A5 Dual Carriageway

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 7th June 2011.

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Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 10:30 am, 7th June 2011

Order. The first item of business is the motion on the A5 dual carriageway project. The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer will have 10 minutes to propose the motion and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose the amendment and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.

A valid petition of concern was presented on 6 June in relation to the motion, and a valid petition of concern was presented on 6 June in relation to the amendment. Therefore, I remind Members that the effect of the petitions is that the votes on the motion and the amendment will be on a cross-community basis.

Photo of Pat Doherty Pat Doherty Sinn Féin

I beg to move

That this Assembly supports the A5 dual carriageway project; recognises that it is essential to the economic regeneration of the north-west region; welcomes the financial commitment made by the Irish Government; and calls on the Minister for Regional Development to give an assurance that there will be no dilution of the project, or delay in its completion.

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I would like the debate to be constructive and supportive of the motion. I say that at the outset because I have noticed a tendency among some MLAs who, while supporting the building of dual carriageways or motorways in their own constituencies, which, of course, they have every right to do, snipe at or undermine the proposed A5 dual carriageway project. If a motorway project is viable in any constituency, the project should be argued on its merits and not by making undermining references to proposals in other constituencies, particularly with regard to the A5 dual carriageway project.

I am also mindful that, while we are having this debate today, a public inquiry is under way in various locations along the proposed route of the A5 dual carriageway. The public inquiry is scheduled to conclude in the autumn. I attended that inquiry to represent residents who will be affected by the proposed dual carriageway. In previous weeks and months, I made representation for various farmers who would also be affected. While standing up for their rights as individuals, I also made it clear that I was totally supportive of the plans for the A5 western transport corridor.

I am aware that some of my colleagues who will speak in the debate will want to cover the historical situation that left Counties Fermanagh, Donegal and Tyrone without any rail or motorway network. I want to focus, not so much on the long-term history, but on the more recent history in bringing the proposal forward.

In July 2007, the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) noted the Irish Government’s intention to make available a contribution of £400 million to help fund the major road works programme in the North, providing dual-carriageway-standard routes to serve the north-west gateway and, on the eastern seaboard corridor, between Belfast and Larne. The Executive confirmed their agreement in principle to taking these two major road projects forward. The two Governments then agreed the following milestones for the A5 western transport corridor project: the preferred corridor was announced in late 2008; the announcement of the preferred route was made in mid-2009; and the draft statutory Orders and environmental statement were published in late 2010.

The North/South Ministerial Council subsequently agreed a further schedule of milestones and anticipated payments from the Irish Government to the Consolidated Fund. The Council agreed an A5 western transport corridor project management structure, which set up a cross-border steering group, an A5 technical group and an A5 project team. The cross-border group reports regularly to the North/South Ministerial Council transport sector and plenary meetings.

In November 2007, Roads Service appointed consultants. It then moved forward with a novel idea of the selected procurement process, which adopted an early contractor involvement. That brought the contractors’ procurement phase of the project ahead of the statutory procedures process, thus removing about nine months from the overall project delivery time frame. It also allowed the contractors to provide valuable input to the design, and to provide advice and costs on construction-related issues.

I wish to relay to the House the strategic and policy context framework that advised this project as we moved forward. The long-term vision for transportation in ‘Shaping Our Future’, the regional development strategy 2015 is:

“To have a modern, sustainable, safe transportation system which benefits society, the economy and the environment and which actively contributes to social inclusion and everyone’s quality of life.”

Other strategic documents have also projected visions: the regional transportation strategy 2002-2012; the regional strategic transport framework transport plan 2015; the Programme for Government and the investment strategy; and the investment delivery plan for roads. The Programme for Government and the investment strategy were agreed by the Executive at their first Programme for Government and associated Budget meeting in 2008. They also endorsed a revised 10-year investment strategy covering the period 2008-2018. Very clearly in the middle of that was the proposal to upgrade the A5 western transport dual carriageway to a very modern standard.

I have quite deliberately gone through all of the mechanisms that led to this proposal. I also clearly anchored it in joint decisions that were made by the Executive and the Irish Government and in what is contained in the Programme for Government and the strategic investment strategy. I did all that because it is a huge project that highlights, as its main objectives, the need for improvements in road safety, in the road network in the North and in North/South links, and the need for a reduction in journey times along the A5 western transport corridor. It also highlights the need for increased overtaking opportunities for motorists along the route, and for the final proposal to be developed in light of safety, economic, environmental integration and accessibility considerations.

The issue of safety is a huge one —

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I thank the Member for giving way. For the purposes of clarification, does the Member accept that the A5 dual carriageway was not included in the regional transportation strategy or the regional strategic transport network transport plan?

Photo of Pat Doherty Pat Doherty Sinn Féin

No, I do not accept that. The project was very much part of the Programme for Government. It was also part of the ongoing dialogue in the House and between the Executive and the Irish Government.

Photo of Pat Doherty Pat Doherty Sinn Féin

I am very conscious of time, so I will hold on until I get towards the end of my contribution.

The issue of safety is crucial along the existing A5, where there have been many accidents and fatalities.

All of those issues are important. However, the major plus in all of this is that, by working together in the House and with the Executive working with the Irish Government through the North/South Ministerial Council, we were able to procure an agreement to build the road. More crucially, we were able to obtain an agreement by the Irish Government to pay £400 million, which is approximately half the required money and which, in the current economic climate, cannot be sneezed at.

Before my time runs out, I want to say that this is an enormous project which the Executive and the Irish Government have brought forward together.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Bring your remarks to a close.

Photo of Pat Doherty Pat Doherty Sinn Féin

Any proposal coming to the House to undermine the project at this late stage should be rejected.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all after “supports” and insert

“the upgrading of the existing A5; recognises that it is essential to the economic regeneration of the north-west region; welcomes the financial commitment made by the Irish Government; and calls on the Minister for Regional Development to consider all alternatives to the current proposed scheme.”

At the outset, I must say that the proposal is turning out to be one of the most controversial pieces of road that is ever likely to be constructed in this region of the United Kingdom. However, no matter how controversial it might be, the present Minister for Regional Development has a very simple decision to make. Many people have said many things and committed their parties to many positions. Mr Kennedy is in the unique position that all his colleagues — some present, some past and, perhaps, some in the future — have stated categorically that there is no need for this road under any circumstances. We all heard that. The issue was quite the subject of debate during the election campaign, and what Members said during that campaign makes very interesting reading. I have no doubt that Mr Kennedy will avail himself of all the information about the proposed new road, particularly that highlighted by his colleagues, such as how unnecessary it is and how it will involve the unnecessary expenditure of up to £1 billion, and their claims that that money could be spent on much better things. Indeed, the Ulster Unionist Party said that it is not one of its priorities.

I also read in the paper just this week that Mr Elliott will no longer tolerate anybody in his party stepping out of line. Mr Kennedy, you had better beware: if you step out of line on this one, you will be slinging your hook, your days as Minister will be over, and you will be kicking a stone down the road saying: “What an unfortunate remark I made then.”

We do not need this debate because the decisions have already been made by the different parties. The present deputy — I was going to say Prime Minister, but that is not quite right — First Minister has already said that no matter what comes out of the public inquiry — and this is democracy at work, by the way — this road is going ahead.

