Two leading members of the new Government have insisted the controversial M20 motorway between Cork and Limerick “will be built", despite a review of the National Development Plan (NDP).
Newly appointed Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath and Foreign Affairs Minister and former tánaiste Simon Coveney have told the Irish Examiner the long-awaited road project is “protected” and “will be going ahead”, despite Green Party opposition.
Mr McGrath and Mr Coveney have made clear that while the NDP is to be reviewed and extended from 2027 to 2031, critical projects such as the M20 are not in danger.
This is despite new Green minister Ossian Smyth saying he believed the project “would not happen” within the next five years and insisting he and his colleagues would prefer a rail link as opposed to a motorway.
He said he was “not in favour” of increasing road capacity between Cork and Limerick.
Mr McGrath said: “The projects provided for in the NDP are protected and that includes the Cork to Limerick motorway which is a critical piece of infrastructure and given the provisions of the national planning framework, Limerick and Cork and Waterford and Galway are earmarked for very significant growth.”
He confirmed there will be a review of the NDP in line with the commitment given in the programme for government.
“I will bring a memo to government on that. The intention is to extend the duration of the NDP by four years to 2031, to review the progress of certain projects and there may be scope to include additional projects given we will be lengthening the plan. But the projects in the NDP are protected, will be funded and will be going ahead,” he said.
Mr Coveney echoed his new Fianna Fáil ministerial colleague’s comments, saying the road is a “really strategic infrastructure” which is badly needed.
“I have used a lot of political capital to get the M20 moving again. Linking Ireland’s second and third cities, Cork and Limerick is a really strategic infrastructure project for buses and for cars. This is a project that makes sense and will be supported. We have planned for that, there is a budget in place, agreed in the programme for government and we should get on with it,” Mr Coveney told the Irish Examiner.
The estimated total cost of the previously cancelled project could top €1.2bn even though officials earlier this year conceded they had no working estimate for the 80km project.
The M20 route from Patrickswell in Limerick to Blarney in Cork is one of the biggest new national motorway projects slated to proceed, but Green Party opposition to it remains despite entering government.
It emerged recently that the Green Party’s preferred alternative route for the new Cork to Limerick motorway would result in longer travel times and prevent fewer collisions, according to an expert report.
Their plan would see the building of a two-lane M24 motorway along the existing N24 route from Limerick city to Cahir in Co Tipperary, which would then join onto the current M8 Dublin to Cork motorway.
The Green Party estimated that this M24 option would cost “half” of the €1.2bn cost of the M20 route.
However, a study for Limerick City and county council found that it would take a motorist 88 minutes to drive from Limerick City to Cork City on the Green Party’s preferred M24 route. This is slower than the 64 minutes it would take on the proposed M20 route, which is backed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.