The Minister for Transport said the government would be prepared to invest in Northern Ireland rail infrastructure as he believes the line between Donegal and Portadown should be treated as a priority.
Deputy Eamon Ryan said he believes there is a need for balanced regional development, ‘particularly for the north west, and specifically on the lack of connectivity to Donegal’.
He said Donegal has been suffering for years due to lack of rail infrastructure.
“There is a investment proposal which I believe should get priority which is a raill line running from Portadown, via Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane, Letterkenny and Derry.
“That in my mind would have huge benefits in terms of the towns along that route and for connecting Letterkenny to Derry, which is a critical investment priority.
“That should be the priority, rather than spending significant sums on the Charlestown, Collooney, Sligo and up to Donegal route.
“Perhaps some time in the future when we see the complete revival of rail but I don’t expect to see that recommended.
“I do think we should concentrate on the other line that will be very expensive but will have real benefits,” said Minister Ryan.
Sinn Féin Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn questioned when the All Island Rail Review would be published and described the lack of rail connectivity in Donegal as ‘sheer neglect’.
“There is a particular interest in the west of Ireland because if you look at the map we have a huge historic failure to connect the west of Ireland.
“Our vision would be that there would be a connection from Derry through Donegal, sligo Mayo and right on to Galways. That is the dream.
And then of course, from Derry in the North West, thorugh to Portadown and into Dublin,” said Deputy MacLochlainn.
Minister Eamon Ryan said the All Ireland Rail Review was being finalised by Arup Consultants for submission to the two departments. It is anticipated that the finalised draft report will be submitted for approval by both sides of the border.
However Minister Ryan said the political stalemate in Stormont could delay the process.
“This is complicated by the absence of an executive and relevant minister in the North of Ireland and we must be respectful that the ongoing talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
“After the necessary approvals have been obtained, my department will publish the report.”
Deputy MacLochlainn also voiced his concerns surrounding the Ten-T funding and how Donegal should be prioritised for rail infrastructure.
“You can only describe it as sheer neglect.
“”When we take out the map of rail infrastructure in Ireland, it is clear we need to connect the west, as I said, from Galway through Mayo, Sligo and Donegal, and up to Derry.
“Unfortunately, the failure was in the North with the British Government and with our own governments historically so this is an opportunity to put something that is wrong, right,” he said.
In response, Minister Ryan again reiterated his support for the Portadown to Donegal Route and said if it was necessary, the government would invest in rail infrastructure in the North.
“The key investment decision, particularly in Donegal and the north-west, is that line from Portadown via Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane, Letterkenny and Derry.
“For example, a connection from Letterkenny to Derry would transform the town’s relationship to the city.
“It will not be cheap. Building new rail lines is expensive but I think it is justified.”
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