Mr Elliott has said that there is absolutely no need for the road. Mr Kennedy, I hope that you are listening because you should by now be able to come to this House to tell us categorically that this road is not going ahead; there is no need for it; it is an unnecessary squandering of nearly £1 billion.

We were told by others that this was a clever trick hatched up at St Andrews. They had nothing to do and they all went behind the closet and came up with the idea of making a dual carriageway from Aughnacloy to New Buildings. Let us see whether that stands up to scrutiny.

Lord Laird, in another place, asked:

“whether the St Andrews agreement included agreement to build a new road of any type from the Irish border to Londonderry”.

Lord Shutt of Greetland answered:

“The St Andrews agreement did not include an agreement about building such a road.”

That is another fox shot. Those who try to tell us that this was a secret deal that was done at St Andrews now know that it was no such thing; it was never even discussed at St Andrews. Indeed, the whole thing has become a joke.

We could go on and on quoting people. Billy Armstrong, a former Member, also had something to say about the A5. On 18 January 2011, he said that the former Regional Development Minister showed continued support for the hugely expensive A5 project and asked why the Minister felt it more important for a commuter from the Republic to have a speedy journey to Londonderry than to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland had an adequate water supply. Mr Armstrong went on to suggest that Minister Murphy put the needs of the Republic before the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. Another Member from another constituency said that there was no need for it.

Mr Beggs is also on record as saying that there is no need for the project. I do not know what Mr Beggs knows about Aughnacloy, Ballygawley or Omagh, but he seems to have good knowledge of them because he was emphatic that there was no need for this road.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 10:45 am, 7th June 2011

Will the Member accept that I said that there was no need for the quality that is being proposed for a virtual motorway in that area but that there will be a need to upgrade certain aspects of the road?

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

I will tell you what you did say, Mr Beggs, since you accuse me of misquoting you. Mr Beggs said that the Minister was:

“charging ahead with a wildly expensive and controversial scheme to turn a relatively lightly trafficked road in Tyrone into virtually a motorway … I strongly suspect that the Minister wishes the A5 to progress regardless of the cost, for political rather than economic reasons.”

I suspect that you will give the present Minister the same advice: that there is no need for this road. Now that you have given that advice, I am certain that the Minister’s officials will take on board everything that has been said.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you too have knowledge of this because this matter came before Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council some 18 to 20 months ago for debate. At that time, there were those of us who stated categorically where we stood on this matter. There were those who tried to misrepresent us during the election campaign and tried to say that we were the cheerleaders for a new A5. Let me make it very clear: I want to see an upgrade in the west. We have the A4, which has just been constructed and has been an asset to the west of the Province. I want to see the upgrading of roads in the west, but I do not believe that the Department has got it right on this.

For instance, the upgrade of the A4 also took in a section of the A5. For those who are not totally familiar with the area, I am talking about the section from Aughnacloy to Ballygawley. Most of that road has already been upgraded as a result of the work that was done on the A4, and it is working very effectively. Roads Service engineers, who are the experts, tell us continually that there is no justification — no justification — for a new section of road from Aughnacloy to Ballygawley because the traffic count does not justify it. That is from the mouths of the experts; they are saying that that should not be done. Is it not ridiculous that even though the A4 has just been finished and most of the road from Aughnacloy to Ballygawley upgraded, we are going to get a further upgrade, with a section of road that will lie parallel to that?

I implore the Minister to get out on site. I know that he comes from a rural constituency and has an interest in the welfare of rural dwellers and farmers. I urge him to come out on site and take a look at what has been proposed, because it cannot be justified by anybody’s standards. The Minister is in the unique position of being able to do something.

There is a political agenda at work from those opposite, but let him step up to the plate and demonstrate very clearly where he stands in relation to the proposal. Let him do so with his colleagues Mr Elliott and Mr Donaldson, who is not here but who had much to say about this road proposal when it was time to go round the doors. He put statements in the local press which, in many cases, were false. Some of us were never given the opportunity to answer them. Had the same gentleman taken the time to do some research and check out where certain MLAs and councillors stood on the issue, he would have got a very clear message. We want to see an upgrading and we believe that the west is entitled to a good road infrastructure. We will continue to campaign for that, but it is patently obvious that there is no justification whatsoever for the proposals.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I have listened with interest to what the Member has said, and I welcome his affirmation of approval for an upgrade but opposition to the type of programme proposed.

Will the Member explain how we got to this point? The Member’s Ministers sit on the North/South Ministerial Council and the Executive. Both of those bodies at the least acquiesced to, if not actively approved, the proposals. So, is the Member not making a Jekyll and Hyde presentation when he seeks to distance himself from those aspects of the proposals that he does not approve of even though his Ministers, one of whom is sitting beside him, approved them in their entirety?

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Sorry, Lord Morrow, your 10 minutes are up, and there is no extra time for addressing the intervention.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

So I cannot answer that scurrilous remark?

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Not at this point in time, but I am sure that you will get an opportunity to do so later.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

It was totally inaccurate.

Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP

It is normal that the Chair of a Committee speaks on a subject that falls within the remit of that Committee, and I speak as the Chair of the Committee for Regional Development.

The A5 route from New Buildings to Aughnacloy, along with the dualling of the A8 from Belfast to Larne, represents the major capital project in the Department, with a combined budget of £400 million, which is almost 80% of the overall capital budget. It is, therefore, a hugely significant proposal. It is unfortunate that the motion has come before the House at such an early juncture in the new Assembly mandate, due both to the fact that the Committee has not had an opportunity to scrutinise the proposal and the fact that the matter is the subject of a public inquiry.

The Committee will not receive a briefing on the Department’s capital spend programme until 29 June, although I doubt that the Committee’s position will be established at that point. As a scrutiny Committee, we need to be aware of all of the arguments. I also feel that, as a Committee, we need to be cautious that our deliberations on the matter do not indirectly interfere with or influence the process of the public inquiry. I have no doubt that the Committee will deliberate on the matter over the coming months but, collectively, we agreed that it was too soon for the Committee to offer an opinion.

For those reasons, the Committee agreed at its last meeting that I should advise the House that the Committee for Regional Development reserves judgement on the matter at this stage. With those brief comments —

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Before the Member sits down, I want to deal with the point that Mr Allister made. I suspect that Mr Allister is aware that a Minister draws up his own priorities, not the Executive. That is why we are imploring the Minister to draw up his priorities. We are asking him whether this matter is one of his priorities. We recognise that it was one of Mr Murphy’s priorities, but the torchlight now moves to Mr Kennedy, who now has to draw up his priorities, and we will wait and see whether the A5 proposal is one of them.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I support the amendment. As others have said, there is an ongoing inquiry into the A5. Therefore, the motion that there should be no alteration whatsoever is certainly ill-timed and, at worst, foolhardy. We are in much changed economic times since July 2007, when the current extravagant A5 proposal emerged. Given those new factors, the Assembly, the Executive, the Department for Regional Development and the Minister would be wise to take all those changes into consideration before coming to a final conclusion.

