HANNA A SHOO-IN FOR SOUTH BELFAST

Councillor Claire Hanna  at the SDLP Assembly selection meeting in South Belfast  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Councillor Claire Hanna at the SDLP Assembly selection meeting in South Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher

Councillor Claire Hanna has been selected by the SDLP to replace the party leader and Westminster MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Dr McDonnell tendered his resignation as an MLA last Sunday in order to comply with the procedure. Cllr Hanna’s selection was approved by a meeting of South Belfast SDLP members last night at the Wellington Park Hotel, where she was also selected along with Fearghal McKinney MLA to run in the 2016 Assembly election.

Councillor Hanna has served on Belfast City Council since 2011 and was re-elected to serve the Balmoral area in the election for the new district councils last year. She is the daughter of Eamon and Carmel Hanna, both of whom have given great service to the SDLP over the years: Carrmel as a Councillor and MLA in South Belfast, and Eamon as general secretary.

SDLP Councillor Claire Hanna (centre) with her parents Carmel and Eamon Hanna  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

SDLP Councillor Claire Hanna (centre) with her parents Carmel and Eamon Hanna Photo: © Michael Fisher

Claire Hanna said: “It has been a privilege to serve on Council since 2011 and I am deeply grateful to have been selected to continue representing the people of South Belfast in the Assembly. I’m committed to the challenges of defending the SDLP’s second seat in this constituency, refocusing our party and restoring public faith in local politics, which has been in decline for a number of years.”

“As I have in Council, I will be standing up for the diversity of South Belfast, for excellence in public services, a strong and sustainable local economy and for core SDLP values of partnership, reconciliation and social justice. The SDLP are now in a strong position to fight for South Belfast and Northern Ireland at Westminster, in the Assembly and at Council. Our South Belfast representatives, Alasdair as MP and Fearghal and I as MLAs, and our Councillors, Declan Boyle, John Gallen, Brian Hanvey and Kate Mullan are united in this aim.”

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP congratulates Cllr Claire Hanna and Feaghal McKinney MLA at the Assembly selection meeting in South Belfast  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP congratulates Cllr Claire Hanna and Feaghal McKinney MLA at the Assembly selection meeting in South Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher

Dr McDonnell said: “Representing the people of South Belfast as an MLA for 17 years has been an honour and I know that Claire will serve our constituents with the same dedication and passion that she has demonstrated so often in Council. In Claire and Fearghal we have selected the two strongest choices of any party in South Belfast. I am confident that they will be successful in retaining two seats in this constituency in 2016 and continue to provide people here with effective representation and progressive politics.”

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP congratulates Cllr Claire Hanna and Feaghal McKinney MLA at the Assembly selection meeting in South Belfast  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP congratulates Cllr Claire Hanna and Feaghal McKinney MLA at the Assembly selection meeting in South Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher

Fearghal McKinney added: “In South Belfast the SDLP’s aim is to retain two seats in the upcoming election and I am honoured that my party has selected me again to represent the people of South Belfast. It has been a privilege to serve as Health spokesperson for the party and if I am returned to the Assembly I hope to continue to spearhead the campaign to make new cancer drugs available in Northern Ireland, fight for the needs of older people and challenge the failure to implement the Transforming Your Care plan.” 

Fearghal McKinney MLA with Claire Hanna  of the SDLP at the Assembly selection meeting in South Belfast  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Fearghal McKinney MLA with Claire Hanna of the SDLP at the Assembly selection meeting in South Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher

“We now need to focus on the economy to cement our peace and politics and deliver real prosperity. We need to make Northern Ireland work and pay its own way”, he said.

The announcement came a day after the Ulster Unionist Party released details of who will replace Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan in the Assembly after they were both elected as MPs in the recent General Election. Neil Somerville from Clogher will replace Mr Elliott in Fermanagh/South Tyrone while Adrian Cochrane-Watson will replace Mr Kinahan in South Antrim.

THE MISS-FITTS

Geraldine Fitt looks out the window in the family home on the Antrim Road Photo in: The Irish Universe July 1973

Geraldine Fitt looks out the window in the family home on the Antrim Road Photo in: The Irish Universe July 1973

The late MP for West Belfast and SDLP founder member Gerry Fitt jokingly referred to his five daughters as the ‘Miss Fitts’. Lord Fitt died in August 2005 aged 79. The picture is of one of his daughters, Geraldine, at the family home at 85 Antrim Road in North Belfast looking out through a window covered with a security grill. The picture appears on page 11 of The Irish Universe of Friday July 3rd 1973, the same one featured in yesterday’s blog on ‘Ulster’s Greatest Chance’.

