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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 18 February, 2020

Leo Varadkar says he won't 'pooh-pooh' the idea of a Northern Ireland-Scotland bridge

The Taoiseach said he’s willing to listen to proposals from the UK government if they “cost it properly and see if it’s viable”.

Image: Sam Boal/

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said the Irish government will not “dismiss or pooh-pooh” the idea of a bridge being built linking Northern Ireland and Scotland and said it’s up to the British government to carry out an engineering assessment and cost it properly.

It comes after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described such a project as a “very interesting idea” in the House of Commons last week, adding “watch this space”.

The Taoiseach told reporters late last week that he “knows people dismiss these things out of hand, but they used to dismiss the Channel Tunnel as well” prior to that being built. 

Channel 4 News reported in September that Johnson had told government officials to explore the possibility of building a NI-Scotland bridge. 

Documents showed that both the Treasury and Department for Transport were asked for advice on the costs and risks of this idea, Channel 4 News said.  

When asked about it by DUP Ian Paisley Jr in the House last week, Johnson said: “As for [Paisley's] desire for a bridge to connect the two biggest isles in the British isles, all I can say is that it is a very interesting idea.

I advise him to watch this space and indeed, watch that space between those islands because what he has said has not fallen on deaf ears.

The Taoiseach admitted that he has spoken to Johnson about the bridge idea.

“We actually chatted about that the other day when I spoke to him after his re-election as Prime Minister and I suggested that I thought it was an idea worth examining and that we should take a look at it but I expect the UK to pay for it,” Varadkar said. “At which point he suggested: ‘No, no, the EU is going to pay for it’.”

While Varadkar said the latter was “definitely not going to happen”, he did think a “high-level engineering assessment” should be done to see whether it is a viable proposal. 

He cited the Channel Tunnel, the bridge linking Denmark and Sweden and the recently-completed bridge linking Macau and Hong Kong as examples of large-scale engineering projects that have worked.

The Taoiseach completely ruled out the Irish government spending any money on the project, however.

“It’s linking Northern Ireland to Scotland, so it’s not something we’re going to spend any money on,” he said.

But, you know, we’re not going to dismiss or pooh-pooh the UK Government if they decide to carry out an engineering assessment and cost it properly and see if it’s viable.

However, Varadkar said there are other projects he was far more interested in talking to Johnson about. 

He said: “One is high-speed rail. Dublin, Belfast, Cork, including Limerick Junction on the way, and we’ve already given the go ahead to Irish Rail to start some of work on that to see if it would either make sense to do high-speed rail between Dublin, Belfast and Cork, or whether it would make more sense to upgrade our existing rail line to make it higher speed but not super-fast.”

He also talked up a better road network linking the rest of the country to Derry and north Donegal, developing a university for the city of Derry, and a cross-border greenway project.

“So there are actually loads of really good projects we could do together that might not cost as much and would definitely be more feasible than a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland,” Varadkar said.

But in my pursuit of those ones I’m not going to dismiss the one that the Prime Minister’s particularly keen on.

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About the author:

Sean Murray & Christina Finn

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