Northern Ireland-Scotland tunnel ‘smokescreen for Brexit fallout’, says O’Neill

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister has described a transport link with Scotland as a “smokescreen for the Brexit fallout”.

An official study has been announced to assess the feasibility of a bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland as part of a UK-wide connectivity review.

The idea has previously been floated by both the DUP and UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

There have been estimates it could cost up to £20 billion (€23.3 billion) to build.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill dismissed it on Wednesday as a “pipe dream”.

With increasing anger among the unionist community regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol, Ms O’Neill said the link with the UK is simply a “smokescreen for the Brexit fallout amongst the unionists who engineered it on both sides of the Irish Sea.”

Stormont transport minister Nichola Mallon also claimed the study is “politically motivated” and “more about bolstering the case for the Union ahead of the forthcoming Scottish elections”.

She said the UK government has yet to fulfil other infrastructure spending commitments it made in the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored powersharing at Stormont in 2020.

It’s about undermining devolution.

“It’s very clear that all of this is about London being able to impose its decisions, determine its priorities for the people of Northern Ireland, and it’s about undermining devolution,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.

“I think that that is something that we should all, right across Northern Ireland, right across these islands, should be seriously concerned by.”

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said he does not think there should be “anything controversial at all about the idea of better connections between Northern Ireland and the mainland”.

“No one thinks it’s controversial to have a tunnel between the UK and France, why should it be controversial to have a tunnel between Northern Ireland and the mainland?” he told the BBC.

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said he is “disappointed” by Ms Mallon’s response.

“Nichola Mallon should be taking off her SDLP hat and setting it to one side when considering connectivity throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. This could benefit us all,” he said.

“To characterise the review as undermining devolution has no basis in fact. This could have a positive impact on routes north-south and onward into Great Britain. Her opposition is bizarre.

“Air Passenger Duty will also be considered.

“A lot of focus is on a feasibility study into Boris’s bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland-Scotland, but your opposition or support for a project like that doesn’t mean that you throw the baby out with the bath water and dismiss the whole premise of the Connectivity Review. That would be very short-sighted and irresponsible.”

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