Sunday 19 November 2017

Dublin-Belfast one-hour rail link on Brexit shopping list

Connolly station. Photo: Stock PA
Connolly station. Photo: Stock PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Ireland will seek money for a 'rapid rail link' between Dublin and Belfast as part of the Brexit negotiations, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan believes a special fund may also be needed to help improve our ports as the country looks to diversify trading partners.

He said the Government was "encouraged" by the draft negotiation paper drawn up by the EU as it acknowledged our "unique circumstances" in relation to Brexit.

But Mr Flanagan said the Government would need support in "revisiting" our priorities for infrastructure investment.

"I'd like to be able to see rail users travel from Dublin to Belfast in an hour. That will take capital expenditure and these are issues upon which I feel consideration should be given in the context of the negotiations," he said.

Currently a direct train from Connolly Station to Belfast Central takes around two hours and 10 minutes.

Mr Flanagan said keeping strong connections between the North and South would be a key outcome, as would Ireland's ability to increase trade with EU countries outside of Britain.

"I see a need to diversify. That will mean our airports and ports will be hugely important to us in that endeavour. I'm thinking in particular our access points to the continent and the French ports," he said.

Asked who would pay for infrastructure improvements to help Ireland fend off the worst impacts of Brexit, Mr Flanagan replied: "That's a matter down the road, but Europe has always looked favourably to states that do suffer peripherality and the need to get goods to market."

Trading

He noted that 40pc of food exports from Ireland currently go the UK, while over 50pc of goods coming through Warrenpoint Port in Co Down are destined for the Republic.

"The maintenance of the open Border is essential to all of this. That's where the Good Friday Agreement and the honouring of the agreement in terms of movement of people and trading of services is important."

However, the minister warned the delay in establishing a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland was hampering the Government's negotiation position in Europe.

Talks between parties in the North have been ongoing since the snap election on March 2, but there is growing concern that another election may be called or there will be a return to direct rule.

"There is an urgency and I'm calling on the DUP and Sinn Féin to engage in the necessary level of compromise that will allow them surmount these challenges," he said. Mr Flanagan said people "want their decision-makers working".

"The clock is ticking on Brexit. There needs to be a Northern Ireland voice and that voice can only be from the elected representatives," he said.

He wants to call a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council to discuss strategy ahead of the formal beginning of Brexit talks in Europe, but this is not possible without a new Stormont Executive taking office.

"The delay in forming a power-sharing Executive under the Good Friday Agreement is adding to the uncertainty in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland as to our preparations for Brexit," said Mr Flanagan.

However, at an event in Tyrone last night, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said if the current DUP approach to talks continues "that will only guarantee that there will be no DUP first minister and no return to the status quo at Stormont".

In a sign of deep division between the parties, he said: "So DUP and UUP it's over to you."

Irish Independent

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