Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he is committed to the construction of a motorway between Limerick and Cork but does not control the planning or public consultations processes.
He was responding to Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire who repeatedly pressed him during Dáil leaders’ questions about whether the Government would build a motorway linking the two cities.
Mr Coveney also rejected claims by Labour Leader Alan Kelly that the M20 and Metro North which were listed in the 2018 plan and due in five-and-a-half years' time had now gone to "Neverland".
The €165 billion National Development Plan was launched on Monday but Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan offered no guarantee that every road listed would be built and the downgrading of roads is a source of tension within the Coalition, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs keen to see local projects go ahead.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said the Government is “speaking out of both sides of its mouth”. And Green party Ministers and TDs were saying that the motorway “was still to be decided”.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said the Green Party did not seem to want the motorway to go ahead but “a failure to commit to a Cork/Limerick motorway is not good enough”.
The Cork South-Central TD, a constituency colleague of Mr Coveney, said the road was a “crucial piece of infrastructure”.
He said “I don’t think you can find another developed European country that you could say that there isn’t a motorway between the second and third cities.”
It was, he said, “about the region as a whole”.
Mr Coveney said he had spoken many times about the M20 “and I’m absolutely committed to delivering a quality motorway between Cork and Dublin.
“I think that Ireland’s second and third city need to be linked with a proper road corridor, but also we need to look at other alternatives in terms of a rail system that’s fit for purpose that would take people off roads.”
Pressed again by Mr Ó Laoghaire about whether the motorway would be built he replied that he said yes “on many occasions in relation to this project. But I don’t control the planning process” and “I don’t control public consultation processes” and the other requirements necessary “before an investment of this scale can take effect”.
The Cork to Limerick motorway is listed as the N/M20 in the development plan while 30 other projects are listed as “subject to further approvals”.
Mr Kelly later rejected Mr Coveney’s statement that the road had been listed for some time as N/M20 and claimed that it had always been referred to as the M20 for motorway and “that qualification only went in yesterday” in the National Development Plan.
Mr Kelly said a number of major projects had defined timelines in the 2018 development plan and those deadlines “have now disappeared” in the new NDP.
He said that in five and a half years’ time “we were due to have Metro North and the M20” and “these have now gone out into Neverland”.
Insisting that the M20 “hasn’t gone out into Neverland” Mr Coveney said the projects are named and “we have the funding now which is significant increases on the funding of the last development plan because the country can afford to do it now in terms of borrowing into the future for capital and strategic capital investment.