Billion Irish euros for Northern Ireland revealed – again…

TODAY’S Irish News splash is hardly an exclusive – after all, Slugger predicted that Northern Ireland would benefit from the Republic’s National Development Plan to the tune of a billion euros back in November, and we probably weren’t the only ones. Nevertheless, Billy Graham’s better-late-than-never story fleshes out the detail a little before Tuesday’s announcement, and still beats the other local dailies. The story is below the fold.Ahern’s €1bn plan for north

EXCLUSIVE

By William Graham Political Correspondent

A ‘NATIONAL development plan’ by the Irish government is expected to promise more than E1 billion of investment in new strategic projects in the north and cross-border links – including the road network.

This is the first time that the national plan has included a section on Northern Ireland and it is seen as a significant development.

The spending of more than E1 billion of southern taxpayers’ money in the north and along the border is a key element in the development of cooperation throughout the island.

It also aims to underpin the peace process by bringing huge investment and creating jobs.

This investment does not come with a list of conditions but the hope is that a new power-sharing executive in the north with locally elected ministers will be put in place to take forward the package’s potential benefits.

The Republic’s foreign affairs minister, Dermot Ahern, has been pressing for some considerable time to have an all-island dimension in the national plan.

The Irish News understands that the plan, which will be unveiled on Tuesday, will earmark investment for the roads network – to be completed by 2013 – linking Dublin, Belfast and the north west including Letterkenny to Derry.

This plan may also include further development of the Dublin to Belfast rail line, such as increasing the number of services, with consideration being given to an integrated rail network serving other areas, north and south.

The Irish government will invest in the development of the City of Derry Airport. Around E7.5 million has already been committed on a joint-funding basis.

The plan is likely to refer to building on a cooperative approach in trade, tourism and investment promotion.

This will recognise the benefits of pooling resources to support companies on the island in foreign markets and on joint trade missions.

The introduction of a single electricity market in November and the completion of a second north-south interconnector by 2012 may also be referred to.

In the health sector it is expected the plan will underline the need for increased cooperation on health promotion and improving access to services in border areas.

Of considerable importance will be the idea of maximising the potential for cross-border cancer services. A section will make provision for the upgrading of higher education capacity.

The question of restoring the Ulster Canal at a cost of more than £100 million – to link the Erne waterway with Lough Neagh – may also be referred to.