Finally, the Narrow Water bridge is going ahead as part of Micheál Martin’s Shared Island Initiative…

In private conversations I often reference the failure to bring this project to pass (despite offers from the EU to cover most of the cost) as a perfect metaphor for one of the key weaknesses in North South relations: a tragic unwillingness to build.

Or within the wider political process that have arisen on foot of the Belfast Agreement: ie, a cataclysmic failure to understand that the core utility of bridges (metaphorical and literal) are the benefits it brings, not the bridge itself.

It is not about augmenting what we have. By conjoining two great landscapes, the Mournes and the Cooleys, it creates a new transversal space in which new and sustainable forms of eco tourism can form: if we can tap the imagination of local people.

Whilst it has not exactly set the news flows in the south alight this morning, it does signal that the Shared Island initiative is more than the sort of empty talk that has characterised the longshore drift in North South relations over the last ten years.

This Narrow Water Bridge has been a longstanding commitment of the Irish Government and was also, like the measures involved in the culture and language strategy, previously pledged under the New Decade New Approach Agreement.

Importantly, all the money is coming from Dublin, with the allocation of…

  •  €3m from the Shared Island Fund for progressing the Narrow Water Bridge project to tender stage, based on a due diligence of the current design/building standards and live planning permission.
  • Allocation of further funds for the construction of the bridge, following determination of the likely final costs arising and Government approval of the successful tender.

The project originally failed when the then Fine Gael led administration refused to indemnify Louth County Council against capital overruns, leaving it to the then DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to say if Dublin wouldn’t, he couldn’t.

With construction due to begin 2023, perhaps it will be taken as a signal of intent. Talk alone is cheap. After 20 odd years of examining our collective navels it’s good to see someone in politics ready to put their money into concrete ideas.

It comes at a time of great turmoil but also greater political activism on the part of the UK government with regard to Ireland than at any time since Tony Blair left office in 2007, just after the signing of the St Andrews’ Agreement.

If either of the great ism’s that have dominated (and limited) Northern Ireland’s capacity to look positively into its own future are to have a future of their own, sitting back is not an option.

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