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

"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.

Brendan Durkan, originally from Newry, was one of the most senior Catholics in the RUC and 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 Superintendent today.

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.

DRD is in charge of Transport NI, formerly known as the Roads Service.

Earlier this year Mr Kennedy warned that budget savings of £60m would affect pothole and traffic light repairs, and the cutting of grass verges near junctions.

A DRD spokeswoman said a chain link fence has been placed along the broken wall.

She added: "The parapet repair work should start before the end of the month."

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