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'Boris's Burrow': Underwater Irish Sea tunnel prompts derision despite report of 'green light'

First it was a bridge, now it’s a tunnel, apparently.

Image: PA Images

IT’S SAFE TO say there hasn’t exactly been a ringing endorsement for the suggestion of a tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

The suggestion appeared to gain some ground yesterday when The Sunday Telegraph published a story saying the idea “could get the green light as soon as next month”. 

The claim is based on the imminent completion of a feasibility study that’s being undertaken about linking Scotland and Northern Ireland by bridge or tunnel. 

The review is being carried out by Peter Hendy of Network Rail and the Telegraph article suggests that a tunnel is the more favoured option. 

But despite the ambitious prediction that such a huge project could get the go-ahead, there hasn’t been much of a rush from politicians on either side of the Irish Sea to get on board. 

The idea of a fixed-link between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain isn’t new but has been somewhat turbocharged under the premiership of Boris Johnson. 

A bridge was first the dominant idea, hence the “Boris Bridge” nickname. But now officials have apparently turned their attention to an undersea rail link, with “Boris’s burrow” being the rather less catchy new moniker. 

PastedImage-80785 Source: PA Images

So why the change of focus? 

There were a number of problems with the bridge idea, with many pointing out that the distance of some 45 km was just too far for such a crossing. 

The bridge would be among the longest sea bridges in the world and would be located in a part of the world where bad winter weather could potentially close it for significant periods. 

Experts have also warned that the depth of the Irish Sea and the presence of dumped munitions would cause problems for any project. 

The UK had used Beaufort’s Dyke in the Irish Sea as a munitions dump during the Second World War and the trench itself, at some 300 metres deep, also presented a problem in itself. 

The idea of a tunnel was therefore seen as an alternative.

Proponents argue that the most likely route or a tunnel between Larne in Co Antrim and Stranraer in Scotland is about 45 km, shorter than the 50 km Channel Tunnel. 

Westminster’s Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said he favours a tunnel, previously telling a committee that the munitions dump would not be an issue and that he had been told by engineers that a tunnel would be cheaper than a bridge.   

Even Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster is on record last year as saying that a tunnel “wouldn’t be impacted by the weather or indeed Beaufort’s Dyke either “.

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Yesterday’s news that the feasibility study could see a tunnel being built hasn’t been given much credence, however. 

Speaking on BBC’s Talkback programme, the SDLP’s deputy leader and Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon described it as a “fantasy project”. 

“This is classic Boris Johnson, the pursuit of fantasy vanity projects. And I think this is a way to placate the DUP in many instances but also to distract from his multiple failings. 

There are a number of issues that I have with this project. There are huge questions around viability, whether it’s technically possible and the question of safety. And then there’s the question of, even if this was a flyer, is it a good use of public money?

Mallon also raised questions about whether Westminster even had the authority to pursue the project, saying that it is for devolved governments to decide on infrastructure.

The idea for the tunnel project has also even prompted some derision from within Johnson’s own party, with chair of Westminster’s Northern Ireland affairs committee Simon Hoare MP tweeting 

“The trains could be pulled by an inexhaustible herd of Unicorns overseen by stern, officious dodos. A PushmePullYou could be the senior guard and Puff the Magic Dragon the inspector. Let’s concentrate on making the Protocol work and put the hallucinogenics down.”

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Rónán Duffy

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