Sinn Féin’s fantasy finance costing Northern Ireland dear

Looking at Northern Ireland’s road network objectively, only a crazed observer would pick the A5 as the next road requiring an upgrade – and, if they did, there is no way even a crazed observer would suggest it should be effectively replaced by a new motorway. Advertised as the “main Derry-Dublin road”, in fact it really links Derry to a few towns in West Tyrone. Even the Republic of Ireland, which now enjoys the finest expressway network in the world, has not bothered to build its equivalent road to a similar status as far as the border coming the other way.

That the road still receives any coverage is pure Nationalist fantasy, led by Sinn Féin. The problem is, such fantasies cost serious money – they result in allocations of money to projects which will never materialise, and therefore away from where it is really needed.

The most serious recent example was welfare reform. In the words of commentator Deirdre Heenan, Sinn Féin has now “capitulated”, agreeing to implement welfare reform provided £90 million is set aside for “mitigation” for “vulnerable people”. Sinn Féin has no idea what “mitigation” means, nor who these “vulnerable people” are, but that is not the worst of it – the worst of it is the same deal would have been agreed two years ago if Sinn Féin has asked for it, but its grandstanding has resulted in £200 million which could have been used for “mitigation” for “vulnerable people” in this part of Ireland instead heading back over the water to Britain.

In some ways, the same applies to Corporation Tax reduction, an issue on which Sinn Féin tosses away its left-wing ideology to pursue an all-island rate regardless of whether or not it is appropriate. It can be argued whether reducing Corporation Tax is a good thing or not, but to do it purely because it was done in the Republic of Ireland (with its less generous income tax bands, higher VAT and new public sector levies that no one in the North cares to mention…) is the height of madness.

So it is with the A5. At the height of the Celtic Tiger, the Irish Finance Department was throwing money about left and right, offering half the funding for the A8 upgrade from Belfast to Larne and the A5 upgrade from Derry to Aughnacloy, theoretically on the grounds they would assist Southern Irish traffic (heading for Scotland or Donegal). The funding never seriously materialised, but the offer skewed road priorities in Northern Ireland so that the Belfast-Larne (A8) and Derry-border (A5) routes suddenly, and for no good reason other than the money on offer, became more important than Belfast-Derry (A6). The A8 expressway is due for completion in May but was in practice a much smaller project than the 80-kilometre A5, which has not even commenced on the ground. Neither project should really have been higher priority than the outright dangerous bottle neck through Moneynick on the A6 (between Randalstown and Toome) and even the Dungiven Bypass. Yet again, however, in the Stormont House Agreement the A5 appears, with the Irish Government offering a paltry further £50 million (probably not even 5% of the funding actually required and not enough even to commence work on the ground) and Sinn Féin suggesting that this offer means somehow the A5 should continue to be prioritised despite the absolute lack of evidence for so doing.

It would be useful of course if Sinn Féin had a serious opponent in the form of a party prepared to say that fantasy projects – whether cross-border or not – cost us all in the long run. Unfortunately, the SDLP in its current guise is every bit as populist as Sinn Féin on such matters.

Put simply, Nationalists want to spend £800 million on a single road for which there is no budget – double the amount to achieve the same outcome on the Derry-Belfast route, six times the most we have ever spent on a road project here, and roughly equivalent to the entire annual spending of our Economy departments! Oh dear. Unfortunately for Northern Ireland’s collective interests, we are therefore doomed to dealing with those who believe in fantasy finance for the foreseeable future.


9 thoughts on “Sinn Féin’s fantasy finance costing Northern Ireland dear

  1. martyntodd says:

    The Sinn Fein push for the A5 in preference to the A6 is another example of their obsession with a united Ireland getting in the way of the greater good within Northern Ireland. They can never appear to a wider electorate while they continue to do this.
    It seems to me that a united Ireland is impossible without a more united Northern Ireland as an interim step. The majority of people in the Republic of Ireland may like a united Ireland in principle but don’t want to have any more to do with NI while there are so many additional costs in NI resulting from division.
    There can’t be a united Ireland without the majority in the RoI voting for it. They won’t do that until NI is a more normal place, more united within itself.
    As long as Sinn Fein prioritises symbols for a united Ireland ahead of the greater good in NI it can never deliver a united Northern Ireland. It follows that they can never deliver a united Ireland.

    • Linking one part of Northern Ireland to another … how very Anti-Northern Irish that is.

      Next they’ll be wanting to bring down peace walls … oh wait!

      Maybe if we made it easier for people to connect with one another physically this division problem would abate itself naturally.

      Here’s a thought maybe having “isolated communities” causes divisions… surely integration and sharing is a pipe dream if people are physically unable to do so.

  2. frank7778 says:

    Do you know if M22-Castledawson is the most important road scheme that hasn’t yet got the go ahead? Or would you say M2-Westlink-M3 is more important?

    (The A26 currently starting was much needed (IMO), actually a beneficiary of A5 not going ahead.)

    • “Most important” is, of course, a subjective thing – I personally would say so; others would disagree (and many would suggest Yorkgate, as you say). I’ll do a full blog on this in due course.

      As a matter of fact, the A26 Glarryford-Drones Rd and the A31 Magherafelt Bypass are the most important officially, as those are definitely proceeding. As you say, there is some benefit from the A5 postponement there.

      My understanding is that the A6 M22-Castledawson and Dungiven Bypass are both now “shovel ready” – i.e. the routes are agreed and it is simply a matter of appointing a contractor once it is determined the money is available. Personally I would do M22-Toome; Dungiven Bypass; and Toome-Castledawson in that order (essentially because of the danger and pollution issues caused by the first two respectively), but again that’s subjective. My own bet is we will see only the first of these complete by 2020.

      Although a route has been chosen for Yorkgate (i.e. the A12/M2/M3 freeflow), I’m not sure whether it is “shovel ready”. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, but I haven’t heard that it is. My own concern here is that I see no point in proceeding with this while the Dee Street lights are still in place; the original proposal was the remove the Dee Street lights (though, incomprehensibly, not the City Airport ones) first, and widen the Sydenham Bypass to 3×3, thus ensuring adequate traffic flow eastbound. I suspect the lights will still be at both Yorkgate and Dee Street in 2020, unfortunately!

      Another route chosen (but not officially “shovel-ready” project) is the A4 Enniskillen Bypass. I could actually see that one proceeding fairly quickly – it is not particularly expensive, so may just suit one financial year soon, so I could actually see it done this decade.

      A last outside bet is of course the A5 – doing Ballygawley-Omagh does make some sense, but it is still very expensive to I wouldn’t expect to see it before well into the next decade.

  3. […] then, we can see how daft the prioritisation of any stretch of the A5 is, as the priority still comes out most expensive – more so than any other project under […]

  4. Is this the Same Deirdre Hennan who complained about the road into Armagh at a recent party conference?

    Remember it’s not just about Dublin.

  5. Better roads along the border will cut fuel demand and will hence cut the trade in cross border fuel smuggling as well.

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