Loss of EU funding signals death knell for bridge

November 18, 2013

The proposed cross-border bridge at Narrow Water looks to be dead in the water after European funding, vital to the project, was formally withdrawn on Friday.

Just hours ahead of an all party convention on the issue held in Louth County Council offices between politicians from both sides of the border, the Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB) announced it was withdrawing the £14.5mpreviously pledged towards the project.

In a statement the SEUPB said: “Following comprehensive discussions on the financial viability of the Narrow Water Bridge with the project’s lead partner (East Border Region Ltd and Louth County Council), the SEUPB has decided to withdraw the letter of offer. The additional funding required to deliver the project has not been secured.”

The all-party cross-border representatives at the convention, which included MLAs, Councillors, TDs and Senators, had voiced unanimous support for the bridge and called on both governments to deliver the short-fall of funding needed to secure the project.  They said they would seek ‘urgent meetings’ with the First and Deputy First Ministers and the Taoiseach.

The bridge has been in the planning for more than five years and would have connected Cornamucklagh near Omeath, with Narrow Water near Warrenpoint.  It had been hoped the construction could be open by 2015.

Supporters of the scheme claimed it was crucial to the prospects for economic regeneration and reconciliation of the border community in Louth and Down.

Declan Breathnach, chairman of Louth County Council, said the decision of the SEUPB to withdraw the funding ‘was not unexpected’.

“They are under severe pressure to spend,” he said.  “I think this should focus the minds on what is a shovel-ready project and if people really want the bridge to happen, as three local authorities and the majority of public representatives do, then it will focus the minds in the Taoiseach’s office and the Northern Ireland executive.”

The SEUPB said it was now looking to reallocate the funding to other eligible projects.

A spokesman added: “The SEUPB is now exploring options for the reallocation of this funding to eligible projects capable of being delivered by December 2015 to ensure that the drawdown of funds from the European Commission is maximised and that no money is lost to the Northern Ireland or Ireland economies.”

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley says the withdrawal of the EU funding is ‘a travesty’.

He said the decision is “a devastating blow for the local economy and closes the door on a huge tourism opportunity for this region.  Many in this area will say that our political systems, north and south have let this opportunity go, an opportunity that may never happen again in my lifetime.’

‘This bridge was more than just a piece of infrastructure , it was to be a symbol of the new Ireland we all dream for and all have been working to deliver,” he added. “Planning was in place, roads orders were made, the private sector was backing this, Local Government North and South were putting money into the project and yet it has fallen at the last hurdle.  This is a sad day for the people of this region.”