O'Keeffe defends focus of investment


MINISTER FOR Enterprise, Trade and Innovation Batt O’Keeffe yesterday rejected suggestions the State’s €39 billion infrastructural investment programme was too focused on Dublin.

Mr O’Keeffe said the two flagship projects, Metro North and the Dart Underground project, had received more attention because they were in Dublin but he insisted other projects around the State had not been shelved.

“The priority projects are the Metro North and the Dart Underground but there is further funding that will be available for other projects along the line – that’s why Noel Dempsey could indicate that, in terms of the Navan rail line, something will be going on there.”

Mr O’Keeffe instanced the case of the Cork Docklands and said he and his Cabinet colleague from Cork, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin would be pressing for funding for a bridge at Tivoli to kickstart the multibillion euro project. “There’s no point in me making predictions but the Government is committed to the Cork Docklands. It’s an issue we will be discussing at Cabinet in early September and you can be sure that Micheál Martin and myself will be to the fore ensuring Cork gets its fair share.”

Under the new plan for infrastructure investment priorities unveiled by Taoiseach Brian Cowen on Monday, some €39 billion will be invested in capital projects up until 2016, with Dublin set to benefit most.

A large-scale regeneration project in Limerick along with a similar project in Ballymun are among other projects identified but projects such as the Western Rail Corridor and the rail line to Navan have all been put on hold.

Mr O’Keeffe said while “Dublin papers” had focused on the Dublin projects, people should not forget the department had received an increase in funding which would be used to assist in innovative projects throughout the Republic.

However, Fine Gael Cork South Central TD Deirdre Clune accused the Government of putting Cork’s future on hold this week when it failed to include the Eastern Gateway Bridge to the docklands in the list of priority projects.

Ms Clune, a former lord mayor of Cork, said the Eastern Gateway Bridge – estimated in 2008 to cost €80 million – was a critical element needed to facilitate the docklands development and that the delay in providing funding would hinder the economic development of Cork.

“Studies undertaken by the city council have shown that there would be significant benefits to the economy of the city if this bridge was provided, not least in the message that it would send to would-be investors that Cork is serious about its docklands,” she said.

Ms Clune pointed out that a Gateway Innovation Fund of €300 million was included as part of the National Development Fund to be spent between 2008 and 2010 but the funding never materialised and there was a lack of communication from the Government on that funding.

“The publication of the infrastructure investment priorities was a final admission that the Gateway Innovation Fund has been abandoned along with the commitment to regional development centres,” she added.