Four years ago, there was a commitment, following the St Andrews Agreement, for £400 million from the Republic of Ireland to invest in our roads infrastructure. I believe that there was also £200 million from the Chancellor. I am not sure whether many people considered at that time that the proposal that has emerged was the one that would have emerged — the construction of a virtual motorway. It is just off motorway standard, lacking hard shoulders, on what is a relatively lightly used road. There are sections of it that carry around 13,000 vehicles a day, but there are other sections that carry 6,800 vehicles a day.

We have to appreciate that some of the traffic will be local: people going to a local school or shop. Even when the new road is built, people may not actually use it because they want to use a local road that is more convenient, given the limited on/off options that will be available. What level of traffic will the new road carry in places?

In settling on the design for the new road, there is a huge question about the quality standard that was set and its appropriateness for this day and age. There is considerable opposition from farmers, landowners, environmentalists and even transport groups. Who was managing that process over the past four years in the Executive? There have been regular North/South transport sectoral meetings, where I understand there is joint decision-making, and we have a Finance Minister. We are talking about a nearly £1 billion scheme, so it is rather strange that some are deciding that it was nothing to do with them and that it was forced on us by the Regional Development Minister.

Others in the Executive, particularly the Finance Minister and those who attended the North/South group meetings, have a responsibility for the decisions they agreed. It would also be interesting to know what has actually been agreed in the budget. Who voted for the budget? Is this a ring-fenced budget line? I understand that it is. What has been agreed? We have to assess where we are today and decide what is best for Northern Ireland. I have to say that I was shocked when I viewed the road with the Agriculture Committee.

It is not an east-west issue. The scheme means that work on many roads throughout Northern Ireland will not be able to proceed in the next four-year period. The Dungiven bypass and the extension of the M2 between Randalstown and Toome will serve the west. Indeed, those roads will serve more traffic than what is being proposed. The haulage industry is concerned about the roads in those areas because they cause delays that affect the economy. We need to think collectively about what will be good for Northern Ireland plc.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 11:00 am, 7th June 2011

Thanks to the Member for giving way. Does the Member accept that the rest of those schemes, although crucial to the region’s infrastructure in their own right, do not have a £400 million subvention from the Irish Government?

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member will have an extra minute.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

When you go into TK Maxx, you do not buy everything because it is half price. You have to decide what you lose when you spend your money. We have to decide what the Northern Ireland economy will lose. Tom Wilson of the Freight Transport Association said:

“We have little money to spend at the moment.”

He applauds the A5 project, but only when we can justify the expenditure:

“Let us leave that project until we can justify improving those hot spots.”

He wants to improve the hot spots that cost the economy money first.

We ought to look at the timing and quality of the new road. Is a flyover needed when relatively few cars go up and down sections of that road? The move to a motorway standard will greatly inconvenience the local community, who will have to travel considerably further to cross the road. That will cause problems.

Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I thank Mr Beggs for giving way. Does the Member not accept the need for a greater strategic road vision on the island of Ireland to facilitate greater access for all local and national commuters? Does he not accept that the proposal was contained in the Irish Government’s national development plan and promoted by the then Taoiseach as a means of not only facilitating access but upgrading the infrastructure and providing greater North/South economic co-operation?

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

As a resident of west Tyrone and an Assembly Member for the West Tyrone constituency, I am happy to support the motion brought forward by Mr Pat Doherty MLA.

The people of west Tyrone and, indeed, the counties of Derry and Tyrone have waited for such a road for a long time. Why? The A5 is a strategic route. Many years ago, it was classified as a Trans-European Network by the European Commission in a structural funds common chapter document. The north-west of Ireland is a geographic and economic region identified primarily by the counties of Tyrone, Derry and Donegal. The region, therefore, straddles the border. Face-to-face development of infrastructure is required to enable future economic and social development for the people who live there.

When the railway through Tyrone was closed in 1964, a long time ago, the then Government promised that a motorway would be built to link the western part of the North to the rest of Northern Ireland. That never happened. At long last, we have reached the stage of having a major proposal for road transport infrastructure. Let us not jeopardise it.

Road traffic volumes have increased a lot since then, and there are at least 11,000 vehicles a day on that route.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Does the Member accept that 6,800 vehicles a day use the road between Aughnacloy and Ballygawley, that that figure has fallen considerably since the construction traffic from Tyrone to Dublin has decreased and that considerably fewer vehicles are using that section of the road?

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

I accept that fact, but it does not take away from the strategic nature of the route. It is a national all-island strategic transport route.

As I said, road traffic volumes have increased enormously since 1964. The proposed A5 western transport corridor, at long last, offers an opportunity to redress the regional imbalance in roads and transport infrastructure in Northern Ireland and, indeed, in the context of Ireland as a whole. The people in my constituency of West Tyrone are delighted that the Irish Government have recognised the strategic nature of the road, given that Donegal, part of their jurisdiction, has been cut off for a long time. The Irish Government have agreed to put in £400 million towards the overall cost of the programme involving the A8 and A5, the two major road projects. That is very welcome.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way. I do not like to hear negative comments from people saying that they are going to refuse an investment of £400 million in a road of such major significance as the A5. Nevertheless, does the Member accept that, rather than having diminished construction traffic on the road, we would like more construction traffic? Does he accept that this project will lead to a significant increase in jobs in the area and sustain existing jobs in that sector?

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

I agree with the Member. The construction industry and the road quarrying industry are crying for projects at the moment. We want a kick-start to the local economy, particularly in the construction industry. Hundreds of jobs would be created immediately by the construction of the A5.

The project is also vital for road safety reasons. In the 10 years from 1999 to 2009, there were over 30 fatal collisions on the road, and there were 33 deaths. Two names spring to mind. Mr John Finlay, the founder of John Finlay (Engineering) Ltd, was killed in a passing manoeuvre near Kelly’s Inn many years ago. More recently, a young man from Strabane, lorry driver Declan Harvey, was killed near Victoria Bridge. Those men represent the human cost of the death trap that is the A5 at present.

The road haulage industry finds great difficulty in getting road freight to the seaports of Larne, Belfast and Dublin on a timed schedule. That is because, effectively, on that roadway, the average speed of vehicles is between 40 mph and 45 mph, and a bottleneck exists. It is now crucial that the Minister for Regional Development and his Department reaffirm a commitment to the proposed A5 dualling project. We have come so far; £35 million has already been spent by a dedicated team in DRD and by Mouchel, the project consultants, in the design and planning stages. I appeal to the Minister and the DRD to move on with the project, show the people of the north-west that progress is being made and demonstrate that regional infrastructure imbalances are being tackled.

Let us not go back; let us go forward and get the road project built without any further delay. Motorists are eager for the project to be started and ready for use sooner rather than later. If we talk about democracy and the meaning of having modern politics —

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member must bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

Derry City Council, Strabane District Council, Omagh District Council and Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council, as well as Donegal County Council, have supported the project for over 25 years.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

The Alliance Party has not been directly involved in this discussion, mainly because of our lack of representation in the area affected, but we have a view on it, which I will go into shortly. However, before I do that, I want to say a word about the debate and the fact that we have not one but two petitions of concern relating to a private Member’s motion. That effectively means that neither the motion nor the amendment can possibly be passed by the House.

