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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 18:27 GMT
Republic unveils cash plan for NI

By Shane Harrison
Dublin correspondent, BBC Northern Ireland

The Irish government is to spend about 800m on Northern Ireland-related infrastructure projects over the next six years.

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern's goverment is to fund projects in Northern Ireland
The Irish Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, says the money will be used for the benefit of both communities and for people on both sides of the border.

Most of the money will be spent on transport improving the road links between Dublin and the major population centres in Northern Ireland but also between Letterkenny and Londonderry.

Funds will also go the Belfast to Dublin rail line and the City of Derry airport.

There is no clear breakdown of what monies go where and there will have to be some negotiations with the authorities in Northern Ireland.

Mr Ahern says he is looking forward to developing these proposals with the British government and with a newly restored Executive, but there is no indication that the money is dependent on the return of devolution.

With the Irish government set to spend about 120bn over the next six years, the opposition parties have accused it of electioneering in advance of the summer election.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said he "warmly welcomed" the announcement which followed "a significant package of funding and investment for Northern Ireland" which he announced last November.

While our priorities may differ from those in the Republic, we welcome any contribution to helping us deliver the kind of infrastructure that will make Northern Ireland more economically competitive
Peter Robinson
DUP deputy leader
"I believe that taken together, our common efforts offer a unique opportunity to restore devolved government on a sound and forward-looking basis," he said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said the proposals "have the potential to be of real benefit to everyone in Northern Ireland as well as to everyone throughout the island".

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said some proposals "would not have the support of the DUP or unionists in general but others are worthy of consideration and discussion".

"While our priorities may differ from those in the Republic, we welcome any contribution to helping us deliver the kind of infrastructure that will make Northern Ireland more economically competitive," he said.

Sinn Fein economy spokesman Mitchel McLaughlin said the investment would "have practical benefits for all of our people who live on the island of Ireland".

"My hope is that unionist political representatives will see the Irish government investment as an opportunity to embrace the social and economic benefits of all-Ireland co-operation," he added.

SDLP West Tyrone assembly member Eugene McMenamin called for the British government to match the commitment in upgrading roads in the north west.

"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that would boost the attractiveness of the North West and Donegal to inward investors as much as a motorway link to Dublin," he said.


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