Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan is sanguine about previous delays to the A5 and North West Gateway Initiative (NWGI) projects both of which are almost a decade old now, saying there is a now a marked determination to bring both schemes forward for the greater benefit of the peripheral North West.
Mr Flanagan was in Londonderry on Wednesday after helping seal what he described as a milestone agreement in Belfast.
He visited the Apprentice Boys of Derry’s new Siege Museum, the Holywell Trust Centre, the Museum of Free Derry and he launched the International Fund for Ireland’s new ‘Community Consolidation – Peace Consolidation 2016-2020’ in St Columb’s Park House.
Perhaps most significant, however, were the Irish Government’s commitment of £75 to the long-awaited A5 Western Transport Corridor and its 2.5million euro commitment to the NWGI.
The Irish Government had committed £50m to the road scheme but has now promised £25m more.
Dublin will contribute three tranches of £25m to the A5 in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively, with a view to the road being finished by 2019.
Both projects have been around for a long time. The road’s been on the agenda since 2007 and the cross-border gateway initiative, which will get 2.5million from Dublin and match-funding from Belfast was originally announced in 2006.
But Mr Flanagan says he reckons there’ll be real progress in the years ahead.
“There are always going to be issues in terms of major infrastructural development,” he said.
“I’m very pleased that the money is there now for the A5. I expect that in 2017 work will commence on the first stretch in the city of Derry here as far as Strabane.
“Of course, there are planning issues, of course there are environmental impact assessments, which are part and parcel of the public consultation process, but I do believe, once the money is committed, there is a determination on the part of everybody, north and south, to proceed with what is a major piece of infrastructural development serving north and south.”
He said the 2.5million euro for the NWGI will help boost the fortunes of an area that’s often been neglected in the past.
“This injection by the Irish Government will bring together communities and will ensure a greater degree of economic development in an area of high unemployment.
“What the Government has been doing now that we are securing the economic recovery is to ensure that it is properly and adequately felt throughout the regions. This sum will go towards that.
“Having reached agreement yesterday at Stormont after ten weeks of intensive talks I believe it’s time now that we can reconstitute the North South Ministerial Council and I expect that that meeting which was deferred recently will now take place before Christmas.”
Mr Flanagan says he believes Dublin, Belfast and London need to work together to float all boats in the North West.
“I want to see a greater level of North South co-operation, which will be to the mutual benefit of people north and south, in Derry and Donegal in particular, in areas of tourism, in areas of health and education.”
He also said the work of the IFI would continue to promote good relations here.
“I was also delighted to launch the new further strategy for the IFI, a body that has been working in communities for a period of thirty years and committing towards ensuring that people who haven’t had the opportunity of knowing each other, of living together, of interacting, will now so do.
“People for whom there has been an adverse legacy, of the era of the Troubles, so we’re working in education, in community development, in capacity building, bringing people together, as part of the ongoing process of reconciliation, which is so important in communities.”