I wonder where that leaves us for the future. A public inquiry into the matter is under way, and I am sure that it will go into things very thoroughly and come up with a considered view that will be passed to the Minister, who will condense the information at his disposal and come up with a view, which, on the basis of today’s discussion, will inevitably be rejected by one side of the House or the other. Where will that leave us? We are going back to ESA and the review of public administration — down a cul-de-sac. A lot of work may go into the inquiry, but we will not be able to make a decision, so I wish the Minister luck with his deliberations.

That said, if the debate mattered, I would be saying that we support the DUP amendment. We have not been lobbied like local Members have, but, as a regular user of the road, particularly the section from Ballygawley to Strabane, I know it very well. I do not know the Aughnacloy to Ballygawley section so well, but I hear what Lord Morrow and Roy Beggs said about traffic volumes and the fact that it has already been substantially upgraded. As I understand it, prior to 2006, the policy was to upgrade that type of road by way of bypasses and by dualling certain sections to make overtaking possible. As far as I know, prior to 2006, it was never envisaged that the A5 from Derry right through to Aughnacloy would be turned into a dual carriageway.

In my opinion, the A4 from the end of the motorway to Ballygawley has been the most successful piece of road building in Northern Ireland since I was a kid. It really did remove a tremendous bottleneck, becoming the gateway to the heart of County Tyrone. It is terrific. However, to my mind, the case has not been made for turning the section from Ballygawley to Strabane into a dual carriageway. The long-standing policy was to relieve congestion by constructing bypasses. In particular, I am thinking of Newtownstewart. I remember having to drive through Newtownstewart regularly, and it was a good reason to go to Donegal by way of Toomebridge. However, that has been dealt with.

I hear the figures involved. Will the Minister tell us whether, if we go for a dualling and bypass upgrade, the Southern Government will honour their commitment to provide a proportion of the money? If they do not, it will put a new slant on the whole thing and distort the figures terribly. We might have to look at it again.

I am told that, if the full dual carriageway proposal is to go ahead, it will affect 419 landowners and 282 working farms. I saw the dramatic effect that the A4 extension had on landowners and farming as it progressed. I am sure that Friends of the Earth and so on will come up with a list of objections the length of your arm, and no doubt we will hear shortly from Mr Agnew with a condensed version of those objections. No doubt, also, some of them will be valid, but I come back to my original point: what is the point of the proposal if somebody is able to produce a petition of concern — a political injunction — to block whatever decision is made? We should be able to do better than that, and, so early in the new mandate, it is disappointing to see that sort of situation develop. I will leave it at that. We support the amendment.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I fully support the motion. There should be no dilution of or delay in the A5 dual carriageway project. As has already been said, it is an absolutely crucial piece of road infrastructure, essential to economic regeneration west of the Bann and in the north-west of Ireland generally. I, too, welcome the Irish Government’s financial commitment. Of course, any landowner or property owner who is inconvenienced or discommoded by the project deserves a proper hearing and compensation, which should be worked out with full respect for those affected.

If there is any dilution or delay in the scheme, it will, for me and for very many other people, certainly in County Tyrone, be history revisited, denuding Tyrone, Derry and Donegal of essential infrastructure. The project is a road to opportunity west of the Bann and in the north-west. A prerequisite of economic development is proper infrastructure. We do not have it west of the Bann for historical reasons, which I will revisit. It is essential for investors and tourists and for public sector jobs that people have speed and ease of access and egress into and out of areas west of the Bann. It is an indispensable project. An old teacher of mine shared a thought with me yesterday that it is sine qua non: it is non-negotiable, because, if you do this, you are simply revisiting history. It is more like the old Stormont than the new.

In 1963, Henry Benson produced the Benson report, which was commissioned by the old Stormont Administration. The report stated that the two lines to Derry would be closed. Of course, the Stormont Administration of the time cherry-picked it. The Campaign for Social Justice at the time accused the unionist Government of political mismanagement and asserted:

“There were two separate railway lines to Derry. In the interests of economy it became necessary to close one of them. The one to be ‘axed’ traversed the western region. This has left Fermanagh, Tyrone and practically all of the county of Derry with no railway whatever.”

In March 1964, the Ulster Transport Authority issued a notice to wholly terminate the line from Portadown to Derry via Omagh. In April 1964, the “big house” unionist William Craig met Tyrone County Council and promised that work would begin on the Dungannon bypass in 1965, with the construction of an Omagh bypass beginning in December 1966. He gave verbal promises of a motorway beyond Dungannon and an extension to Omagh. That was vigorously opposed by people, including working-class unionists, who were dismissed by the “big house” unionist Bill Craig. Tyrone County Council challenged the decision at a transport tribunal, but it was upheld by Justice Lowry on 22 February 1965, and all the railway lines were sold off. That was a crime of the old Stormont Government. It was rooted in discrimination, and it had catastrophic consequences for people living west of the Bann.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I will not give way, because I am on the A5 dual carriageway, and I have priority on this road now. I will not be giving way to other road users in this debate.

We should not, in the new Stormont, divide along unionist/nationalist lines over essential infrastructure for west of the Bann or the north-west of Ireland. It smacks of the old “big house” unionism and of discrimination.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I will not.

It perpetuates historical and present economic realities. In a way, it reveals a mindset of economic apartheid west and east of the Bann. Do it at your peril because the people west of the Bann and people in the north-west of Ireland are citizens with full and equal rights. We do not want “big house” unionism to re-emerge in 2011.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

As this is the first debate in which the Assembly will hear from Mr Hussey, I remind the House that it is the convention that a maiden speech is made without interruption.

Photo of Ross Hussey Ross Hussey UUP

I begin by thanking the constituents of West Tyrone for returning me as one of their Members of the Assembly for the current period. I say “one” because there were rumours in Tyrone that I had actually won two seats, but that was only the suggestion of a political opponent, who said that it would take two seats to hold me. In all seriousness, I am delighted to be here as an Ulster Unionist representative and re-take the seat that was held by my brother Derek, who represented my party here in various parliamentary roles until 2007.

It is also fitting that my maiden speech to the House should be about the A5. My mother, who will be 83 in September, was born in a bungalow in Conywarren, which, if it were still standing, would overlook the main A5 as it leaves Omagh on its way to the maiden city of Londonderry. It is to her that I dedicate this speech, as, without her strength and determination, my brothers and sisters would not have had the strong family unit that we have. My mother was widowed in 1972 when I was 13, the youngest of six children. Through her devotion, we came through the worst of times. My mother was and is a strong Ulster Unionist, and I would not want to face her down in any political argument. Compared with her, I am just a kitten, as you will see over the coming months and years.

Photo of Ross Hussey Ross Hussey UUP

Your eyesight is obviously not that good. I also want to point out to my colleague from West Tyrone that I am not a “big house” unionist but a modest “bungalow” unionist.

As Members will know, the A5 is the main route from Aughnacloy in County Tyrone to Ballygawley, Ballygawley to Omagh, Newtownstewart, Sion Mills, Strabane, Ballymagorry, Bready, Magheramason and then crossing into County Londonderry and on to New Buildings and on to the maiden city. For many years, I travelled that route on my journeys from Omagh to Belfast and Londonderry, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there is a need for an upgrade of the road. However, the question must be asked: at what cost? Is the spending of millions of pounds on the project justifiable? I have been involved in local politics for several years now, and the famous political quote is “all politics is local”.

