THE massive €3.7bn Metro North project in Dublin will go ahead as planned, the Government has confirmed.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan met with the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) late last week and instructed the agency responsible for delivering the light-rail system to inform bidders that it would go ahead.
The move is designed so the four bidding parties seeking to build and operate the system submit the best possible price for delivering the light rail project, which will run from St Stephen's Green to north of Swords.
It comes after the Government has repeatedly refused to state if it will be shelved as a result of falling tax revenues and the economic downturn.
Last night the Department of Finance confirmed that the meeting between Mr Lenihan, the RPA's chairman Tom Mulcahy and chief executive Frank Allen took place last Thursday, but it refused to comment on what was discussed.
The RPA also refused to comment.
But informed sources have told the Irish Independent that the Government wanted to send out the message that the project, estimated to cost €3.7bn, would go ahead so the four bidders would submit the best price.
"The meeting was to send a message to reassure the four consortia that the Government want a strong bid and for it (Metro North) to go ahead," one said.
"If we keep the four consortia interested, we get the best price. But as was always the case, it has to come back to the Cabinet for final sign-off. It was always envisaged that this would be the case."
Last week it emerged that a decision on whether Metro North would be approved will not be made until early next year.
Until the final cost of building the 17km line is known, the Cabinet will not approve funding.
In September the RPA, which has already spent €33m planning the project, will seek planning permission to build the line and the successful bidder which will design, build and operate the system, is not expected to be announced until November, after which it will negotiate with the RPA over a final price.
This process could run into early 2009.
Any delay to the project could have serious knock-on effects. The Ballymun Regeneration Scheme, expansion of Dublin Airport, development of a new town of 100,000 people in Swords and retail outlets, like Ikea, are all relying on the train route, and if it is put on the long finger it could send a signal that Ireland is not investing in infrastructure.