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Motorway cities… January 30, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Newton Emerson had another interesting column in the IT which inadvertently points up the sheer lack of imagination and forward thinking of unionism in the 20th century. He writes about how infrastructural projects have a peculiar hold on the public imagination and how recently after the risible Channel Bridge proposal from one B. Johnson there was a half-serious idea of a Scotland/Northern Ireland bridge mooted. He points to how the DUP has long wanted some sort of link between the two, in 2015 going as far as to include an examination of such proposals in its manifesto. The union made manifest as it were.

But he also notes that internally the North was poorly served by infrastructure, famously so in a way:

Northern Ireland provides the negative illustration – it has never collectively inspired itself in concrete and steel. Its motorways and railways peter out at the river Bann, the new city of Craigavon had a divisive name and location and siting a new university at Coleraine was so controversial it inspired the formation of the SDLP and the Civil Rights Association.


Nationalists blame all this on sectarianism, past and present. Unionists can point to cast-iron economic arguments in their defence. There are few railways in the west of Northern Ireland for the same reason there are few in the west of the Republic – small towns and scattered populations cannot justify them. Coleraine was selected by a panel of English experts, brought in on the condition their decision would be binding.

It’s very difficult to believe that not linking the west and east of NI was cast-iron sense economically speaking. It makes no sense for a start unless one elides rail and road and while there was a push mid-20th century to do away with rail, the same cannot be said for road, indeed in the UK the idea was explicitly that road would take up the slack.

But even the point about Coleraine is telling because it underscores the indifference to the reality of nationalism within the North during that period. On paper it might make sense to have a university at Coleraine – though even that is a stretch. In the context of a hugely divided polity it made no sense at all. And look where it led.

And anyone familiar with that irritating and truncated motorway from Belfast to… yes… the river Bann (at least in the days before the ROI motorways swept all before them), will know that too was determined by thinly veiled sectarianism. Sometimes people wonder about the irruption of armed struggle in the late 1960s. But when the very structures, the roads and other aspects of the state were so determinedly and quite literally turned against nationalists and catholics it is difficult not to understand the heat and ferocity of what took place – even if hoping that it could have assumed a different form.

In fairness Emerson continues:

Yet unionists were far too happy to accept these dry arguments in the past and have done nothing to see beyond them in the present.
A motorway between Belfast and Derry might have a weak financial case but as a way to knit Northern Ireland together it would have been unsurpassed. Merely upgrading the existing single-track railway to an hourly service remains a 20-year unfinished saga. Thanks to the Letterkenny dual carriageway, the nationalist west could have a motorway to Dublin before it has one to Belfast – a prospect whose political significance is lost on nobody. Now it feels too late to bring east and west together. In every sense of the term, unionism has failed to build a nation.

That Letterkenny dual carriageway is vital – and it is certainly an intriguing point he makes, though as someone who makes that journey three or four times a year there is a reality that getting to Donegal is probably of equal importance to most making it.

That said I think he’s absolutely correct about a Derry/Belfast motorway. It makes good sense, it makes excellent sense indeed from an all-island perspective to diminish the sense of distance, both physical and otherwise, not in order to force unionists to be nationalists or whatever but simply to point up it’s a damn small island in the scheme of things and working together, even while retaining differences is better than not working at all.


1. EWI - January 30, 2018

Claiming that Coleraine being selected wasn’t on the basis of denying (Catholic) Derry the second university is a transparent falsehood. Everything in good old Stormont ran on the basis of ‘preserving the Union’, such as this decision, the creation of Craigavon, and the absolutely pig-headed continuing refusal to build modern transport links between north and south.

And the notion that they’re going to get a NI-Scotland bridge should be a non-negotiable red line that the Irish government should refuse to cross.


2. deiseach - January 30, 2018

“Coleraine was selected by a panel of English experts, brought in on the condition their decision would be binding.”

Am I missing some context here, or does he think ‘a panel of English experts’ are self-evidently neutral on all matters Norn Iron?


EWI - January 30, 2018

It’s complete BS, as any non-Newton account of what actually happened will tell you.


3. GW - January 30, 2018

Why motorways? – the car & truck must die except for unavoidable local uses!

Why not a two-way electrified high speed rail link with goods sidings for townships along the way between Derry and Belfast? The journeytime on the express shouldn’t be more that 1hr 30m.

Powered by offshore wind plus a bit from the network when the wind doesn’t blow – rare for the seas off the north of Ireland.


4. Joe - January 30, 2018

A bridge between Ireland and Britain would be a good thing, no? And the obvious location for it would be between NI and Scotland. Why should the Irish government oppose this?


GW - January 30, 2018

A bridge might be a good idea – provided it was a rail bridge with a cycleway. Sez the eco-Nazi.

Good question actually.

Erm – because it makes no engineering sense? There is quite a trench between the two islands: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Sea#/media/File:Irish_Sea_%E2%80%93_relief,_ports,_limits.tif

But the Chinese have built humongous bridges. As far as I know mostly in shallow waters however.

Because there’s a big trench full of waste munitions between the two islands?

What about giant trebuchets with parachutes? In green, orange and blue, naturally. 🙂

To be honest Joe, my answer would be: because after Brexshit we should be concentrating on going *around* the UK. i.e. long haul ferries into France and possibly Spain.


EWI - January 30, 2018

Should build the cross-Channel bridge first; otherwise, like you say, what’s the benefit?

As to what political objection the Republic may take to it: really? Just why do you think Ulster Unionism is so interested in it?


Joe - January 30, 2018

This is all castles in the air and more stuff that’s not going to happen in my lifetime.
But, like, who’s going to be building this thing? The UK govt presumably. If (they won’t but if they did) they decided to go ahead with it, it would be for their own reasons, good bad or indifferent.
And it would be quite rude of them to tell the RoI government to pfo and mind its own business if the RoI government had political or any other objections to it. So it would.


5. O'Connor Lysaght - January 31, 2018

Airy castles, perhaps, Joe, but the idea of a land transport link between Ulster and Scotland has been around for as long as that of such a link between England and France – back to the 1880s, in fact.
I have no objection in principle to such an idea, especially if Scotland gets its independence from England. However, it should not take priority over the improvement of transport links from Belfast to its south and west.


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