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Civil servants contradict ex-minister's claim he signed-off on A5 works

Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin MP and former Stormont infrastructure minister. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT civil servants have insisted they made the decision to begin work on the A5 road upgrade after former minister Chris Hazzard claimed he approved it "months ago".

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) announced on Tuesday it was proceeding with the scheme between Newbuildings and Strabane, and that construction would start next year.

Civil servants have been running Stormont departments since the collapse of the north's power-sharing executive earlier this year.

But responding on Twitter to Irish News columnist Newton Emerson, who reacted to the A5 announcement by saying "Northern Ireland seems better governed without a government", Mr Hazzard replied: "I signed off on this approach months ago, scheme has simply made its way through legal processes."

Asked about the Sinn Féin MP's comments, DfI said the decision was "taken by the department in the absence of ministers" and considered information that only became available in May – following the executive's collapse.

A spokeswoman said the "overall approach to the scheme, its funding and the need to progress it as quickly as possible were all set out by the outgoing infrastructure minister and endorsed by the executive".

"The actual decision to proceed was taken by the department in the absence of ministers," she added.

"The decision needed to take account of the PAC (Planning Appeals Commission) report and detailed environmental studies which were not available until May 2017."

In September, Mr Hazzard distanced himself from DfI approving incinerator plans for the outskirts of Belfast – a decision criticised by Sinn Féin.

Political opponents hit out after it emerged he had taken a "neutral" stance in an appeal to the PAC which recommended approval. DfI cited the recommendation in its decision to approve.

But Mr Hazzard tweeted: "Important that final decision maker protect integrity of process by remaining neutral until the point of decision, don't ya think?"

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