THE GOVERNMENT has ordered a halt to planned spending on almost 80 national road-building schemes, worth billions of euro, until further notice.
The instruction was issued to the National Roads Authority late last month. Under it, the NRA is forbidden from spending on all capital projects which are not already under way, unless each new project is individually sanctioned by the Department of Finance.
The curbs will affect 78 major construction projects in the NRA Roads Programme, 55 of them national primary roads and 23 national secondary roads.
The curb will also extend to road maintenance where contracts for items such as road resurfacing will also need to be pre-approved by the Department of Finance.
A spokesman for the NRA said the authority was “very concerned”, particularly as a lot of current inter-urban schemes were ahead of schedule, and would be completed this year.
Under normal circumstances the NRA would then move ahead with 55 planned improvement schemes on national primary routes, including those linking Dublin with Monaghan, Sligo, Mayo and Wexford, as well as inter-regional routes, such as Limerick to Waterford and Limerick to Cork, and national secondary roads.
In effect the move means that as the inter-urban routes are completed over the coming 20 months, the NRA will gradually run out of work, unless schemes are individually approved by the department.
The department confirmed yesterday that all new capital projects now need to be pre-approved. A spokesman acknowledged that this new requirement had been imposed “in the light of changing economic circumstances”.
The only exception to the Government’s edict is to be the 6km Castleisland bypass in Co Kerry, sanctioned by the Department of Finance on March 19th.
Credit for the sanction was yesterday claimed by the Independent Kerry TD Jackie Healy Rae, who said he had used his position as a Government supporter to “at all times put the interest of the people [of Kerry] first”. He said the Opposition should “stop trying to jeopardise the further items that I have an agreement on”.
The instruction to the NRA mirrors that issued to local authorities ordering them to halt €500 million worth of work on regional and local roads, pending approval of each scheme from the department.
The Construction Industry Federation met Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Dermot McCarthy in recent weeks to express its concern at the Government’s instruction.
The federation said the halt in spending was “right across the board in relation to the National Development Plan commitments on water, housing and roads”. In relation to the roads it said the instruction was “absolutely savage”.
“At our emergency meeting with Dermot McCarthy we pointed out that every €100 million invested in infrastructure carried with it 1,000 jobs and returned €50 million to the Government in taxes and reduced social welfare payments . . . it is a major bone of contention,” federation spokesman Martin Whelan said.
The inter-urban motorway programme that was announced by the Government in 1999 comprised motorways to the Border and the regional cities of Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford.
Road schemes affected
Two schemes between Kells, Co Meath and Belturbet, Co Cavan on the N3
Three schemes on the N2 between Ashbourne and Co Monaghan
Three schemes on the N4 between Mullingar and Castlebaldwin
Three schemes on the N16 in counties Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan
Four schemes between Longford and Westport on the N5
Six schemes on the N25 between New Ross, Co Wexford and the Cork Southern Ring
Four schemes on the N13/N14/N15 group of roads in the northwest
Five schemes on the N22 between Tralee and Cork
Seven schemes on the N24 in Co Tipperary
23 schemes on national secondary roads.
These schemes will not now go ahead unless specifically sanctioned by the Department of Finance.