Northern Ireland

Narrow Water Bridge: Campaigners behind long-awaited cross-border project say ‘dream is still alive’

The Narrow Water Bridge project was first mooted almost 50 years ago
Campaigners for the Narrow Water Bridge project have spoke of their delight at the latest development

Campaigners behind the long-awaited Narrow Water Bridge project say the “dream is still alive” after funding for the scheme was confirmed by the Irish government.

Jim Boylan, chair of the Narrow Water Bridge Network, told The Irish News that they “hope by 2027 we will be walking across the bridge”.

He said he believes a construction contract could be signed next month with hopes that work to build the bridge will begin in June.

It comes after funding from the Irish government for the cross-border project, connecting the Mourne Mountains in Co Down and Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth, was confirmed on Tuesday.

However, the exact figure for the funds to be channelled into the initiative to build the 280m cable-stayed bridge connecting north and south was not revealed.

Previous speculation has suggested that costs for the project could be in the region of around £30 million. It is thought that final costings will not be known until the conclusion of the tender process.

Mr Boylan declined to be drawn on the costing and said the “focus should be on moving forward” with the scheme.

“We are very happy today, we have always had faith that this will happen,” he said.

“The construction contract will hopefully be signed next month and we are hopeful construction will begin in June. This will be a three-year contract so we hope by 2027 we will be walking across the bridge.

“I would expect that costs have gone up over the years, like Casement and the A5 projects, which have spiralled.

“But the willingness of the Irish government is there to provide the funds, I don’t want to be bogged down with the costing, we have been close before so we need to celebrate the good days.”

Jim Boylan of the Narrow Water Bridge Community Network said he still believes the project 'will happen'
Jim Boylan of the Narrow Water Bridge Community Network

Mr Boylan said it has “always been a community-led project”.

“We have to look forward to the future,” he added.

“This time is more hopeful, the commitment is there and the hard work of the community had meant that the dream is still alive.”

The bridge is a longstanding commitment of the Irish government reflected in the Programme for Government and the 2020 New Decade New Approach Agreement.

Planning permission is in place for the bridge, which will connect the A2 Newry to Warrenpoint dual carriageway with the R173 Omeath.

The cable bridge will also open to allow boats through and on to the Newry Canal and the crossing will also have segregated car, cycle and pedestrian lanes.

Narrow Water Point and Warrenpoint Port seen from from Flagstaff Viewpoint on the hills outside Newry where the Newry River flows out to Carlingford Lough, the UK and Republic of Ireland share a border through the lough
The Irish government said funds for the Narrow Water Bridge reflects a long-standing commitment to the project. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY?PA

The new development comes following years of uncertainty for the bridge, with the scheme under discussion since it was first proposed by visionary campaigners more than half a century ago as a key aspect of the development of Ireland’s east coast.

Although full grants have been available in the past through the European Union, with assistance also lined up by Stormont and the Irish government, numerous delays have followed.

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard said delivery of the project is key to “unlocking South Down’s potential”.

“It is welcome that the Irish government have committed to delivering €1 billion into strategic infrastructural projects for the north,” he said.

“This includes the iconic Narrow Water Bridge - a long awaited project that can now move forward with real ambition.”

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said: “This bridge will create a range of opportunities for people in south Down and Co Louth.

“It will not only make it much easier for people travelling between the two areas, but will also open up new possibilities around tourism in the area, with scope for new businesses and investment bringing jobs and other economic benefits.”