Oireachtas group hears of North-South greenways possibility

Feasibility study on high-speed Dublin-Belfast rail connection to consider link to Derry

Government and Northern Ireland officials have discussed the possibility of joining up new North-South cycle "greenways", an Oireachtas committee has been told.

Department of the Taoiseach assistant secretary Aingeal O'Donoghue also said a feasibility study assessing a high-speed train line between Dublin and Belfast would now consider whether it could be extended to Derry.

The senior Government official was speaking before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement about the initial work of the new "Shared Island" unit established in the Taoiseach's department to look at North-South projects and initiatives .

The unit was allocated €500 million in the recent budget to fund such projects over five years. Planned schemes include the A5 road linking the N2 road in the Republic to Derry and the Narrow Water bridge linking Co Louth and Co Down across Carlingford Lough.

Ms O’Donoghue said that this week the unit had discussions with her counterparts in Northern Ireland on potential greenways and looking at what joined-up plans might look like in a response to a question about linking a greenway between Co Louth and Co Down.

‘Shared regulatory system’

The unit would look at delivering projects that the Government has already committed to and develop “a new agenda and new ideas” such as an all-island research hub that would be funded by the Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK government, she said.

The committee was told that aspects of North-South co-operation would become “more challenging” without being underpinned by a “shared regulatory system” when Brexit comes into effect and the Government had looked at how to put “different scaffolding around them”.

Another department official, Eoghan Duffy, told the committee that the unit planned to hold a regular series of "dialogues" with people on what building a shared island means, including practical areas of co-operation and concerns around identity and reconciliation.

He said that about 1.3 million people have been born since the Belfast Agreement and they had “a huge role to play” in the discussions.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent