Stormont Minister for Finance Sammy Wilson says he detects a “political smell” in the campaign to get the bridge built linking North and South at Narrow Water on Carlingford Lough. For “political smell” read “nationalist plot”. True, some of its supporters have invested in the bridge a perhaps exaggerated symbolic import – the SDLP’s Alex Atwood describing it as the the most significant cross-Border scheme since partition, certainly elevating it to the dubious, but not inherently objectionable, status of “political”.
The odour of another kind of “politics” is also emanating, however, from Mr Wilson’s offices. The DUP has complained that EU support may have been secured ahead of other infrastructure priorities and First Minister Peter Robinson has demanded an inquiry.
But Mr Wilson’s footdragging on approval for the €3.36 million Northern Executive contribution to the largely EU-funded €20 million project, and the minister’s “planning concerns”, smack of the sort of old-fashioned sectarian begrudgery that was once the hallmark of unionist decision-making on projects deemed particularly to benefit nationalists. Have we not gone beyond that?
The case for the bridge should stand on its own merits. Local people have fought for one for 40 years, and the fine 620-metre planned structure spanning the neck of the lough would not just link Omeath, Co Louth, and Warrenpoint, Co Down, now a 21km drive apart, but open up the Cooley peninsula and Mourne mountains to visitors from the South.
The single-lane, cable-stayed bridge should also significantly ease nearby Newry’s traffic congestion, particularly if the town’s proposed relief road is also built. Authorities on both sides of the Border have cleared planning approval and Dublin is willing to contribute €900,000 through Louth County Council to the build. There are concerns, however, that the EU funding entitlement will lapse if Mr Wilson delays more than a few weeks. He should sign now.