I have spoken to people such as Alfie Cooper, James McFarland, Allan Armstrong, John Dunbar, Ciaran McLean, Caroline Porter, Billy Caldwell and Irwin Shortt. Those names might not mean anything to the vast majority of people in this House, but they will be affected by the road. Alfie worked with me for several years, and I last met him at a public debate on the subject of the A5. He pointed out to the assembled gathering that he had bought a house in the country, and he was prepared to pay a substantial sum for it because it was his dream home where he, his wife and family would have a country lifestyle without all the hustle and bustle of urban dwellers. However, the road would come within a couple of hundred yards of his home. His dreams have been dashed, and he is entitled to no compensation.

James McFarland is the son of a former Ulster Unionist councillor, Crawford McFarland. James runs a farm on the outskirts of Omagh. He spent many years building up the farm that was started by his father. Like most farmers, he dreamed of handing the farm to his son until he was told that his farm was to be split by the new road. Additional miles would have to be travelled to get from one side of his farm to the other, all at his expense.

Ciaran McLean is an environmentalist, for want of a better word, and he has used many words to describe me. He does not like the idea of additional carbon fuels being discharged in building a road that cannot be justified and more pollution draining into our air for the sake of it. Ciaran made comments that I sat on my hands when it came to the issue of the A5 because I abstained when it came to the vote in Omagh District Council. However, I abstained because I am in favour of an upgrade of the A5, but I am not in favour of the proposals that have been put to the former Minister, Conor Murphy.

Caroline is a Facebook friend of mine who keeps me informed of developments. She is not afraid to voice her concerns when she sees problems ahead for her family or her neighbours. Ordinary Tyrone people have everyday lives to lead but know that the proposed A5 will change their lives forever.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Bring your remarks to a close.

Photo of Ross Hussey Ross Hussey UUP

I support the amendment. The road cannot go ahead as you cannot square a circle.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

As this is the first debate in which the Assembly will hear from Mr Eastwood, I remind the House that it is the convention that a maiden speech is made without interruption.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am honoured to represent the people of Derry in the House, following in the footsteps of SDLP representatives such as John Hume, John Tierney, Mark Durkan, Mary Bradley and Pól Callaghan. It is with great pleasure that I deliver my maiden speech to the House on the motion relating to the A5 dual carriageway. Let me state my unequivocal support, and that of my party, for the motion, and I commend the Member for tabling it at this time.

Major infrastructural projects often attract most attention because of their headline cost. The fiscal figures become the main story. In the case of the A5, we should focus on other figures and impacts. An estimated 390,000 people will benefit massively from the greater connectivity provided by the dual carriageway. The construction sector west of the Bann will receive a long-overdue boost. The project will help to ensure that economic output from my constituency of Derry, and the north-west region generally, will begin exponentially to deliver its true business potential. The list goes on, with increased opportunities in tourism, agriculture and right across the business sectors, creating jobs that are so desperately required. Furthermore, I am sure that the whole House will agree that the totality of those impressive facts and figures is matched by the hugely positive implications that the A5 will have for road safety.

However, there is a narrative that all those statistics tend to miss. As we know, this island was severely buffeted by an economic tsunami that caused real hardships, particularly for ordinary people distant from the convulsions of globalised financial markets. We should collectively express confidence that as a people, economy and country, we will recover. A large part of that recovery should be manifested within the logic that we can no longer afford to run two economies on this one small island. It is for that reason that the financial commitment of successive Irish Governments to this and other infrastructural projects in the North is so welcome. The completion of the A5 will continue the major road network between our cities and the capital. That should be seen as a first step along the path to a fully integrated island economy.

It is also important to emphasise that a sustainable recovery should be built with a firm commitment to balanced regional development. The A5 dual carriageway should be used as a marker, a symbol, to guarantee that Derry and the north-west are no longer left behind when it comes to governmental expenditure. For too long, my city of Derry has been at the heart of Ireland’s history, but at the fringe of its economic expansion. If that trend is not quickly reversed, the Executive and Assembly will have failed.

The Minister for Regional Development should hear the clear message from today’s debate. There should be no excuse for delaying the funding of the A5. When it comes to that road project, the mantra of limited resources does not qualify. Basic economic common sense dictates that capital expenditure and investment are precisely what is needed in these recessionary times.

The peoples of Derry, Donegal and Tyrone have a huge role to play in the recovery of the island. This road will, I hope, play a major role in providing the necessary infrastructure to allow them to do so.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I have said it before, and I will say it again: this is not a road project, it is a political project. You can tell that by examining its genesis.

Any regular road programme evolves through a process, which can be quite protracted. Roads Service studies the usage, needs and deficiencies, road traffic figures, accident figures — all in the context of a strategic overview — and it reaches an opinion that a particular road deserves and requires to be prioritised. When a major road is concerned, the project finds its way by due process into the regional transportation strategy.

Ask any of those questions of this project, and you will get a blank sheet of paper. As far as this project is concerned, none of that happened. Instead, it was plucked out of the air on 17 July 2007 at a North/South Ministerial Council meeting and implanted as a priority project. None of the basic qualifying procedures were followed. There was no business case, costing case or infrastructural study. There was nothing.

That is why it patently is, above all else, a political project, which is confirmed today by the sectarian stance of Sinn Féin in filing a petition of concern against the amendment.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

And of the SDLP. That has given rise to the tit-for-tat necessity for a petition of concern against the motion and demonstrates and underscores that, for those who are so adamant about the road, it is not a roads project but a political project. That is why it is a flawed project.

I make it clear that I am not opposed in the least to the upgrading of the A5. In another place, I represented for five years the west of the Province as well as the east, and I am well aware of the need for adequate road infrastructure. However, the project, in comparison with others, fails the test. Across the Province, there is an uncompleted A26 and the need for multiple village and town bypasses in places such as Magherafelt, Cookstown and Cullybackey, not to mention the A2. Those are all to be parked while this project is prioritised, even though, empirically, they have far greater needs. Given that, one cannot but conclude that this is a political project.

Yes, let us upgrade the A5, but let us do it rationally, sensibly and according to need, not according to politics. That is why we are in the position today of being on the track to wasting valuable resources in the most austere of times on a single project, while everything else falls by the wayside. I remind some who have been raising issues of concern about the project today that it was their party that let it get this far. Were the DUP Ministers asleep at the wheel on 17 July 2007 at their first North/South Ministerial Council meeting?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I will give way in a moment. Were they asleep at the wheel when the Executive subsequently approved the project? Either they were asleep at the wheel or some who have spoken today do not agree with what they approved. Which is it?

