Through its Shared Island Fund, the Irish Government has committed to making €500 million in capital funding available out to 2025 for investment in collaborative north/south projects, including infrastructure aimed at building a more connected Ireland.
In December 2021, Taoiseach Micheál Martin marked one year of the Shared Island Initiative with a week of events surveying the work that has been done and remains to be done through government investment.
Key to the building of a more connected Ireland are the infrastructure projects being undertaken with funding from the Government’s Shared Island Fund and other sources. All-island investment was one of the more notable revisions within the Irish Government’s revised National Development Plan (NDP) published in October 2021, where a commitment to allocating ring-fenced capital resourcing for all-Ireland investment to 2030 “at least at the current level of the Shared Island Fund”.
Shared island investment priorities in the NDP include:
• the creation of an Ireland-wide greenway network;
• the enhancement of rail connectivity;
• coordinated investment in the rollout of electric vehicle charging networks;
• funding all-island climate actions;
• enhancing support for all-Ireland enterprise development;
• the creation of new all-island research centres; and
• the further development of third-level education infrastructure in the north west; and new cross-border infrastructure built and natural heritage initiatives.
Thus far, the Shared Island Fund has been allocated to numerous infrastructure projects, chief among them the revitalisation of the Ulster Canal. In April 2021, the Irish Government announced over €12 million in funding for Phase 2 of the Ulster Canal, supported by €6 million from the Shared Island Fund. The Ulster Canal runs through counties Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Monaghan, but the last boat sailed on the waterway in 1931. The project aims to reopen the canal between Clones and Clonfad, County Monaghan.
Funding from the Rural Regeneration Development Fund and from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage was also secured to progress the project. A further €1 million from the Shared Island Fund has been approved to undertake the feasibility and pre-construction stages for Phase 3 of the restoration project.
Narrow Water Bridge
Also funded is the Narrow Water Bridge project, brought to tender by a July 2021 allocation of €3 million from the Shared Island Fund. The project is a longstanding commitment of the Irish Government and is a key commitment of the New Decade, New Approach agreement. The Taoiseach has committed to providing further funding once final costs for the project are determined.
Planning permission is in place for a distinctive 280-metre cable stayed bridge, anchored by two towers at either end, for car or cycle traffic. It will connect the A2 Newry to Warrenpoint dual carriageway with the R173 Omeath and will have the ability to open to allow for passage of ships through and on to the Newry Canal.
Set to provide access to a range of cross border active travel and recreational activities including greenways, mountain bike trails, walking routes and beaches, it has been proposed that development and delivery of the project should be overseen by a new subgroup of the North-South Infrastructure Group, comprising Louth County Council and Newry Mourne and Down District Council.
Subject to all the required processes, construction of the project to begin 2023.
Both the Irish Government’s Programme for Government and the revised National Development Plan includes a commitment to develop the A5 transport corridor. To date, the Irish Government has committed €75 million, first mooted in 2007, to the project but no financial allocation has yet been made through the Shared Island Fund.
In March 2021, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon MLA reaffirmed her commitment to the A5 Western Transport Corridor Scheme while publishing a report on the proceedings of an inquiry from the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).
A proposed new multi-million-pound A5 dual carriageway linking Derry to Aughnacloy in County Tyrone was one of the first major announcements of the new Executive in 2007.
However, the project has suffered a number of setbacks, including planning errors and legal challenges. On recommendation of the PAC, a fourth public inquiry is set to be reconvened later in 2022.
All-island Strategic Rail Review
Also, yet to be allocated funding of note from the Shared Island Fund is the recently announced All-island Strategic Rail Review. Jointly launched by the Irish Government’s Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD and Northern Ireland Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon MLA in April 2021, the review seeks to examine the potential for high-speed rail and shaping and developing the rail network across Ireland.
The Strategic Rail Review will consider the rail network on the island of Ireland with regard to: improving sustainable connectivity between the major cities (including the potential for high-/higher speed); enhancing regional accessibility; supporting balanced regional development and considering rail connectivity to international gateways – sea and air ports, which will include examining the role of rail freight.
One of the more significant allocations from the Shared Island Fund has been the €40 million pledged to the North-South Research Programme in July 2021. The programme will “support the deepening of links between higher education institutions, researchers, and research communities on the island of Ireland, delivering all-island approaches to research and innovation, and [is] open to all disciplines and research areas”.
This comprehensive approach to research has already borne fruit with the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) having published a series of secretariat papers on the shared island concept as well as a report on collaboration on climate and biodiversity; the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has also published research on increasing cooperation, cross-border trade in services and foreign direct investment on both sides of the border. The NESC and ESRI plan to publish a comprehensive report to government on the Shared Island initiative and a report on education and healthcare respectively in 2022.