The Irish News view: Devolution needs to drive change

Now that it’s been raised from the grave of DUP deadlock, Stormont needs to deliver on the promise of devolved government

A pothole in a road
It might not be glamorous, but infrastructure minister John O'Dowd will be judged on whether he can get the north's potholes filled

Now that it’s been raised from the grave of DUP deadlock, Stormont needs to deliver on the promise of devolved government.

The focus on health cannot mean that other departments should be allowed to escape scrutiny. While it may lack glamour, the work of the Department for Infrastructure touches each of our lives every day, from the water in our taps to the roads we use.

Sinn Féin has pitched the experienced John O’Dowd, a former education minister and stand-in deputy first minister, into this portfolio.

Mr O’Dowd is regarded as one of Stormont’s more effective politicians. Nor is this his first time in the department; he was infrastructure minister for a few months in 2022 when Stormont was put into zombie mode after the election in which the previous minister, the SDLP’s Nichola Mallon, lost her seat and the DUP deepened its powersharing boycott.

Department for Infrastructure minister John O’Dowd  at Stormont Castle on Monday.
Infrastructure minister John O’Dowd arriving at Stormont Castle on Monday (Colm Lenaghan)

That means he should hit the ground running, though as elsewhere in our public services things have got markedly worse in the past two years.

Potholes, for example, are spreading like a rash - complaints to the department more than doubled between 2022 and 2023, to 25,000. It should cost at least £150 million a year to maintain our roads; last year Stormont spent around £125m, which was still the highest for some time.

Fixing roads is one thing, but Mr O’Dowd must also build some new ones. As we have long advocated, driving through the desperately needed upgrade of the deadly A5 between Aughnacloy and Derry should be his priority.

The Irish government has previously pledged to contribute to this important strategic route, and Mr O’Dowd should make sure those cheques are cashed as soon as possible.

The long-awaited A5 Western Transport Corridor project could finally get underway next year.
The A5 needs to be upgraded - urgently

More urgently, he needs to address the pay claims of Translink workers; they have cancelled a strike planned for next week, but say they will go ahead with industrial action at the end of the month unless they see progress.

Also in Mr O’Dowd’s in-tray is a water and sewerage system which needs urgent investment if it isn’t to continue being a blockage to development, and responsibility for supporting the shift to electric cars.

There is scope for imaginative thinking, too. Could Mr O’Dowd explore a scrappage scheme to encourage EV ownership, or extend free public transport to take more cars off the road?

All this takes money, of course. Where will the new executive’s priorities lie?