Brexit

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon denies acting like ‘little Irelander' over Scotland bridge opposition

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.
David Young, PA

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has denied behaving like a “little Irelander” in opposing a bridge to Scotland.

Nichola Mallon rejected the claim levelled by TUV leader Jim Allister as he criticised her response to the British Government’s plans to enhance transport links across the UK.

Ms Mallon’s party colleague Mark H Durkan demanded an apology from Mr Allister, describing his remarks as “insulting and inflammatory”.

The exchanges unfolded as Ms Mallon faced Assembly questions on the government’s Connectivity Review, which has instigated a study on the feasibility of a tunnel or bridge linking Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The review’s interim report also recommended a series of other infrastructure schemes that would potentially benefit Northern Ireland.

Ms Mallon has criticised the exercise, characterising it as the government interfering in matters that have been devolved to regional administrations.

She told the Assembly that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be better spending the billions of pounds on an existing projects in Northern Ireland rather than a “vanity project” of creating a fixed link with Scotland.

The SDLP minister highlighted that several funding commitments made by the Government in the 2020 New Decade, New Approach deal to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland had not yet been honoured.

“I believe that a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland whether a bridge or tunnel is a vanity project,” she said.

“The enormous costs of construction could be much better spent to improve infrastructure right across the north.

“We already suffer a substantial infrastructure deficit, especially in the northwest, and the Executive and the British government have given many promises to deliver schemes to address this deficit, not least in the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

“I do not think a single member here would agree that it would be in the interest of any citizens here to prioritise what appears to be a multi-billion pound bridge or tunnel when we can see that our own transport and water infrastructure networks are crumbling before our eyes, with previous funding commitments made by the Prime Minister still not honoured.”

Mr Allister heavily criticised her remarks.

“I have to suggest to the minister that she let herself down and the people of Northern Ireland by the pejorative, contemptuous and ill-considered response that she made before the ink was dry on the interim report,” he said.

“I do suggest to the minister it’s time she took off her nationalist blinkers and was something more than a little Irelander.”

Ms Mallon insisted it was not a unionist or nationalist issue. She said the bridge/tunnel proposal was more about a “political game” Mr Johnson was trying to play with the SNP.

“This is typical Tory distraction and deflections from their failings in government and they have failed in government to honour financial commitments that they’ve made to the people of Northern Ireland through New Decade, New Approach.

“This is as much about using Northern Ireland in a game, in an electoral game with the SNP that Boris Johnson is obsessed with more than anything else.

“One thing we know right across this house, regardless of our political position, is that we cannot trust Boris Johnson.

“Boris Johnson does not care about the people of Northern Ireland, he will not put our interests first.”

At the close of question time, Mr Durkan raised concerns about Mr Allister’s remarks to deputy speaker Patsy McGlone.

“The members should apologise, withdraw it and wise up,” said Mr Durkan.

Mr McGlone said while he personally considered the remark “rather juvenile and inappropriate behaviour” he would refer it to Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey for a formal ruling.

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