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A5 and Casement Park get share of €800m funding from Dublin

The Irish government has announced new funding worth €800m (£685m) for cross-border projects.

The cabinet in Dublin approved the plans, which include €600m for the upgrade of the A5.

It's also allocating €50 million for the redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast.

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said: “The commitments we’ve made today are about potential for cross-border communities."

The news was broadly welcomed by NI's main political parties but DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said the UK government should "clarify its position" on funding for Casement Park.

"It is right that the GAA receives its allocation from the Northern Ireland Executive as previously agreed and in line with the allocations to the three supporting bodies," he said.

"But we cannot see how significant additional UK taxpayer resources will be available at a time when other vital public services are in need of additional resource and capital allocations."

Casement Park costs have escalated

The initial cost of the Casement Park redevelopment - £77.5m - has escalated in the past decade.

Earlier, DUP MP Jim Shannon said he believed it would be £220m.

The redeveloped stadium, home ground of Antrim GAA until it closed in 2013, will be primarily used for GAA games. But it is also due to host soccer matches in the Euro 2028 tournament.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris was questioned by MPs on the NI Affairs Committee as the Irish government announced its funding plans.

He said he had not seen final projected costs for Casement Park yet, which would determine how much London decides to contribute.

He said when that happened, the government would determine "what the range of possibilities will be".

"I want to make sure it is completely understood that while I'm sure there will be a decent taxpayer contribution it's got to be done on a value for money basis," he said.

Last year Mr Heaton-Harris said the government would ensure money was found to aid construction in time to ensure Euros games can be played at the stadium.

UK and Irish governments committed to Euros

Asked if the lack of clarity from the UK government regarding Casement Park funding was a sign of fractured relations, Mr Varadkar said both governments are committed to the project.

“The governments in Dublin and London have worked together on the Euros," he told BBC Newsline.

"It would be a shame if no games were played in Northern Ireland. Both governments are committed.”

The taoiseach made Tuesday's funding announcement along with his partners in government, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, at a press conference in Dublin.

He said it was "about understanding that whatever constitutional future of Ireland and Northern Ireland as a whole may be, investing in people and infrastructure, quality of life, in opportunity for generations to come", are part of our shared future "and a common good that we can all achieve by working together".

He denied that the announcement - part of the Shared Island Project - would be unnerving for unionists.

“It has been broadly welcomed,” he told the BBC. “I think that’s encouraging. We’re keen for the projects to be ones that all communities can see themselves in.

“People in Northern Ireland just want to get on with it. It doesn’t always have to be a constitutional question. There are simple things that can make people’s lives better.”

A5 will bring connectivity - Varadkar

Referring to the A5 upgrade, Mr Varadkar said the €600m would "bring connectivity between north and south in line with the rest of the island".

If completed, the upgrade would be the largest road ever built in Northern Ireland, with an estimated cost of around £1.6bn.

Despite first being announced about 16 years ago, work has not yet started on the project, which has been beset by numerous delays.

A legal challenge in 2018 from campaign group the Alternative A5 Alliance resulted in the Department for Infrastructure quashing plans to proceed.

In 2020 and 2023 a planning appeals public inquiry heard arguments for and against the proposals.

Tuesday's announcement also included money being allocated to projects including the Narrow Water Bridge, which will connect counties Down and Louth.

And there are plans to introduce an hourly rail service between Belfast and Dublin.

The Shared Island funding announcement includes:

€600m for the A5 North-West transport corridor

€50m for Casement Park in west Belfast

Funding for Narrow Water Bridge connecting County Down and County Louth

€12.5m for a new hourly rail service between Belfast and Dublin

€10m in a renewed visitor experience at the Battle of the Boyne site in County Meath

Commitment to work with the Astronomical Observatories of Ireland's three sites at Dunsink, Armagh and Birr

Developing pilot cooperation schemes by enterprise agencies (up to €30m) and on education (up to €24m)

Casement cash 'a major investment' in west Belfast

Mr Martin said the funding constituted "a special and important moment".

"Iconic and strategically important projects that have been talked about for decades have either been given the go-ahead to start building or been given significant funding commitments to allow them to move forward with the help of partners, as in the case of the A5 upgrade," he added

He said he was "particularly pleased" to give the green light to the Narrow Water Bridge project.

The money for Casement Park, he added, was a "major investment in the social fabric of a part of Belfast that has suffered from disadvantage over many years".

Irish transport minister Mr Ryan said the funding was "timely and important" and would deepen the connections on the island of Ireland.

Tom Daly, Ulster GAA stadium board chairman, said it would "leave a legacy not only for the Gaels of Antrim and Ulster, but for all of society".

West Belfast MP, Sinn Féin's Paul Maskey, said it was another "positive step" towards the building of a "first class, state of the art" sporting facility.

The SDLP said the Irish financial commitments would "help surcharge some projects that have been talked about for years".

Party leader Colum Eastwood called for the Stormont executive to publish its commitments to key projects.

Although he welcomed the cash announcement, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the UK should be making commitments.

He added: "It is not the job or the responsibility of the Republic’s government to provide financial support for the provision of public services and general Northern Ireland infrastructure. That is a matter for the UK."

A5: Campaigner says upgrade must happen

Speaking before the A5 funding was confirmed, Niall McKenna from the campaign group

Enough is Enough, which was set up after the death of John Rafferty in 2020, said he was "confident" the new road upgrade would happen.

He was speaking on BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"So many have been affected by death on this road [A5] - this road is quite literally killing our members and we have a duty of care to see that end," he said.

Mr McKenna said there had been a "sea change" in attitude.

"The general public are not prepared to accept the non-delivery of it [A5] anymore," he added.

Hamilton Hazzard, a farmer in Omagh for more than 30 years, is opposed to the A5 road plan.

“I’m probably going to lose 13% of my acreage off my farm – that’s not the whole reason why I object to it – the existing road should have been improved years ago and we’ve constantly advocated for it’s improvement.

"We are certainly against the proposed scheme, we’re not against improvement of the road - in fact we’re for the improvement of the road,” he added.

Mr Hazzard said road improvements could be made without the loss of land.

Narrow Water Bridge: A sense of relief

Adrian O’Hare, from the Narrow Water Bridge Community Network, welcomed the funding for the project, which he described as "one of the longest-running community-driven projects in Ireland".

“There certainly is a great sense of relief in the area that we have finally moved on from the Groundhog Day of the tender process to what appears to be getting quite close to signing the contract," he said.

"There was a time when we were losing faith when we thought it was a figment of our own imagination."

The bridge will connect County Down and County Louth.

Mr O'Hare said "the economic implications for this area by crossing that water are absolutely endless".

The Shared Island Project was founded by Mr Martin when he was taoiseach in the coalition government in 2020.

The Programme for Government and revised National Development Plan (2021-2030) announced by the Irish government both include substantial all-island investment.

The total all-island investment commitment is more than €3.5bn (£3bn) by 2030 with new funding worth €800m for cross-border projects announced on Tuesday.

The funding is through the government’s Shared Island Fund; Project Ireland 2040 funds; resourcing for North/South cooperation; and the PEACEPLUS programme, delivered with the European Union, UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive.

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