Whatever happened to the Donegal to Dublin Motorway?

Also published in Donegal on Sunday, 2 January 2011

Almost unnoticed among the government press releases this week, transport minister Noel Dempsey quietly laid the plan for a Donegal—Dublin motorway to rest.

Announcing the completion of the M7, Dempsey noted that the opening of the last 36km stretch marked not only the end of the M7 building programme, but “the completion of the national motorway building programme.”

In other words: No more motorways.

Dempsey, who last week announced his own retirement from politics, patted himself on the back for a job well done, noting that the “historic day” marked the end of a ten-year plan for motorway building he began when he was minister for the environment. The press release quotes Dempsey:

Artist's impression: The Donegal-to-Dublin motorway
Going nowhere: The Donegal-to-Dublin motorway
© faduda.ie

“We now have 750km of world standard motorways linking Dublin to the Border, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. These motorways are saving lives, slashing journey times, facilitating business, improving the quality of life of those who use them and those who live in the bypassed villages on towns along their course.”

But wait, what’s all this about the “completion of the national motorway building programme”? Haven’t I been reading for several years about another ambitious autobahn?

Whatever happened to the Donegal to Dublin Motorway?

What? You’ve never heard of the Donegal to Dublin motorway? It’s been the talk of the northwest for years. Here’s a glossy brochure from Mary Coughlan, for example, printed at the taxpayers’ expense to celebrate the opening of a 5km stretch of road and a roundabout near Letterkenny.

Looking to the future, the brochure looks forward to “the motorway to the Northwest serving Letterkenny and Derry.”

And here’s a senator, Brian Ó Domhnaill. The recently humiliated Fianna Fáil by-election candidate was assured less than a month ago that the Minister for Transport was “committed to the the Donegal to Dublin motorway project.” That minister is Noel Dempsey, by the way.

Sitting TD Niall Blaney was writing about the motorway as far back as 2006, when he promised to to spend his time in the Dáil “lobbying for motorway status as it brings a greater level of service to the county and will open the county to Dublin.”

Blaney boasted that he’d been “lobbying ministers, and the taoiseach himself” for the superhighway since at least 1998.

And lest you think a Donegal motorway was mere Fianna Fáil puffery, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, the recently elected victor in the Donegal by-election, placed a motion on the agenda of Donegal county Council in the days before he became a senator.

Here’s the 2005 motion in all its glory:

“That this council seeks a urgent[sic] cross party meeting with the Minister for Transport to highlight our deep anger at the lack of any public transport infrastructure planned for Donegal in the government’s new Transport 21 plan and seek government approval for the reintroduction of rail to Donegal, a Dublin — Donegal motorway and a timed and costed programme of support for our national and regional roads and infrastructural support for Donegal Airport.”

But Doherty had copped on by 2007, asking Coughlan to apologise for claiming the motorway would be included in a national development plan.

The penny didn’t drop quite so fast for Fine Gael’s Joe McHugh. One month after Doherty let the cat out of the bag, he demanded the grandiose project be made “a priority”. At least Joe had a plan to reduce costs for taxpayers in the Republic. Ignoring the Dublin establishment, he called on Northern Irish politicians to do their bit for unity by upgrading the A5 through Tyrone and Derry.

Poor Joe has a terrible time getting up and down to the Dáil every week, facing a nightmare commute on “little more than a farm track for slurry tanks, loads of silage, livestock — both on the hoof and in mobile boxes — and a nightmare to drive on particularly at peak times of the day.”

“A new motorway would be an ideal solution but, failing that, a dual carriageway is a minimum requirement,” he concluded.

That’s the trouble with the internet. It never forgets those foolish political promises.