'Justin' Column in The Irish Universe July 1973  Photo: Michael Fisher

‘Justin’ Column in The Irish Universe July 1973 Photo: Michael Fisher

“MOST moving press picture of the week: pretty young girl, chin on folded hands, behind a mesh of iron and steel: She’s Geraldine Fitt, daughter of Mr. Gerry Fitt, the S.D.L.P. leader, gazing through the protective screen at their house on the Antrim Road, Belfast West (sic.). Before the days of violence, Mr. Fitt’s daughters sometimes accompanied him to meetings, and people said, ‘Here comes the new group: Gerry and the Miss-Fitts'”.  Justin, The Irish Universe, Friday July 6th 1973.

There is no photographer’s name on the picture but it could have been one issued through a news agency as it turned up in other newspapers including some in the United States. A similar photo appears in the Lakeland Ledger (Florida) on July 2nd 1973 under the heading ‘BARRICADED WORLD’:

‘From her window in Antrim Road, 11-year-old Geraldine Fitt views the outside world — through a steel-mesh barricade. After the assassination of Paddy Wilson, her father’s agent and an Ulster (sic.) senator, William Whitelaw ordered a full security net for Fitt’s house in Belfast, Northern Ireland, gives protection against anything except bullets’.

Gerry Fitt and his family were forced to leave their fortress home on the Antrim Road and move to London in July 1983 after it was attacked by republicans. He had lost his seat to Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin at the Westminster election the previous month and was created a peer in the House of Lords. A biography written by journalist and commentator Chris Ryder was published by Brehon Press in 2006: ‘Fighting Fitt’.

'Fighting Fitt' by Chris Ryder: Brehon Press (2006)

‘Fighting Fitt’ by Chris Ryder: Brehon Press (2006)

ULSTER’S GREATEST CHANCE

The Irish Universe July 1973  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

The Irish Universe July 1973 Photo: © Michael Fisher

Dear Dr Haass, the front page headline in bold type in the newspaper proclaims ‘It’s Ulster’s Greatest Chance’. Is it referring to your reconvened talks, hopefully edging towards an agreement on outstanding issues in the peace process? No, it’s a reminder of the political situation in Northern Ireland forty years ago. The date on the paper is Friday July 6 1973. The story written by Donal Magee in Belfast appeared in the Catholic newspaper, The (Irish) Universe, a tabloid rival to the Catholic Herald (edited by my father from 1962-66). Both papers had their main office in those days in Fleet Street and I remember when this was the hub of all journalism in England.

The story was about the election results for ‘The new Assembly’: yes, there was a power-sharing administration between unionists and nationalists for a short while. But the Council of Ireland provisions in the Sunningdale agreement reached between the British and Irish governments in December 1973 were opposed by the majority of unionists and loyalists and led to the downfall of Brian Faulkner’s administration in May 1974. So here is a reminder to a younger generation of what Northern Ireland politics was like in those days, when the S.D.L.P. emerged ‘convinced that at the next election they could emerge as the largest party’……..

The Irish Universe July 1973  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

The Irish Universe July 1973 Photo: © Michael Fisher

“The new Assembly . . . IT’S ULSTER’S GREATEST CHANCE    Donal Magee:  Belfast

THE Assembly election results which disappointed the official Unionists, hardline Unionists, Republicans and Liberals, but not the Social Democratic and Labour Party, which represents the majority of Catholic opinion, has given the most optimistic prospect for the building of a new Northern Ireland. 

This assessment may come as a surprise to many in Britain, where the Press has been universally pessimistic about the results.

Healthy sign

But it is the view of the keenest observers of the Northern Ireland scene. Add to this the healthy political climate now being created between Dublin and London as a result of the Cosgrave-Heath talks this week, and it can be understood that this optimism is not without foundation. The full effects of this new understanding will, it is said here (Belfast), be seen by the end of the year when the new Assembly takes shape and is put to the test.

