Sinn Fein indicated last week that it would not support a Programme for Government after the Assembly Election unless it included prioritisation (essentially, immediate construction) of the A5 expressway in 2016.
This just shows, unfortunately, just how far divorced Sinn Fein is from the requirements of democracy and good government.
(The A5 is the road from Derry via Strabane and Omagh to the border near Aughnacloy, in south Tyrone; it joins the N2 which heads on via Monaghan to Dublin. Given its link to Donegal, the Irish Government offered half of the then £850m funding to upgrade the road to expressway standard – dual carriageway with no right turns – in 2007 but withdrew the offer in 2011. It is now suggesting it may be willing to contribute again, although the cost has now increased realistically to above £1 billion).
Firstly, it is simply ludicrous to make the stability of this part of Ireland dependent upon a particular road project. People in the other part of Ireland may like to think about that.
Secondly, the route of the A5 expressway upgrade has not yet been subject to public inquiry. Understandably, any major infrastructure project of that sort has a particular set of consultation requirements including, in the case of something like this, an inquiry at which the public (notably those who would be negatively affected, for example through losing property or bypassing businesses) have a say. This is a basic right, and it requires there to be at least the potential that the route will be disallowed by the Inspector – meaning that it would be back to the drawing board, with no realistic chance of construction this decade. (There are other projects which have passed the Inquiry, notably the A6 upgrade from the M22 to Castledawson, which would be every bit as useful to people in the North West as well as in Mid Ulster.)
Thirdly, in any sensible democracy, a party which did not accept the Programme for Government would simply go into opposition. Such daft demands only emphasise why it is important we reform our democratic structures to deliver such an outcome!
This is all to leave aside the financial nonsense of spending £1 billion on a road which is not objectively a priority and cannot administratively proceed as fast as other projects, when both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland are still scrambling towards economic safety.
For all that, we may find it gets prioritised to give Sinn Fein a “win” it can claim, in order to nudge us towards our next breakdown in a year or two.
The whole thing is exactly why we need more than a sticking plaster this time. It is also why people need to stop voting for communal parties interested only in carve-up rather than sound evidence-based policies and efficient financial management for everyone in Northern Ireland. I cannot say I am particularly hopeful.