Battle lines drawn over contentious capital plan

Fianna Fáil expresses concerns about strategy behind the €116bn project

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan discuss the needs of rural Ireland versus Dublin as the National Plan 2040 is released by the government. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

Fianna Fáil has raised serious concerns about the Government’s €116 billion capital plan outlining a series of measures to shape Ireland’s development over the next 20 years.

The ambitious plan includes designating cities, some towns and regions for development, new transport links and hospitals to cope with projected population increases.

The plan was heavily criticised by Fianna Fáil which claimed it contained almost 180 previously announced projects and more than €40 billion of funding which was also already earmarked.

Fianna Fáil believes its support will be crucial to ensuring the planning framework underpinning the capital plan will be passed into law.

Manifesto

While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar denied Project Ireland 2040 amounted to a Fine Gael election manifesto, Government sources said a dispute between the two main parties would shape the choice for voters in the next election.

The sources said that a row with Fianna Fáil on the issue would mark a clear dividing line between the two parties before the end of the confidence-and-supply deal, due to expire after October’s budget.

In moves that are likely to foreshadow the next general election, the Taoiseach said anyone opposing the Government strategy was obliged to come up with alternatives.

“We encourage the political parties to come behind it and to say that they support it and they endorse it and if they can’t I encourage them to say in detail what they would do differently,” he said.

“So if there is a new project they would like to add I would like to know which one they would like to remove. If there is a project they wish to accelerate, I would like to know which one they are going to slow down.”

Strategy

Earlier, the Cabinet signed off on a strategy to manage an anticipated population growth of one million people over the next 20 years, and an accompanying 10-year infrastructural plan.

The documents aim to increase the growth of cities such as Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, and designated Sligo and Athlone as regional growth centres.

The Government said its spending priorities would be guided by how it saw Ireland’s population growing.

Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary said the capital plan “contains at least 179 previously announced projects and more than €40 billion of funding which was already earmarked for infrastructure initiatives”.

Mr Calleary also said Fianna Fáil had made its own submission and rejected Mr Varadkar’s assertions.

Fianna Fáil sources said that while it would be politically impossible to oppose specific spending commitments, the accompanying national planning framework can be challenged in the Oireachtas.

“No TD wants to vote against investment, but the framework will have to be analysed,” said a Fianna Fáil source.

“The national planning framework has far more significant ramifications than the rehashing of capital projects.”

Even if the Government is defeated on a vote, Government sources maintained that the planning framework would still be Government policy and would inform guidelines issued to local authorities.