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Taoiseach opens 'the bridge to nowhere'

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen got a cheer yesterday as he opened what has been called 'the bridge to nowhere'.

Some might say that's where his party is going after the latest opinion poll, but there was a genuine welcome from him in one of the most picturesque parts of Donegal.

More than 1,000 people turned out to watch Mr Cowen cut the ribbon for the €20m bridge, which spans the 340 metres of water which once separated the Fanad and Rosguill peninsulas.

It is named after the late Independent TD Harry Blaney, who secured it as part of his deal to support Bertie Ahern's 1997-2002 Government.

It could be seen as a final "bridge-building exercise" given that the departure of Harry Blaney's brother Neil from Fianna Fail during the Arms Crisis in 1970 caused such acrimony in the party.

And Harry Blaney's son Niall, now firmly back in the Fianna Fail fold, was on hand yesterday to celebrate the achievement in the pouring rain.

"We're delighted to get to this day and equally delighted to get the Taoiseach to open it for us," he said.

The Donegal North East TD said the large crowds that had turned out were the answer to the claims that it was a "Bridge to Nowhere."

But even locals admit that the number of people using the spectacular bridge will be low, although they are pinning their hopes on the arrival of more tourists to justify its existence.

Mr Cowen was happy to be able to have a 'bridge over troubled waters', although he didn't enjoy posing for photos on it in the rain. "I'm getting drowned lads," he told the photographers.

And there were a few wisecracks when he cut the ribbon to officially open the bridge, with one Fianna Fail supporter saying: "Let's hope that's the only cut he makes this year."

Mr Cowen had a chance to indulge in some political theatrics by leading the crowd across the bridge. That might have been what Bertie would have done -- he turned the sod for it several years ago but didn't last long enough to cut the ribbon. Mr Cowen, who has a very different style, opted to walk part of the way and hop into his car for the rest.

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He was followed by a colourful entourage of Donegal characters, including the first man to cross the bridge on a horse (John Daly from Ramelton), the "sheriff" owner of a converted US police car complete with siren, and the proud owner of a vintage tractor.

During his trip to Donegal, Mr Cowen also visited a soon-to-open primary care centre in Letterkenny and launched a new study at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology.

He was in good form for someone who has been told that just 18pc of the country like him as Taoiseach. "We intend fighting for every vote over the next three weeks. We're in the midst of campaigning," he said.

But despite Mr Cowen's brave face, his claim that many Fianna Fail candidates were getting a good reception on the doorsteps from voters might have been 'A Bridge Too Far'.

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