Their fear

The political climate has so improved that a visit of a high-ranking member of the British government to Dublin – even Mr Heath himself – for further talks with the Irish government is on the cards. But by that time the political shape and constitution of the new Northern Ireland Assembly will be known and the way prepared for tripartite talks. I understand that the Faulkner – Craig – Paisley parties fear a quickening of the comings and goings between London and Dublin as a result of the favourable interpretation now taken of the Assembly poll. The result reveals that the most united party to emerge from the election is the S.D.L.P. One of the party’s executive told me that they intend to set the pace and that they are now convinced that at the next election they could emerge as the largest party. He said: “Our assessment may seem exaggerated post-election optimism. It is not”.  Strengthened by the over –     * To Back Page  

Back Page The Irish Universe July 1973  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Back Page The Irish Universe July 1973 Photo: © Michael Fisher

CHANCE FOR ULSTER   * From Page 1

(over-)whelming rejection of violence by the electorate, the 19 S.D.L.P. members are meeting early next week to review their position. In the meantime no statements of their intentions are forthcoming and talk of an alliance with the official Unionists, which really would make history, is premature though not discounted. In this connection, any alliance would depend on who leads the official Unionists. It is absolutely certain that the S.D.L.P. would not form a coalition with Unionists led by Mr. Faulkner, who is heartily distrusted by Catholics. They may, however, be prepared to come to terms with a party lead by a more “acceptable” politician and the name of Mr. Roy Bradford has been mooted. Mr. Bradford had one of the largest majorities of any candidate in the election.

Achievement

His was a remarkable achievement when one considers that he stood in the supposedly militant dockland constituency in which one of his opponents was the U.D.A. leader Tommy Herron. Bradford has also shown conciliatory tendencies towards Catholics. He has taken a more liberal view than most mainstream Unionists both towards the minority in Ulster and towards the proposed Council of Ireland.   And his political thinking is geared toward the European dimension. An alliance between the official Unionists and the Craig-Paisley coalition is certainly out of the question. No church leader has made any official pronouncement on the result of the election. Cardinal Conway and the other Catholic bishops are in Germany at a conference of the European bishops but I understand that the Cardinal has privately expressed satisfaction”.

Leading Article The Irish Universe July 1973  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Leading Article The Irish Universe July 1973 Photo: © Michael Fisher

There was a leading article headlined ‘A Vote for Moderation’ inside on page 10:

“A VOTE FOR MODERATION

The experience of the last three years has shown that political investment in Northern Ireland, in terms of time, labour, patience and perseverance, produces very little dividend. So it was no disappointment to find that the election for the assembly has not noticeably transformed a situation that has shown itself almost invincible against efforts to rationalise it. But if we are resigned to measuring progress towards peace in that embattled province on a micrometer gauge, we have some reason for hope as we contemplate the indecisive and as yet ambiguous results of the poll. We can be thankful, for a start, at the unexpectedly high success of the Social and Democratic Labour Party (sic.), to which Catholics have rallied. Then again, the IRA’s failure to get more than a handful of the electorate to boycott the election or invalidate their papers is a healthy rejection symptom, the more so as the more notorious of the Protestant militants were also sent on their way”.

Leading Article The Irish Universe July 1973  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Leading Article The Irish Universe July 1973 Photo: © Michael Fisher

“New attitudes

Much will depend in the coming weeks on the attitudes of Mr. Gerry Fitt, the S.D.L.P. leader, and Mr. Brian Faulkner, both of whom are guardedly prepared to give the White Paper a trial. A short time ago neither would think of doing a deal with the other. But both are being forced by the march of events into new attitudes. Mr. Fitt finds his party for the first time in a position to exercise considerable power and this is not likely to be effectively exploited by a negative policy of intransigence. Mr, Faulkner, who is noted for political finesse and pragmatism, is fighting for survival. As a return to Protestant ascendancy through alliance with the anti- White Paper unionists is out, he has come round to viewing the possibility of power-sharing with the S.D.L.P. There is a danger here, however, that he may not carry all his supporters with him. It has even been suggested that he might lose as many as one-third. If this prospect is real his dilemma could usher in a new era of stalemate. Despite all this, the really significant fact is that the overall vote came down heavily on the side of moderation. This is more important than the rejection of the White Paper by a majority of unionists”.

Even after forty years with an entirely different political party balance and a new power-sharing government, it seems Dr Haass still has many difficulties to face as he attempts to find a way through the competing demands of unionists and loyalists, nationalists and republicans.

A BRIDGE TOO FAR?

In March I wrote about the ongoing controversy over the plan for a new cross-border bridge at Narrow Water linking County Down near Warrenpoint with Omeath in the Carlingford peninsula in County Louth. Now the project has been given the go-ahead by the Northern Ireland Finance Minister Sammy Wilson of the DUP and the way has been cleared for funding of €17.4m to be obtained from the Special EU Programmes Body under the INTERREG scheme. The BBC reports that the scheme for the bridge 660 metres (2,165 feet) long will be subject to various conditions in relation to its upkeep by Newry and Mourne Council as well as Louth County Council.

