DONEGAL TD Joe McHugh has hit back at Sinn Féin Senator Padraig Mac Lochlainn over the former TD’s comments on Minister Leo Varadkar.
Mr McHugh described Mr Mac Lochlainn’s intervention in the race for the Fine Gael leadership as “ill-judged and riddled with fiction” and said the Sinn Féin man would be “better suited ending the stalemate in the North so the A5 can be put back on track”.
The Donegal Deputy said that Padraig Mac Lochlainn had also “conveniently forgotten Minister Varadkar’s role in keeping the Malin Head Coastguard station open and his role in the €66 million cancer care centre at Altnagelvin.”
Minister of State McHugh said: “The former Deputy appeared to blame Fine Gael and Minister Varadkar for almost everything. His statement was more suited to Monty Python than real life.
“The real truth is that Sinn Féin’s refusal to take part in power-sharing in Northern Ireland is the last remaining obstacle to progress on the A5.
“In November 2011, after entering Government it was Minister Varadkar who confirmed in the Dail that almost €20 million had been spent on the A5. This was against the backdrop of a very serious financial crisis in the country at the time.
“When Fine Gael entered Government we also discovered that the €400 million pledged by Fianna Fail as part of the St Andrew’s Agreement in 2007 hadn’t been even accounted for – there was no money behind the pledge as it wasn’t in Fianna Fail’s budgetary calculations at all.”
Joe McHugh said the Stormont House Agreement and Implementation Plan – A Fresh Start (November 2014) reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to provide funding of £50 million for the A5 project and committed an extra £25 million to ensure that phase one of the project (Newbuildings to north of Strabane) can commence as soon as the necessary planning issues have been resolved by the Northern Ireland authorities.
“Senior officials from north and south continue to liaise over the project and it is hoped that all NI planning procedures will soon be completed, allowing decisions on project construction to be made,” said McHugh.
“Minister Varadkar committed £50 million in 2015 and 2016 but everyone knows there have been planning difficulties north of the border and completely outside the control of this State. The public inquiry hearings closed in December 2016 and the inspectors report is expected soon.”
Commencement of construction of Phase one is still on programme for November this year and Joe McHugh said that “Senator Mac Lochlainn would be better getting his colleagues north of the border to make sure this happens on time”.
“We’ve given them the money towards it,” he said.