Micheál Martin defends Dublin’s investment in Northern Ireland

Micheál Martin
Image caption,Micheál Martin said the investment represented ways to connect people

By Chris Buckler & Lesley-Anne McKeown


Irish government spending in Northern Ireland is not being used as a Trojan horse to win support for a united Ireland, the tánaiste (deputy prime minister) has said.

Micheál Martin said the Shared Island fund is focused on improving the economy across the island and does not have any wider political motive.

The Dublin government has committed to spending €1bn (£868m) by 2030 on initiatives with cross-border benefits.

Among the most significant investments is a promise of tens of millions of euro to help improve facilities and boost student numbers at Ulster University’s campus in Londonderry.

“It’s not a Trojan horse; many of these projects were committed to by both (the Irish and British) governments 10, 15, 25 years ago,” Mr Martin told BBC News NI.

‘Connect people’

“The Ulster Canal – we said we would complete that. The Narrow Water Bridge was committed to,” he continued.

“It’s back to doing sensible, practical things to connect people.”

While much of the focus has been on those larger-scale projects, significant amounts of funding have been given out as smaller grants.

Cash is being used, for example, to organise trips for men’s shed groups between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Sheds is the name given for community workshops where groups of men can get together to share interests and make friendships.

Brian Carr
Image caption,Brian Carr said the mental health benefits of men’s shed projects meant they were money well spent

“We know men do not really talk or communicate but when they come into a men’s shed setting they all just let go,” said Brian Carr, the coordinator of the Donegal Local Development Company’s Donegal Men’s Shed network.

Brian helped to organise a recent visit by men from the north of the border to his shed on the outskirts of Donegal town.

“They all have something in common, should it be Armagh or Down or Donegal or anywhere else in the Republic of Ireland.

“Mental health wise, it’s money well spent.”

It’s also improving and building relationships which many think is at the centre of the Irish government’s thinking.

Eamonn Murphy
Image caption,Eamonn Murphy believes the Irish government spending is because “they see the lie of the land”

Eamonn Murphy is a former republican prisoner and a member of the Barcroft Community Garden shed in Newry.

He was on the trip to Donegal and believes, despite what the tánaiste says, that Dublin is looking at the longer term and a need to have stronger ties should the Irish border ever be removed.

“I think the Irish government is being forced to reach out because they see the lie of the land,” added Eamonn.

“They actually see what is coming.”

Raymond Flynn
Image caption,Raymond Flynn told BBC News NI his men’s shed includes people of different traditions

But do members of other sheds on this visit share the view that a united Ireland is Dublin’s aim for spending this cash?

“It could well be, but to say that with some members of our shed who may be of the Protestant faith, that’s certainly not something I would be saying,” insisted Raymond Flynn of the Derramore Men’s Shed in Newry.

The funding reflects that what connects people across the island is not always related to constitutional issues.

An LGBT group in Londonderry was also recently awarded cash – the Rainbow Project said that was a recognition that what is important to people is not limited to orange and green.

“Queer rights are always hard fought here on this island – but they’re fought across the entire island,” said Eimear Willis, a health and wellbeing officer with the group.

Eimear Willis
Image caption,Eimear Willis said rights issues mattered across the island

“In 2015 equal marriage was an all-Ireland fight,” she explained. “We were crossing the border and knocking on doors.

“And whenever the bill was coming in about a conscience clause. people were coming over the border to support us in our fight.”


The key question about cash though is how much the Irish government is prepared to spend to improve cross-border connections.

The draft report of an All-Island Strategic Rail Review set out an ambitious £30bn (£26bn) plan to improve train links.

Steve Bradley
Image caption,Steve Bradley said a railway plan for the north-west of Ireland would be transformational

It suggested that Northern Ireland would pay a quarter of the cost if Belfast and Dublin agreed to go ahead with the proposals.

Without an executive the report can’t even be formally published but some have also questioned whether any of it would be affordable given Stormont’s financial problems.

“One frustration I would have with the Shared Island Fund is, so far, it’s tended to be relatively small projects,” said Steve Bradley who is part of the railway lobby group Into the West.

“I can’t see anything else that would be as http://pembangkitkuku.com/ transformational on this island as closing the gap in the rail map in the north-west corner.”

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