I have criticised Sinn Féin’s obsession with the cutting-edge transport technology of the eighteenth century, the canal, and particularly with the proposed reconstruction of the Clones Sheugh. I am therefore glad to report that the party has now moved on to more modern transport technology: that of the early nineteenth century, in the form of the railway.
In a written question on 15 October 2013, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin [SF, Cavan-Monaghan, home to the Clones Sheugh] asked the unfortunate Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
… if he intends to apply for funding under the Trans European Network–Transport (Ten-T) 2014-2020 for the development of a rail network linking [London*]Derry to Limerick, Shannon and Cork, or any part thereof, along a western arc corridor; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I presume that it took the minister’s civil servants some little time to answer; they would have had to recover from ROTFL [as the young folk say nowadays]. When they recovered, they penned this response to be delivered by the saintly Leo Varadkar [FG, Dublin West, who has enough problems on his hands without extending railways but who has the virtue of a lack of interest in sports]:
As I have indicated to the House previously, I have no plans to develop a so-called “Western Arc” rail line from Cork to Belfast as this would require both the re-opening of the remaining phases of the Western Rail Corridor and also the development of new rail lines to connect with the rail network in Northern Ireland. It should also be noted that the Northern Ireland Executive has no plans to provide such new rail lines. The Government’s policy in relation to the funding of capital projects to 2016, including the development of rail and road links, is set out in the “Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012-16: Medium Term Exchequer Framework”. Due to the overall reduction in funding for transport infrastructure the priority to 2016 is to protect investment made to date and to maintain safety standards. The limited funding available over and above this priority will only be provided for projects which are affordable, meet overall transport objectives and deliver the best return in terms of economic recovery and job creation.
I would draw the Deputy’s attention to the Programme for Government and in particular the commitment that: “We will insist that major capital projects are subjected to proper cost-benefit analysis and evaluation, improving future productivity and growth prospects, and that the value-for-money obtained is significantly enhanced compared to the most recent period.”
The Irish Rail commissioned AECOM/Goodbody “2030 Rail Network Strategy Review” examined the potential for new and re-opened lines and it did not recommend the development of a rail link between Sligo and [London*]Derry or between Donegal and [London*]Derry. Likewise its predecessor, the “Strategic Rail Review” in 2003 did not recommend such rail links. The performance of Phase 1 of the Western Rail Corridor between Ennis to Athenry to date has been very disappointing even allowing for the recession. Given the pressure on the public finances there are no funds for new subsidies or to develop new rail links in any part of the country. Moreover CIE is in a precarious financial situation and is dependent on continued bank funding. For all the reasons outlined above, the Government has no plans to further extend the heavy rail network. In these circumstances the question of applying for Ten-T funding to develop a rail line between Cork and Belfast via Shannon, Limerick and [London*]Derry does not arise.
But Mr Ó Caoláin cannot have expected any other answer, so I wonder why he wasted civil service time by asking his question. Perhaps he has been inspired by the shade of Arthur J Balfour and hopes to kill northern Home Rule with southern kindness?
* “[London]” inserted in the interests of parity of esteem and intelligibility to unionist readers.