Narrow Water bridge offers huge potential for cross-border cooperation - The Irish News view

Massive tourism, economic and cultural benefits from linking the Mourne and Cooley regions

A model's impression of the Narrow Water Bridge
The much-delayed Narrow Water bridge project is due to get underway within weeks

The campaign to link counties Down and Louth through a cross-border bridge at Narrow Water has been an exceptionally long running one and there will be huge relief that it is finally on the brink of a successful outcome.

Although it covers a relatively short stretch of water, and makes perfect sense at different levels, the project has been caught up in a range of serious issues over the years.

People in the area had cherished the aspiration for many decades, and discussions between councillors in the then newly created Newry and Mourne local government district and their counterparts in Co Louth reached a detailed stage almost half a century ago.

However, the carnage caused by the IRA’s Narrow Water bombing of 1979, the deadliest attack on the British Army in the course of the Troubles, effectively ended all considerations for a prolonged period.

Eventually, as we entered a new era of peace and progress after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, plans for the bridge took shape again with the support of the Belfast and Dublin administrations.

It has always presented massive potential for the development of tourism between the adjoining Mourne and Cooley regions, and would create new jobs, attract fresh investment and provide a major economic boost.

The construction would also bring environmental benefits by sharply reducing congestion in Newry city as well as exemplifying the advances made since our darkest days.

A 280m span anchored by two towers and connecting the A2 Newry to Warrenpoint dual carriageway with the R173 in Omeath is becoming a reality. It is likely to cost some £60m, an outlay which can be completely justified

It looked as though a breakthrough had been made when design options were published in 2008 but it soon became clear that some unionist figures were deeply unenthusiastic about the entire strategy.

Delays and complications surfaced, the initially modest costs increased, concerns grew in the Dáil about the final bill and a timescale for completion appeared as far away as ever.

Fortunately, Narrow Water was included in the north’s 2020 New Decade, New Approach blueprint, the south’s Shared Island fund offered further backing, the construction contract was awarded in recent days and work should at last commence within weeks.

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
Narrow Water on Carlingford Lough, where counties Louth and Down are almost within touching distance (Liam McBurney/PA)

A 280m span anchored by two towers and connecting the A2 Newry to Warrenpoint dual carriageway with the R173 in Omeath is becoming a reality.

It is likely to cost some £60m, well over twice the likely sum if decisions had been reached back in 2008, but still an outlay which can be completely justified.

When the bridge opens, it will be a tribute to the vision of those who first conceived the idea and also symbolise the enormous benefits which can follow as a consensus is reached on initiatives reflecting true all Ireland cooperation.