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

I am still confused about whether Mr Allister supports the amendment. He has yet to say that he does. He has told us that he does not support the proposal. Mr Allister, you point the finger at us. It is most ironic that Mr Allister gives the Ulster Unionists a bye ball. Were they fast asleep at the Executive meeting? Our Ministers were not fast asleep, and that is why we are having the debate today.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member will have an extra minute.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Remember that it is the DUP that tells us that it has the steering wheel. Any unionist who sat at the North/South Ministerial Council meeting, whether Ulster Unionist or DUP, and who allowed this to pass over them and who then woke up later has a lot to answer for, whichever party they subscribe to.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I thank the Member for giving way. Will he accept that the decisions were made at meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council in sectoral format, at which the two representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive were the Minister for Regional Development and the Minister of the Environment? Who held the position of Minister of the Environment over the past four years? It was Arlene Foster, Edwin Poots and one other. How did they allow that to slip through?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

It is quite clear to me, as it is to any objective observer, that the fingerprints of the DUP are all over the project, just as much as the fingerprints of Sinn Féin are. Together, as in so much else, they have produced a shambolic, dysfunctional proposal, which, I trust —

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Bring your remarks to a close.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I trust that it will now have the brakes put on it by a Minister, who, I trust, will have the courage to face up to what —

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the debate. I have asked my officials to take note of the Hansard report, and I have been taking copious notes of the advice that Members have given and the statements that they have made. I will attempt to pick up on some points at the end, time permitting. Should that not be the case, I may have to write to individual Members.

I note the concerns and comments expressed by Members and particularly welcome the debate on the A5 western transport corridor project. At the outset, I must register my deep disappointment and concern at the decision by Sinn Féin and the SDLP to table a petition of concern against the amendment. That is contrary to the spirit in which the debate needs to take place, and it politicises the issue in a way that is not helpful to finding a constructive way forward. I also share Mr Lunn’s concerns and regret the use of that tactic so early in the life of this Assembly.

Let me clearly state that I welcome and support improvements to the A5, the A8 and other arterial routes across Northern Ireland. As Minister for Regional Development, I wish to see improvements across the strategic road network that will enhance safety, reduce journey times, provide value for money and support economic growth. I want a selection of schemes to be based on an analysis of their contribution to strategic objectives rather than on purely political considerations, and I trust that the House will agree and support that important guiding principle.

The need for improvement to the roads infrastructure in Northern Ireland has been recognised by both the Executive and the Irish Government. Many of you will also be aware that after the St Andrews Agreement, the Irish Government and the Executive agreed at the North/South Ministerial Council plenary sitting in July 2007 to bring forward projects to provide dual carriageway standard on the A5 Aughnacloy to north-west gateway and on the A8 Belfast to Larne routes. You will also be aware that the Irish Government have committed to making a significant contribution. Through the North/South Ministerial Council a very challenging programme, leading to the start of construction in 2012 and completion in 2015, was agreed. A schedule of the anticipated key milestones and related payments from the Irish Government has also been agreed.

I advise Members that, to date, development of the project has remained on programme. An initial payment of approximately £8 million to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund was made by the Irish Government in November 2009 towards development costs, and, subject to final approval at the North/South Ministerial Council plenary sitting in June, a further £11 million is anticipated later this year. That commitment to make a contribution towards those two roads projects was reaffirmed in January 2011 by the Irish Government at a plenary sitting of the North/South Ministerial Council. I also understand that at a recent conference of the Institute for British-Irish Studies, the new Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Enda Kenny, stated that his Government will honour that commitment. In addition, the investment strategy for Northern Ireland 2008-2018 includes the dualling of those two roads, among others. That is the historical, factual position.

The A5 running from Londonderry to the land frontier at Aughnacloy forms the western transport corridor and has been identified as one of the five key transport corridors in the regional development strategy for Northern Ireland 2025. My Department’s long-term aim is to provide dual-carriageway-standard roads on those important transport corridors. The A5 also facilitates strategic cross-border links at Aughnacloy, Strabane and Londonderry and connects the new dual carriageway to the A4 south-western transport corridor at Ballygawley. The existing road comprises a variety of single carriageway roads of differing width with intermittent stretches of climbing lanes and overtaking opportunities. It is deficient in relation to carriageway cross-section, forward visibility and alignment when assessed against modern-day standards. It carries a mix of local and strategic traffic, and there can be considerable driver frustration. Over its 88 km length, the road passes through various towns and villages, with single carriageway bypasses at Omagh, Strabane and Newtownstewart.

The A5 scheme as currently proposed comprises 85 km of new trunk road, of which 82 km will be new offline dual carriageway. The scheme terminates with short lengths of single carriageway bypassing New Buildings at its northern and southern ends before tying into the existing A5 south of Aughnacloy.

Although much of the A5 carries significant volumes of traffic, it is recognised that the minimum traffic volume that is recommended for a dual carriageway is not met on the short section of the A5 between Ballygawley and the land frontier at Aughnacloy. Under the current proposal, and subject to satisfactory completion of the statutory processes, it is anticipated that construction could commence in 2012 and be completed in 2015. The A5 western transport corridor dualling project is estimated to cost between £650 million and £850 million. To date, approximately £35 million has been invested in the design and development of the project.

Design of the scheme has been under way since November 2007, when Roads Service appointed lead consultants Mouchel to assist in taking forward the A5 dualling project. Throughout the scheme’s development, my Department has sought to ensure that those who are directly affected by the project, the general public and elected representatives have been kept informed of progress. Public events were held at four locations along the route in April 2008, February 2009, July 2009 and November 2010. They were attended by over 6,000 people in total. Therefore, there is significant local interest.

The selected procurement process was to adopt an early contractor involvement approach, with contractors appointed earlier in the process than is typical. That had the benefit of shortening the development period and gave the construction contractors the opportunity to provide innovation and expertise to the design process. To facilitate development and delivery, the project was split into three sections. That led to the appointment in November 2009 of three contracting consortia to the project. Those consortia include a number of major international and local contractors.

In July 2009, the preferred route for the scheme was announced and the preferred options report was published. After the public consultation and receipt of additional technical information, the route was refined and taken forward as the proposed scheme, which is the subject of the draft statutory Orders and environmental statement published in November 2010. The formal consultation period that followed produced a significant number of objections. It was decided to hold a public inquiry to consider relevant issues. The public inquiry, which commenced on 9 May 2011, is in progress and will run for around eight weeks, including the beginning of July.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

No; I have to make progress. The inquiry is being held under an independent inspector at a number of locations along the route to make it more accessible to objectors.

Clearly, a project of this scale cannot be constructed without significant impact on areas that it passes through and on people who live on or near the route. It is very important that people’s concerns are given serious and fair consideration. The current public inquiry provides an opportunity for people to articulate their concerns. I encourage people who have personal or business concerns, many of which will be farming-related, to explain them carefully to the public inquiry inspector. I remind members that around 1,200 hectares of land will be required for construction of the proposed scheme, of which 250 hectares will be required temporarily during the construction phase. That affects 419 separate landowners, of whom 282 own agricultural holdings that are actively farmed. The proposed scheme will also necessitate the demolition of seven residential properties. Clearly, the proposed scheme will have a big impact.

I have instructed Roads Service to ensure that all reasonable measures are being taken to investigate the impact of the scheme on people. The environmental assessment has identified and assessed impacts on designated sites and environmentally sensitive areas. It should be noted that the proposed road will cross a special area of conservation of the River Foyle and its tributaries. Where that occurs, the scheme has been designed to avoid and minimise impacts. Depending on the outcome of the public inquiry, more detailed accommodation works may need to be discussed with individual landowners.

My engineers have provided their professional opinion on the relative merits of upgrading the existing A5, providing a dual carriageway or an online two-plus-one carriageway. Road safety is a key issue on the A5, and it has been proven that dual carriageways are inherently safer than single carriageways. The existing A5 passes through many settlements along its length, and that has journey time and road safety implications for road users. It also has an environmental impact on residents of settlements.

