So, £9 Million, no questions asked. Unsurprising the Perm Sec at Economy was a little concerned at the lack of accountability of the deal. We should not, of course, exaggerate what £9 million over three years can buy in terms of government spend.
Lack of good, shovel ready and affordable ideas is one problem faced by politicians in power. Getting it past their Perm Secs is another. In this case the downsizing of government to just two parties has at least led to some form of action. Whether there’s any actual return will probably not be measured.
So what of the opposition? Well, in south Armagh Justin McNulty (who sits on the Infrastructure committee) has raised an issue which I would guess has been bugging the good people of Newry and south Armagh for years.
In my day, there was no station at Newry. So far as NIR was concerned Northern Ireland ended at Portadown.Since 1984 there’s been a station there. Latterly, in 2009, it was modernised and upgraded with a significant capacity for parking.
But outside nine Enterprise stops in either direction, after thirty years of operation there are just four trains a day on the suburban service into Bangor, and none on Sundays. And that seems to be the focus of McNulty’s campaign:
Portadown is the next full time station to Newry on the Belfast line. Every morning, NINE trains leave Portadown and arrive in Belfast city centre at or before 9.30am. By comparison, there is only one single train leaving Newry.
It leaves at 7.15 am, stops at Poyntzpass and Scarva and takes a full hour to reach Belfast. In other words, it is not designed to provide any sort of attractive option for the many thousands of commuters in the District who find themselves wasting hours every day stuck in traffic to and from work.
“The express train journey from Newry to Portadown takes twenty minutes. Someone somewhere needs to explain why those services enjoyed by people in Portadown cannot simply be extended in both directions by twenty minutes to and from Newry.
It’s rare a local representative gets to trangulate the local interests he needs to serve with issues of broader concerns dealt with in the Infrastructure committee. As James Frayne notes of his time in Whitehall:
For the most part in government, those that quietly explain their case are ignored, while those that take battle to politicians stand a chance of changing things.
The bill for extending proper services to Newry may well exceed £9 million, it won’t take the multiples of that needed to bring Derry in from the cold. A public fuss may be just what the new Stormont administration needs to belatedly extend its normal services those extra 20 mins.
Portadown stopped being the end of line an awful long time ago.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty