€20bn spending plan set to deliver key road projects

The Government is planning to announce a 10-year capital spending plan worth in excess of €20bn, or €2bn a year, which is set to deliver major projects like the long-awaited Cork to Limerick motorway.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe will publish their summer economic statement on Wednesday, which will lay out the road map for the capital plan later in the year.

The Cabinet is to hold a special meeting to finally sign off on the plan ahead of its publication and Dáil debate which will be held on Thursday. Key details of the plan, obtained by the Irish Examiner, include:

  • A dramatic rise in capital spending from 2019, driven by a balanced budget in October;
  • A Celtic Tiger-style plan which will see major emphasis on road building like the €1bn M20 between Cork and Limerick and other major transport projects like the controversial Metro North;
  • Higher education “which has been starved of funds” and the health service in terms of increasing capacity are also to be prioritised.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, several Cabinet ministers confirmed the desire to ramp up capital spending from next year, which will be made possible by the first balanced budget in over a decade.

A minister said: “We are more confident now, given the quarterly tax returns at the end of June, than we were. We will see a big ramping up of capital spending.

“European rules look like changing but that is a factor. What is absolutely guaranteed is that we will balance the books in 2018, and that the reason we do, that the space dramatically opens up from 2019.”

When asked what numbers are possible, at least two ministers have confirmed spend is likely to be “between €2bn-€3bn a year for up to 10 years”.

One said: “Instead of Government having a few hundred million to play around with, we are now talking about billions over a sustained period of time and that is while being compliant with the fiscal rules.

“You see once we balance the budget, the apron strings are loosened significantly. We don’t have to answer to Europe at that stage.”

It is not expected that the economic statement will include specific details of individual projects.

The Irish Examiner has learnt Mr Varadkar placed heavy emphasis on road building to connect rural areas and regional cities at a special Cabinet meeting last Thursday. “There was a fair bit of discussion about roads and connecting rural and regional areas by road,” said one minister.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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