“a striking manifestation of the confidence and optimism of the shared island initiative…”

As recently as November Irish News columnist Brian Feeney wrote a column under the heading to the effect that “The Irish government and Fianna Fáil have no policy at all on the north”. [Ahem – Ed]

Well, the secret of politics is in the timing. In a year that will see elections on both island’s Micheál Martin’s brainchild the Shared Island Initiative has finally made people sit up and take notice.

The initiative was launched in 202o and by the end of 2021 had disbursed about €50m and set out its investment priorities for the Shared Island piece in a reviewed National Development Plan (2021-30).

Some of the more high profile republican pressure groups like Ireland’s Future, for reasons better known to themselves, preferred to ignore Shared Island approach rather than actually criticise it.

Early effort when into research rather than bringing forward more concrete outcomes, looking for where viable consonances of shared need might be identified and how they might be dealt with.

It certainly didn’t make for great stories, so by and large the press ignored it. Meanwhile between 2021 and 2023 “€250m was allocated from the Fund to deliver on investment priorities”.

None of these commitments were part of some class of charm offensive but arose from a broad island view of how needs on both sides of the border could coalesce and be met with practical solutions.

The decision to go ahead with the A5 project (which from a southern point of view is the road in NI that links Donegal with the N2 the main route for road traffic to Dublin) was taken back in July 2007.

Now the Irish government is committing €600m (£514m) under its Shared Island priorities to help meet the needs of it’s own citizens in Donegal and both Irish and British citizens in Northern Ireland.

It won’t pay for all of it, but as Wesley Johnson noted on Twitter/X “it might permit a third section to get underway along with phases 1A and 1B”. That’s some gift for Sinn Féin’s Infrastructure Minister.

Not only is the A5 one of NI’s most dangerous main roads, it runs through the economically stricken western part of Tyrone. In contrast the east (serviced by the M1 motorway) is prosperous.

There’s money to get Casement Park ready for the Euros in 2028. But that’s not as straightforward. Political stasis over seven years has done it no favours: controversy and inflation have taken a toll.

In spite of the money so far committed by the UK government, the GAA and now the Irish government, current estimates suggest it is still about £100m short. The original £77.5m long gone.

The DUP holds the Communities Department say it will stick with the original commitment of £62m and the GAA are staying with their original £15m stake in what will be a flagship stadium for them.

Political insiders suggest that if substantial building work does not commence by May it will be too late for 2028. The ball is now with London as to how much they will put in the funding envelope.

There’s fewer details on the Narrow Water Bridge project, which was mothballed in 2013 and the EU subsequently withdrew its funding. The renewal of the project was flagged in 2021..

If the words of Tanaiste Micheál Martin are anything to go by, it will definitely something to keep you eye out for:

I’m particularly pleased that today we have given the formal green light to the Narrow Water Bridge. I consider this to be a hugely important project.

It is a massive investment in the Newry – Dundalk/Cooley – Mournes region, unlocking a whole new tourism product in Ireland’s Ancient East. It is a demonstration of the fact that when this Irish Government says it will do something, we mean it.

And when it is complete, it will be a striking physical manifestation of the confidence and optimism that is at the heart of the Shared Island Initiative.

The key purpose of a bridge is to realise the benefits on either side of whatever obstacle they’re designed to span. One can only hope this will also mark an end to our tragic unwillingness to build.

And because one of the last acts of SDLP Minister for Infrastructure Nicola Mallon before the DUP collapsed Stormont was to sign permission to start the planning process, it is already shovel ready.

In the three second world of Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, etc such interventions don’t qualify as policy since what you can’t see doesn’t exist. But then nothing of value was ever made in just three seconds.

In an interview in the Irish Times on Friday Martin noted what he sees as the fatal flaw in not taking the governmental responsibilities invested in leaders of both communities seriously:

If you look at [Northern Ireland] too much as a staging post, then you don’t do the job properly that you are supposed to be doing now.

This investment in a joint future comes without conditions other than the ministers upon whose shoulders delivery rests. We’ll see how much they’re up for, or indeed whether they’re up to it at all?

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