Wednesday 22 January 2020

Taoiseach and Johnson discuss bridge to Scotland

But 'we would not help fund project here'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Adrian Dennis/PA)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Adrian Dennis/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A high-level engineering assessment of whether it would be viable to build a bridge linking Northern Ireland and Scotland should be carried out, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

The Irish Independent can reveal Mr Varadkar discussed the idea with Boris Johnson since his re-election.

The two leaders joked about who would pay for the initiative, with the Taoiseach ultimately making it clear the UK would have to carry the cost.

Experts estimate a 30km bridge from Larne, Co Antrim, to Portpatrick in Scotland would cost at least €17.5bn.

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However, Mr Varadkar said Ireland was "not going to dismiss or poo-poo the UK government if they decide to carry out an engineering assessment and cost it properly".

Mr Johnson is known to be supportive of the project, which is also high on the agenda for the DUP, which believes it could strengthen Northern Ireland's bond with the rest of the UK after Brexit.

Asked whether the Irish Government would contribute to the cost, Mr Varadkar said: "That's not for us to do. It's linking Northern Ireland to Scotland, so it's not something we're going to spend any money on."

But he confirmed it is something he discussed with Mr Johnson in recent weeks.

"We actually chatted about that the other day when I spoke to him after his re-election as prime minister and I suggested that I thought it was an idea worth examining," he said.

"I do think at the very least a high-level engineering assessment should be done as to whether it is a viable proposal."

Mr Varadkar said some people have dismissed the idea "out of hand" but there were also people who said the idea of building the Channel Tunnel wouldn't work.

But Mr Varadkar said he would prioritise projects that were more achievable in the short term if the Northern Ireland Assembly was back in operation.

"We've already given the go-ahead to Irish Rail to start some of work on that to see if it would either make sense to do high-speed rail between Dublin, Belfast and Cork, or whether it would make more sense to upgrade our existing rail line to make it higher speed but not super-fast.

"The other, obviously, is A5 connecting Derry and north Donegal to the rest of the island in a much better way than it is connected now. Derry is very far away because it doesn't have a good road and that's something we've already committed to and if we can get the Assembly and Executive up and running, we can get on with that very quickly.

"Another one is the whole idea of developing a university for the city of Derry, maybe even a cross-border university," he said.

Mr Varadkar said there were "only 4,000 students in the city of Derry" whereas Cork and Galway had in excess of 20,000 students each.

"It's really under-provided for in terms of education and that's something we could do together.

"There's also the kind of greenway project and the Ulster Canal. So there are actually loads of really good projects we could do together that might not cost as much and would definitely be more feasible than a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland."

Irish Independent

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