Northern Ireland

Irish government criticised over public transport funding

Earlier this week the government announced a massive funding package for projects in Northern Ireland.

Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport, Green Party Eamon Ryan TD
John Bruton funeral Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport, Green Party Eamon Ryan TD, arrives for the the state funeral of former taoiseach John Bruton at Saints Peter's and Paul's Church in Dunboyne, Co Meath. Picture date: Saturday February 10, 2024. (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Irish government has been criticised for allocating just 1.5% of its multimillion-euro funding package for Northern Ireland to public transport.

Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore said that of the 800 million euro (£683 million) committed by the government, some 600 million euro is towards the upgrade of a road, while 12.5 million has been pledged for public transport.

Earlier this week the government announced a massive funding package for projects in Northern Ireland, including 600 million euro for the proposed upgrade of the A5 road.

However, the move was criticised by Ms Whitmore, who said it contradicted the government’s pledge to spend twice as much on public transport than on road building.



Millions of euro have been allocated for the proposed upgrade of the A5
Cross-border projects Millions of euro have been allocated for the proposed upgrade of the A5 (Liam McBurney/PA)

Appearing before the Oireachtas environment committee, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan defended the decision, saying the government has to invest for safety as well as for climate reasons.

The A5 has been the subject of calls for improvement because of the high volume of fatal collisions on the route, which links the city of Derry with Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, close to the Irish border.

A scheme to turn the A5 into a dual carriageway was first approved in 2007 but it has been held up by legal proceedings and faced funding uncertainty.

Since 2007, almost 50 people have died on the single-lane road, including three members of the same family in one collision.

Speaking at the committee, Ms Whitmore said that one of the government’s policy shifts was a commitment to spend twice as much on public transport and active travel than on road construction.

“From a climate perspective, that was a key decision that was made by yourself and your department,” Ms Whitmore added.

“Yet, this week, we saw 800 million from the Irish government be funded for Northern Ireland, of which 600 million was for the upgrade of a road.

“I just cannot square those two decisions. Six hundred million towards the upgrade of a road whilst at the same time only providing 12.5 million of that 800 million for public transport.

“So, of the funding that Ireland has given as part of that all-Ireland funding, 1.5% is for public transport and 600 million is for road building.

“I’m just wondering how and why that decision was made because obviously as Minister for Transport, you would have signed off on that at cabinet. Does that not completely fly in the face of your commitment for a two-to-one funding?”

Mr Ryan said: “I think anyone who has good knowledge of Donegal would recognise that the current connectivity to Donegal is very restricted and very unsafe.

“The road from Lifford to Letterkenny, it’s not fit for purpose. It’s not safe, it’s not adequate at all.

“We do have to upgrade that which we aim to do. Similarly, the A5 from Strabane to Aughnacloy and then connecting obviously to Emyvale, again anyone who drives that road on a regular basis will know it’s not a safe road. It’s very high volume of traffic relative to the capacity of the road and I think something like 10 people were killed one year alone on the A5.

“We do have to invest for safety as well as for climate.”

Ms Whitmore said it was disappointing that “so little” of the funding was allocated for public transport.

The Wicklow TD said it would have been a “much better use of money” from a climate perspective.

Mr Ryan, however, went on to claim that the “actual” investment for the A5 road is not yet determined.

“It still has to go through the planning process in the north and there may be difficulties in the regard. I understand it may not get the full permission … that will be a matter for the planning authorities up north,” the climate minister added.

“Our level of allocation would depend on what the planning decision is there.”

Addressing the government’s plan to reduce emissions with the transport sector, Mr Ryan said that the “ship is turning”.

The Green Party leader referenced concerns echoed this week from the Climate Change Advisory Council, which stated that Ireland may not meet the first carbon budget.

“This echoes a recent report from the EPA (Irish Climate Change Assessment), which showed that Ireland has now used almost half of our carbon budget for 2021 – 2025 in the first two years,” he added.

“However, I believe good progress is being made in the transport sector. I believe our emissions have peaked and ‘the ship is turning’, but now is the time for accelerated action, with support from all sectors of Government, and not for complacency.”