Northern Ireland

Narrow Water Bridge project to be kick-started with €3 million Irish government funding

The Narrow Water Bridge project was first mooted almost 50 years ago
The Narrow Water Bridge project was first mooted almost 50 years ago

THE Irish government is to give €3m in fresh funding from the Shared Island Fund to help kick start the long-awaited Narrow Water Bridge project.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the money will be used to progress the "true all-island project".

It is understood that the much anticipated cross-border scheme will be progressed in two phases.

The first will involve the allocation of €3 million to get the scheme to tender stage, based on the current design of the bridge and existing planning permission.

Once the tender process is completed and full costs are determined, it is understood it will go to the Irish government for approval and allocation of the necessary funds for constriction.

Almost 50 years after the project was first mooted, it is hoped that construction could begin in 2023.

It comes following years of uncertainty for the bridge, which would span the picturesque lough between Omeath in Co Louth and Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint, Co Down.

Planning permission for a distinctive 280m cable stayed bridge - anchored by two towers at either end, for car and cycle traffic - was granted in 2012, with funding secured from the European Union and governments on both sides of the border.

But the project was shelved the following year after it emerged costs had been significantly underestimated.

Louth County Council said the €18m originally budgeted for was at least €12 million shy of what was required.

Despite an eleventh-hour bid to meet the shortfall, the withdrawal of EU funding, which led to Stormont pulling out, saw the proposal collapse.

Announcing the funding yesterday, Mr Martin said he was "delighted that work on the Narrow Water Bridge is now progressing".

"This project was first proposed decades ago and has been a long standing and highly symbolic government commitment, as reflected in the Stormont House-Fresh Start and New Decade New Approach agreements," he said.

"I am determined that the repeated commitment to build the Narrow Water Bridge will now be delivered upon.

"The bridge will link the Mourne Mountains and Cooley peninsula, providing huge tourism and connectivity boosts in the east border region, and will act as a key enabler for improved cross-border active travel and recreation activities including the development of greenways, walking trails and park amenities.

"The Narrow Water Bridge is a true all-island project, with strong cross-party political support north and south.

"It will open up new and exciting opportunities, with huge potential for the local and wider economy.

"Today’s announcement is yet another example of the agility of the Shared Island Fund in unlocking and progressing long standing infrastructure commitments and I welcome the renewed momentum and energy which has been breathed back into this project."

Stormont Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon said the scheme "brings with it the potential for huge opportunities for tourism and connectivity to the local area of Carlingford Lough and right across our island".

"Today’s announcement of funding will be crucial in moving the project forward and getting delivery on the ground," she said.

"I will be working closely with An Taoiseach, Minister O’Brien and the two councils to ensure my department plays its part in delivering this key commitment for communities north and south, enhancing connectivity, encouraging active travel and opening up opportunities for our island economy."

A subgroup of the North-South Infrastructure Group, to also include Louth County Council and Newry Mourne and Down District Council, is to be established to oversee the development and delivery of the project.

Joan Martin from Louth County Council said it would "rejuvenate and deepen existing cross-border connections".

"It will broaden the tourism and economic offering in the area and will incorporate wider active travel opportunities, improving the lives of locals and visitors alike," she said.

South Down MLA Sinead Bradley, whose late father PJ Bradley was a lifelong campaigner for the bridge, said it was a "long awaited key piece of infrastructure".

"After many years of disappointment, I like many locals remained unwavering in my belief that a bridge at Narrow Water could bring significant economic improvement to our area," the SDLP representative said.

She said Mr Martin's appointment as taoiseach "aligned well politically with the ambition to see the project develop".

"I recall fondly a conversation the then leader of Fianna Fáil had with my late father when he said, 'PJ, if I’m ever taoiseach, we’ll build that bridge'," she said.

"Today’s announcement of proceeding to tender stage is a significant first step in honouring that promise and I sincerely thank the taoiseach for standing firm on his word."