FF’s Éamon Ó Cúiv labels many roads slated in national plan a ‘fiction’

Former minister critical of Green Party’s agenda of carbon-proofing future investments

Under the new NDP, for the first time projects will undergo a climate and environmental assessment, along with an assessment of the alignment of the plan as a whole with the ‘ideals of a green recovery plan’. File photograph: Getty

Many of the roads projects in the National Development Plan (NDP) should be considered a "fiction" due to plans to carbon-proof future investments, a prominent Fianna Fáil backbencher has said.

Galway West TD and former minister Éamon Ó Cúiv said that even though projects like the N6 Galway Ring Road had been included in the NDP, they would be fundamentally disadvantaged by the approval process envisaged under the plan.

"With the new process constructed by the Greens in relation to carbon footprint, and taking on top of that what Eamon Ryan said about road projects, I would be certain that it won't proceed as long as Eamon Ryan is Minister," he said.

He said the emissions impact of roads projects would lessen over time as transport is decarbonised and argued that an analysis which suggested traffic volumes increase with roads construction was flawed.

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“As far as I’m concerned, because of all these provisions, a lot of what’s proposed in the NDP can be put in the fiction section of the library,” he said.

Under the new NDP, for the first time projects will undergo a climate and environmental assessment, along with an assessment of the alignment of the plan as a whole with the “ideals of a green recovery plan”. The National Roads Programme received a “C” grade under the climate and environmental assessment done in the NDP.

A decision on the Galway ring road is expected in the coming weeks from An Bord Pleanála. The oral hearing for the project has already been delayed by roughly seven months due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, with a decision now expected by November 19th.

Mr Ó Cúiv raised the issue in the Dáil last week, asking Minister of State with responsibility for Road Transport and Logistics Hildegarde Naughton for more detail on the processes that will have to be followed if the road gets planning approval.

In reply, Ms Naughton said the project is a “key component of the Galway transport strategy”, which would free up road space in the city by removing traffic and enabling greater public transport and active travel within the core of Galway city.

If the plan is approved, and no legal challenges follow, it will proceed to the next stage if it receives the required Government approval under the public spending code. Given that it will cost more than €100 million, it will also come back to the Government for approval in advance of construction.

Sharp Dáil exchanges

In the Dáil last week, Mr Ó Cuív expressed his disappointment that more details on how the carbon assessment will be undertaken were not forthcoming, saying it is “totally disrespectful of the House for the Minister of State to come in here today and not have the answer to the most obvious and basic question to which everybody in Galway wants the answer”.

Ms Naughton said that under the National Investment Framework for Ireland, roads are assessed as to their regional connectivity, and decarbonisation, as well as other criteria. She undertook to give more information on the process to Mr Ó Cuív and to refer it on to Mr Ryan.

Fianna Fáil TD for Clare Cathal Crowe said he didn’t share his colleague’s gloomy assessment of the roads projects in the NDP, but called for an overhaul of the planning laws.

“Under current planning laws, most of these projects could be five to 10 years away at a minimum. We should overhaul planning laws to ensure these projects see the light of day,” he said. “If we do that, then the NDP is something that can be achieved within the decade.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times