Long-awaited A5 road upgrade to get €600m in funding as part of Shared Island initiative

Taoiseach also commits €50m to redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast

Rebuilding one of the most dangerous roads in Ireland will take the lion’s share of an €800 million Government funding package for cross-Border projects which was unveiled on Tuesday.

The long-stalled A5 upgrade between Derry and Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone – it was approved by the Stormont Executive 17 years ago – is to receive €600 million from the Shared Island initiative and comes in the wake of a high-profile campaign by families who have lost loved ones to the treacherous stretch. There have been more than 50 fatalities on the road since 2006, with 10 dying in one year alone.

Construction work on the new road, which is part of the main route between Dublin and the northwest, is expected to begin later this year.

A €50 million commitment was also given by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the redevelopment of Casement Park GAA stadium in west Belfast in advance of it being chosen as a venue for the Euro 2028 football tournament, while further funding was guaranteed for the Narrow Water bridge project linking the Co Down town of Warrenpoint with the Co Louth village of Omeath in what will be a significant tourist boost for the wider area.


Plans for a new hourly rail service between Belfast and Dublin were confirmed with a €12.5 million investment, a move that will replace the existing staggered service that has run for decades between the two cities.

Announcing the allocations, Mr Varadkar said it was “the largest ever package of Government funding for cross-Border initiatives” and singled out the recent restoration of Stormont powersharing as a development that has “brought renewed hope”.

While the majority of the Stormont parties broadly welcomed the funding, in particular the A5 commitment, political tensions quickly resurfaced over the Casement Park project.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said it was “not the job or the responsibility of the Republic’s Government to provide financial support for the provision of public services and general Northern Ireland infrastructure”.

“That is a matter for the UK government and must be done so in accordance with our needs base as set out in evidence provided to the UK government,” he added.

“We reiterate our position that whilst the Irish Government have made a commitment to provide an allocation of their resource to the construction of the Casement Park project, this does not deal with the substantive funding gap that exists as a result of the massive increase in costs over the period.

“It is right that the GAA receives its allocation from the Northern Ireland Executive as previously agreed and in line with the allocations to the three supporting bodies but we cannot see how significant additional UK taxpayer resources will be available at a time when other vital public services are in need of additional resource and capital allocations.”

During an earlier Westminster scrutiny committee on Tuesday, DUP MP Jim Shannon claimed that the estimated cost to rebuild Casement had soared to £220 million (€188 million) – the original estimate was £77 million – and questioned Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris on whether the UK government could meet the huge shortfall as Stormont and the GAA could not afford to cover the bill.

Mr Heaton-Harris would not be drawn however on projected costs or London’s future funding of the new 34,000 capacity Belfast stadium despite insisting last year that the money would be found to ensure Casement would be ready in time to host the Euro matches.

“I’m very wary... that contractors when bidding for a contract like Casement Park might choose to think that the taxpayers’ largesse is infinite in this space and I want to make sure it is completely understood that while I’m sure there will be a decent taxpayer contribution, it’s got to be done on a value-for-money basis... if something becomes way too expensive then things have to change,” Mr Heaton-Harris told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

However, newly appointed Stormont Minister for Finance, Caoimhe Archibald, said Stormont was committed to Casement’s redevelopment, describing it as “an Executive flagship project”.

“It will be built,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

“We’ve had a lot of talk about what the cost might be, but I think the benefits that it is going to bring to the economy of the North from a tourism potential, but also in terms of getting young people involved in sport and the legacy benefits that are going to roll out for years to come, is something I think that we can all get behind.”

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Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times