Narrow Water Bridge could transform border economy

IT is regarded as something of a universal truth that politicians are prone to making promises they cannot keep.

Our esteemed local representatives would dispute this characterisation, of course, and in the case of the Narrow Water Bridge project there is happily evidence to the contrary.

South Down MLA Sinéad Bradley yesterday recalled a conversation between her late father, the long-serving SDLP representative PJ Bradley, and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in which the Corkman told him: "PJ, if I'm ever taoiseach, we'll build that bridge."

Mr Martin is indeed now taoiseach and, true to his word, he has released €3m to provide a scheme some feared might never be realised with the kick-start it so badly needs.

The money, committed from the government's Shared Island Fund, will see the bridge through to tender stage, with the hope that construction could begin by 2023.

Campaigners, of course, could be forgiven for thinking they have been here before.

Plans for a cross-border bridge spanning Carlingford Lough date back as far as the 1970s, although it was not until a decade ago that a route was agreed before the Irish government took cold feet.

By 2013 funding had been secured from Europe, Dublin and Stormont and work was set to begin, only to collapse again when it emerged costs had been underestimated.

This time, with a new taoiseach in post and a renewed focus on infrastructure as economies rebuild from the Covid pandemic, it is hoped the dream will finally become a reality.

Few would dispute the merits of the bridge, spanning a spectacular waterway at its narrowest point from Omeath in Co Louth with Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint, Co Down.

From a tourism and recreation point of view, it would link two of Ireland's greatest natural attractions in the Mourne Mountains and Cooley peninsula.

Symbolically, it would also be transformative in a post-Brexit world by physically connecting two border communities in the way the Peace Bridge in Derry has already repaid its cost many times over.

For all the false starts, the project remains a hugely exciting one and those who have kept faith deserve huge credit for never giving up.

Almost half a century after first being proposed, it would be a fitting legacy for PJ Bradley and all those who championed the Narrow Water Bridge if this generation of politicians could finally finish the job.