Plans for a cross-border bridge at the site of one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles have been dealt another blow after funding from Europe was pulled.
The Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB) had pledged €17.4m towards the Narrow Water project but has withdrawn its offer because additional funding had not been found.
A SEUPB statement said: “Following comprehensive discussions on the financial viability of the Narrow Water Bridge with the project’s lead partner (East Border Region Ltd and Louth County Council), the SEUPB has decided to withdraw the letter of offer. The additional funding required to deliver the project has not been secured.”
The decision has sparked outrage on both sides of the border.
Declan Breathnach, chairman of Louth County Council, said the decision should focus minds.
“It was not unexpected. They are under severe pressure to spend,” he said.
“I think this should focus the minds on what is a shovel ready project and if people really want the bridge to happen, as three local authorities and the majority of public representatives do, then it will focus the minds in the Taoiseach’s office and the Northern Ireland executive.”
The Fianna Fáil representative said he expects the SEUPB will find it difficult to find another project so well developed.
“If there’s a will to come up with the shortfall in finance then it has to be a willingness in the NI Executive in connection with the southern Government,” he said
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said: “I am extremely disappointed that the SEUPB find themselves in this position of withdrawing funding.
“I am still of the belief that the Narrow Water Bridge would be an important economic stimulus for the local area of South Down and Co Louth in terms of job creation, investment and tourism opportunities. I would still hope that it would be possible for both governments together to bring forward a scheme for funding this important project.”
Ms Ritchie also questioned the timing of the announcement which comes ahead of a meeting on the issue with Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers at Stormont on Monday.
The Narrow Water cable-stayed bridge, 195m long, has been in the planning for at least five years and would have connected Cornamucklagh near Omeath, Co Louth with Narrow Water near Warrenpoint, Co Down, at an historic crossing point.
The entire build would have been 620m long and it had been hoped it could be open by 2015.
Backers of the scheme claimed it was crucial to the prospects for economic regeneration and reconciliation of the border community in Louth and Down.
Stormont’s Finance department was the last body to commit to fund the scheme with £2.7 million allocated to the bridge. In May, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson gave approval for the project on a number of financial conditions and undertakings from both Louth and Newry and Mourne councils.
In July however, council bosses in Co Louth pulled out after bids for the job from construction firms came in substantially above budget.
Narrow Water was the spot were a convoy of British paratroopers were blown up by a remote control roadside bomb in 1979. It was the British Army’s greatest loss of life in one day in the North with 18 soldiers killed.
The SEUPB said it was now looking to reallocate the funding to other eligible projects.
A spokesman added: “The SEUPB is now exploring options for the reallocation of this funding to eligible projects capable of being delivered by December 2015 to ensure that the drawdown of funds from the European Commission is maximised and that no money is lost to the Northern Ireland or Ireland economies.”