Stormont told O’Dowd needs to ‘wake up’ over fixed bridge for Southern Relief Road

An artist's impression of the Southern Relief Road.An artist's impression of the Southern Relief Road.
An artist's impression of the Southern Relief Road.
The Infrastructure Minister needs to “wake up and see the error of his ways” over his decision to put a fixed bridge in place as part of the Southern Relief Road, Stormont has been told.

The comments came as politicians welcomed news that a contractor had been approved to carry the Narrow Water Bridge project forward.

The new route, which will connect Warrenpoint to Omeath, will have a lifting bridge to accommodate tall masted vessels.

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However, once through the bridge, they will not be able to progress into Newry city centre as the Southern Relief Road will have a fixed bridge.

How the new Narrow Water Bridge should look.How the new Narrow Water Bridge should look.
How the new Narrow Water Bridge should look.

Newry Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) had requested that the Minister, John O’Dowd, should reconsider his permanent secretary’s decision during the collapsed Assembly, to have a closed bridge and instead approve an open bridge to allow tall ships to sail into the city’s Albert Basin as a tourism boost to the area.

However, in recent a letter addressed to the council as well as constituency MLAs and MPs, Minister O’Dowd confirmed, “the decision for a 50m span fixed bridge remains unchanged”.

The Department for Infrastructure have said that a lifting bridge would cost an extra £20m, while the minister's review concluded that a lifting bridge for the Southern Relief Road would be "poor value for money".

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Speaking on the news that the Narrow Water Bridge had taken a step closer, Newry & Armagh MLA Justin McNulty said the announcement was “extraordinary and transformative news for communities on both sides of Carlingford lough and all those who campaigned for many years to see the vision for that iconic cross-border project realised.

John O'Dowd.John O'Dowd.
John O'Dowd.

He added, “I pay tribute to the Irish Government for their commitment to the Narrow Water bridge project.

“It is worth noting that they are the sole funders of the project and that, under the auspices of the then Taoiseach Micheál Martin's Shared Island unit, they had the foresight and wisdom to facilitate the inclusion of a lifting bridge in order to keep the local maritime history alive and preserve access to the historic Albert Basin and Newry ship canal, which is the oldest shipping canal on these islands.”

However, Mr McNulty said that “some of my delight is tinged with dismay”, adding that he was “literally scratching my head at the fact that the forward-thinking nature of the project is being undermined by the short-sighted and ill-guided decision in the same month by a Sinn Féin Infrastructure Minister to cement the decision on a fixed bridge a mere few hundred metres upstream in the estuary”.

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He continued: “My party's vision for the delivery of a truly North/South project at Narrow Water is being countermanded by the baffling fixed bridge decision on the southern relief road. So much for Sinn Féin's all-Ireland vision, or is that just for posters and echo chambers?

Justin McNulty MLAJustin McNulty MLA
Justin McNulty MLA

“I have lobbied extensively for the reversal of that decision, and my colleagues on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have called on the Minister to see sense.

“I hope beyond hope that today's announcement and the realisation that Narrow Water bridge is progressing at pace will encourage the Minister to wake up and see the error of his ways. That is my message, and I will not let it go.

“We have come too far and too many have fought too hard to have that visionary project overshadowed by bureaucratic, small-minded, no-vision nonsense.”

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The appointment of the contractor for Narrow Water Bridge was also welcomed at Stormont by Sinn Féin’s South Down MLA, Sinéad Ennis.

Sinead Ennis MLA.Sinead Ennis MLA.
Sinead Ennis MLA.

“It definitely feels like a watershed moment for the people of South Down and those who live in the Carlingford lough region, because, of course, it is a cross-border project,” she said.

“The people whom I represent have waited decades for that transformative project to finally get off the ground, and it really feels like we are at that point now. We have waited so long and have persevered to have the project realised because we know that it is more than just an infrastructure project.

“Narrow Water bridge… is key to unlocking the huge tourism and economic potential that we have in South Down and across the Carlingford lough region.”

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Ms Ennis paid tribute to the community groups and politicians from across the spectrum who have kept faith.

“However, it is the people across South Down and those of Warrenpoint and of Cooley in County Louth who have really pushed the project and made us strive to get to where we are today: on the cusp of the project actually breaking ground,” Ms Ennis added.

“We look forward to seeing the Narrow Water bridge progress at pace, but, of course, building the bridge is just the starting point. The work does not end there. Once we have the bridge in place, we need to capitalise on the economic and tourism potential that it will bring. The bridge will open up the entire east border region.

“I and my Sinn Féin colleagues in County Louth will make sure that we are in place and ready to capitalise on all the positives that will come from the Narrow Water bridge.”

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