I need to make progress, Mr Deputy Speaker. I believe that all those issues and arguments will and should get a proper airing at the public inquiry, and I will reflect on the inspector’s views and recommendations when I receive his final report.

I turn now to my Department’s budget allocation. Of the £1·2 billion allocated to Roads Service for capital spend over the four-year Budget period, almost two thirds, which is almost £800 million, is allocated to the two major road schemes, namely the A5 Londonderry to Aughnacloy and the A8 Belfast to Larne dual carriageways. I am also conscious that improvements to the strategic road network support the regional development strategy’s vision of a modern, safe transport system that will enhance access to regional facilities and services.

I have received numerous requests to meet a wide range of bodies interested in progressing strategic road improvement schemes across Northern Ireland. Those requests include schemes for improvements to the A6 route between Belfast and Londonderry, the A26 at the Frosses and the A2 at Greenisland; the widening of the Sydenham bypass; the York Street flyover; and many bypasses of towns and villages throughout Northern Ireland. I will continue to listen to opinions from across the country before forming a view as to the way forward.

I indicated earlier that the public inquiry into the A5 is in progress, and I do not wish to interfere with due process and pre-empt the inquiry’s findings. In conjunction with the independent inspector’s report and recommendations, I intend to consider proposed investment levels across my Department, including the impact of Budget 2010 on the strategic roads programme. In the intervening period, I will consult with my counterpart in the Irish Government to discuss and confirm their position on their contribution, and I will discuss funding implications with my Executive colleagues.

Finally, I await with interest the inspector’s report and recommendations from the current public inquiry on the A5 route. I want to place on record my commitment as Minister for Regional Development to improving the A5 route and other parts of the strategic route network. Those improvements will help to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and freight hauliers and will help with the aim of improving our economy, which is an objective that everyone in the House should be able to support.

I will move quickly to some of the contributions from Members. I have outlined my severe disappointment and concern at the use of the petition of concern by the sponsors of the motion, assisted by the SDLP. I very much regret it, and I hope very much that we can make progress constructively on all the issues in a more positive way.

I thank Mr Spratt for his attendance and contribution as Chair of the Committee. I look forward to a positive working relationship with him. Lord Morrow’s speech became a who’s who of who in the Ulster Unionist Party said what. He said little about the DUP’s view on the issue. I assure him that I am not given to knee-jerk reactions. I will not be stampeded on this issue. I will look carefully at the route in question and at the land issues that he and others raised.

I agree with Mr Beggs, and I have highlighted the difficulty involved and the importance of other projects sponsored and put forward by Members. I will consider those.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

Finally, it is interesting that the Alliance Party had no position, but, as it is a middle-of-the-road party, I would not have expected anything else.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

There is no doubt that the issue has had a good hearing right around the House this morning. I support the amendment. My colleague and the proposer of the amendment, Lord Morrow, very ably laid before the House all the accusations made against my party and all the commitments made by the Minister’s party, and called on the Minister to step up to the plate on this occasion. We will, of course, wait with interest to see the outcome of what the Minister does in the future.

I do not think that anyone will disagree that the roads infrastructure in the west of the Province needs an injection of investment. We have continually lobbied for that for many years and will continue to do so until there is a proper roads infrastructure in the west. There are many reasons why an upgrade is essential. First, we want to see the economic infrastructure in west Tyrone improved. Secondly, we want to see greater and more employment opportunities in the west of the Province, so we need a proper road network to get people in and out and to encourage businesses to set up there. Thirdly, we want to see safer conditions for road users, because we cannot ignore the unfortunate fact that a number of people, motorists and pedestrians, have lost their lives and that the contributing factor in many of those cases was the frustration of drivers who, perhaps because they were in a hurry and had no place to get by, took a chance, and then, unfortunately, someone ended up losing their life.

Although road improvements are essential, we must always endeavour to ensure that the right balance is struck and that we get value for money. Although we may help others, we need to be very careful not to put the farming community out of business completely, because that is really what the proposed new road would do. If we move in that direction, many in the farming community will have no alternative but to go out of business. I have no doubt that, if we proceed with the current proposals, we will lose a lot of farmers in west Tyrone who have strengthened and built up their livelihood.

Any new road upgrade or improvements will always cause an element of pain; we have no doubt about that. However, under the current proposals, the acres of prime farmland that we see when we drive into west Tyrone and out the other side would be torn apart and ripped up, and the farmers affected would have to pay the price. Mr Byrne mentioned the number of jobs that would be created by building the new road, but he did not say how many jobs would be lost in the farming community and industry and how many people would be put out of business.

The level of consultation with the farming community has been abysmal, to say the least. Mr Hussey mentioned some of the farming community in Omagh whom he spoke to. I know farmers in the Omagh area who would be affected by the new road, which would run directly through the middle of their farm, dividing it, with the farm home on one side and the farm buildings on the other. That is totally unacceptable, yet the company concerned has completely refused to take the matter into account and to move the road to the other side of the dwelling in order to keep the farmyard and home intact. Another farmer with 300 milking cows had his request for an underpass refused, even though that would have allowed his animals to move from one side of the new road to the other. Again, the working relationship with those people has been abysmal, to say the least. I could go on about the way in which the farming community would be affected, but there is no time.

There are direct, practical problems that we have been dealing with on the ground.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Bring your remarks to a close.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

The economic climate has changed, and that must be taken into consideration. I call on the Minister to consider all of the options and alternatives to the scheme and to bring forward a road that is fit for purpose —

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

— that is value for money —

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Order. Time is up.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

— and that serves all of the people in the community.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis na daoine a labhair ar maidin. I thank all Members who spoke here this morning, in particular the two who made their maiden speeches. I welcome the fact that the Minister spoke and want to address some of what he said initially. I welcome his announcement to the House that the programme for this project remains on course and his restatement that the Dublin Government have reaffirmed the funding that they will give towards this. That is good to know. I reassure the Minister that our party will be there to support him as he takes this forward.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. I strongly urge him to read the Hansard report of the debate. I set out, fairly and squarely, the position that I inherited as Minister and how I intend to proceed on this issue. I ask him, rather than interpreting my speech, to take time to read it more carefully.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

I listened very carefully to what you had to say, and my words stand. You may feel that you have inherited something. I am telling you that, as I read it —

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Make your remarks through the Chair.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

Through the Chair, sorry.

Pat Doherty, who proposed the motion, talked about there being no dilution and no delay. I say very clearly that in no way should that undermine the need for, the outcome of or the inputs to a public inquiry. There have been many, many public inquiries in the past number of years. That did not stop Members bringing debates to the Assembly, nor did it stop Members making observations. For Mr Beggs to say today that somehow this was ill timed or ill thought out —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

Please, I have already given way once and I am not giving way again. You have had your say and I want to have mine; I do not want to be interrupted all the time. You did make that point; you more or less said that this was ill timed and ill considered as a result of that.

No dilution, for us, is very simple. This should be, and in my opinion will be, a dual carriageway from Derry to Aughnacloy. That has been campaigned for and articulated and, at last, is on the point of delivery. In the past number of years in Derry, there has been a regeneration process hosted by Ilex, which is trying to create much-needed jobs and is a chance to end regional imbalance, disparity and inequalities. There has been input from all the parties, the business sector, the civic sector and the community and voluntary sector. There has been input from OFMDFM, DETI and INI. Through that regeneration process, I have not heard a single dissenting voice in the north-west arguing against the need for a dual carriageway.

The Executive, of which people here are members, have said that job creation is at the heart of the Programme for Government. They have said that the way to do that is to tackle regional disparity and that the way to tackle that is through good infrastructure. We have seen a lot of political and petty point-scoring this morning, and those who are arguing against this do a disservice to the people whom this road will service.

When the proposer of the amendment spoke, we had a rerun of the many quotes and perhaps misquotes made in the local press.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

I said “perhaps misquotes”; other people said that there were misquotes.

I want to say something that I have heard a number of times from a number of Members. I was on the Regional Development Committee for three years. During that time, a number of roads schemes were being introduced and the Minister or the Department came to the Committee to give us an insight into what was being done. In nearly every case, it was always lobbied that more should be done. I think that this is the first roads scheme that I have been part of where people are being offered a dual carriageway but are actually talking about dumbing it down. We have all seen good roads schemes being completed, and the first questions on all our lips seem to be: why was the road not made longer, why did they not consider dual carriageways and why did they not make the road wider, because, two or three years down the line, more work will have to be done and more money will have to be spent due to bad planning?

This is the first time that I have heard people saying that they do not want a dual carriageway and that they actually want climbing lanes. In the past, you have always heard people asking why there should be two-in-one rather than dual carriageways. I want to put it on record that this is a first.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

No, I have already said that I am not giving way. I apologise, but I will not be interrupted again.

Roy Beggs called the project extravagant. I think that we should be thankful for a £400 million contribution towards a road scheme rather than describe it as extravagant. He talked about other road schemes going to the wall as a result of this. Again, this is about priorities. He talked about the Dungiven bypass. From my recollection of what is on the public record, the Dungiven bypass will go ahead with the timeline already outlined by a previous Minister. This Minister will certainly have an input to that. He will be lobbied by the people in the north-west because we see those two road schemes as being vital to regeneration and tackling regional disparity, which is a priority of the Minister.

I think that Joe Byrne was speaking for West Tyrone. He talked about the strategic importance of the road and linked it to the national development plan. As regards the idea that this road scheme came out of thin air, there has been demand for this road for a long time.

Barry McElduff made an excellent point. Those of us who live in the north-west look at our rail network and see how it has been depleted. He said that the Assembly had the opportunity to tackle at least one aspect of regional disparity and that we should not have a repeat of history. If the Minister does not proceed as he should, we will have a deficit of roads in the north-west, which will have an impact on job creation. Rather than doing something to create jobs, we will talk ourselves into a position where people are saying that we should not build this road and, in four or five years’ time, will be complaining that the Executive did not deliver on their job creation initiatives.

Ross Hussey made his maiden speech, and I welcome the fact that he made it today. The fact that he abstained rather than voted for the scheme is a matter for himself, but I think that he was out of step with the rest of the council and the rest of opinion in the north-west. Similarly, Colum Eastwood is a former mayor of the city and will well understand the Ilex regeneration project in particular and the absolute need for the scheme and the priority that it has been given. I have heard Ministers at the Dispatch Box telling us that one of the reasons why people who seek to invest in the North of Ireland do not do so is the poor infrastructure. Indeed, Dublin Ministers have said the same about people who are trying to invest in Donegal. We are saying that this is the way to create jobs. If people think that creating a number of climbing lanes from Derry to Aughnacloy is the answer to the problem, I do not know where they are living. I know that Mr Hussey has travelled the road, but the challenge to those who say that there is no need for the dual carriageway is to travel along the road on a Friday afternoon, when they will see that it is absolutely needed.

Jim Allister said that this is not a roads project but a political project. I can imagine him stuck in a traffic jam, looking out the window and saying, “This is not really a road traffic jam; this is a political traffic jam”. However, if it did take new politics, a new political reality on the island of Ireland, to make these types of things happen, that should be welcomed. There is an absolute need for this road that I cannot stress enough. I think that I speak for many Members, particularly those who represent the north-west, when I say that the need for this road is paramount. We need it.

I will finish by referring to Tom Buchanan’s point. He made legitimate points regarding the concerns of the farming community, particularly in his constituency of West Tyrone. I was on the Committee for Regional Development, and I watched this scheme. I have also been following it since leaving the Committee, and I think that the contact between the Department and people with those types of concern has been good. Tom and I have said before that every road, house and new piece of infrastructure built has an impact on people, but, when we think about the collective good and the will of our people, we can see that this scheme must proceed. I do not think that we should waste the opportunity to do this in the right way. I, my party, the SDLP and, indeed, representatives of other parties across the Chamber —

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member should bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

— support this scheme in other Chambers. Therefore, I think that we should go ahead. I support the motion.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Order. Before I put the Question on the amendment, I remind the House that the vote will be on a cross-community basis.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 58; Noes 38.



Mr Allister, Mr S Anderson, Mr Beggs, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Mr Buchanan, Mr Campbell, Mr T Clarke, Mr Copeland, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Mrs Lewis, Mr McCallister, Mr McCausland, Mr McClarty, Mr I McCrea, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McNarry, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr G Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells.


Mr Agnew, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dickson, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Ms Lo, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCarthy.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Buchanan and  Mr G Robinson.



Ms M Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr Dallat, Mr Doherty, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Mr Flanagan, Ms Gildernew, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr A Maginness, Mr A Maskey, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McDevitt, Mr McElduff, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O’Dowd, Mrs O’Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey, Ms Ritchie, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Lynch and Mr McCartney.

Total votes     96          Total Ayes 58  [60.4%]

Nationalist Votes                      38 Nationalist Ayes       0          [0.0%]

Unionist Votes 49     Unionist Ayes 49  [100%]

Other Votes     9         Other Ayes   9  [100%]

Question accordingly negatived (cross-community vote).

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

We now vote on the motion. I again remind Members that the vote will be on a cross-community basis.

Main Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 38; Noes 58.



Ms M Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr Dallat, Mr Doherty, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Mr Flanagan, Ms Gildernew, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr A Maginness, Mr A Maskey, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McDevitt, Mr McElduff, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O’Dowd, Mrs O’Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey, Ms Ritchie, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Lynch and Mr McCartney.



Mr Allister, Mr S Anderson, Mr Beggs, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Mr Buchanan, Mr Campbell, Mr T Clarke, Mr Copeland, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Mrs Lewis, Mr McCallister, Mr McCausland, Mr McClarty, Mr I McCrea, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McNarry, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr G Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells.


Mr Agnew, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dickson, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Ms Lo, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCarthy.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Buchanan and  Mr G Robinson.

Total votes     96          Total Ayes 38  [39.6%]

Nationalist Votes                      38 Nationalist Ayes       38         [100%]

Unionist Votes 49     Unionist Ayes   0  [0.0%]

Other Votes     9         Other Ayes   0  [0.0%]

Main Question accordingly negatived (cross-community vote).

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Business Committee has arranged to meet immediately on the lunchtime suspension. I propose, therefore, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm. The first item of business when we return will be Question Time.

The sitting was suspended at 12.36 pm.

On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Dallat] in the Chair) —