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

They have been talking about the project since 1976 when the East Border Region committee was formed by ten councils on both sides of the border, years before the Anglo-Irish agreement or the Good Friday agreement. The provisional EU offer of help last year was welcomed by the EBR Committee Chair, Councillor Jackie Crowe, a Sinn Féin member from Monaghan.

Proposed Bridge

Proposed Bridge

The approved scheme is for a single carriageway cable-stayed bridge across Carlingford Lough, which will be able to open to enable tall ships, leisure craft and other marine vessels access to Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin in Newry. The total length of the scheme is 660m while the towers have a height of 90m and 37m respectively. The design is by Roughan O’Donovan Consulting Engineers, who were also responsible for the new Boyne Bridge on the M1 near Drogheda.

Margaret Ritchie MP

Margaret Ritchie MP

The SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has taken a keen interest in the project since her involvement with the East Border Region Committee as a Councillor in 1985. She paid tribute to people such as her predecessor Eddie McGrady, Jim McCart, Donal O’Tierney and Barney Carr, who she said had never faltered from their belief in the bridge and who had shaped the economic debate for it and kept the project alive during very difficult political times in the North. In March she had raised questions with Sammy Wilson and accused him of dragging his feet in approving the Stormont contribution to the project.

Following a meeting with the Minister today Ms Ritchie said she was delighted to confirm that residual funding had been secured to allow the construction of the Narrow Water Bridge, which she described as one of the most important North South projects to be brought forward.

“Narrow Water Bridge will enable, not only many jobs to be provided in construction, but also will be a vital gateway to the Mournes on completion. It will be an important catalyst for economic investment and tourism not only in South Down and the Cooley Peninsula but throughout the island of Ireland. The project is a shining example of how far we have come as a community and in our North South relations. It also symbolises the future of our economy, which is in our tourism product, and this is now something, thanks to the peace process that we can export worldwide“, she said.

The MP said she had been making robust representations to secure funding for this project for considerable time and previously had met with all other funders including the Taoiseach, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement Committee in Dublin. She said today was a very positive day for the Narrow Water Bridge project, the people of Warrenpoint, Kilkeel and the Mournes and she thanked everybody who she said had worked so hard to bring the project to this now very advanced stage.

Narrow Water project

Narrow Water project

UPDATE: Tuesday 9th July
But wait a second! Just when it seemed that Northern approval for the project was almost ready, there’s been a development on the other side of the border with Louth County Council placing the project on hold, owing to high tendering costs (and I wonder how much has been spent already on design fees and other preparatory work).

South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie has demanded a meeting with the Taoiseach over the delay and says she wants both the British and Irish Governments to provide alternative resources to ensure the delivery of the Narrow Water Bridge project. She said:-

“I am disappointed by the decision of Louth County Council to put the Narrow Water Bridge project on hold due to the fact that tenders for the construction of the bridge were much higher than the financial envelope available for the project. I acknowledge the fact that Louth County Council has put the project on hold whilst they pursue alternative sources of funding.

I have already requested a meeting with the Taoiseach to impress upon him the importance of delivering this important piece of North/South infrastructure, and the fact that this project, on completion, would act as a stimulus to the local economy through increased visitor numbers, business investment opportunities, and make a contribution to job creation in the construction industry.
Already, the Bridge has received planning and marine consent as well as the financial support of the Special European Union Programmes Body, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
Furthermore, we await the outcome of the decision on the Bridge Order from the Minister for Regional Development, and only yesterday I had urged Minister Kennedy to process that application for the Bridge Order to approval stage as quickly as possible. Due to the importance of this bridge to under-pinning economic investment in the local area, I would be urging the Taoiseach to explore and to try and provide additional funding for the project and to examine if the European Union might have resources to assist with reducing the shortfall.

Undoubtedly, this will be a blow for the local community in Warrenpoint and in the Cooley Peninsula who fought hard for the project, and knowing their determination, I know they will not allow this setback to daunt them in pursuit of the Narrow Water Bridge. I and my colleagues in the SDLP are determined to continue our fight for this project along with the local community, the Chambers of Commerce, and other public representatives to ensure that this important piece of North/South tourist infrastructure is delivered to the Carlingford Lough area. At this time, the financial support and solidarity of both the British and Irish Governments as well as the Northern Ireland Executive is required to deliver this project which would assist in making a contribution to the local economy in South Down and the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth.”

So perhaps it will be a bridge too far, after all the talk.

NARROW WATER BRIDGE

In March I wrote about the ongoing controversy over the plan for a new cross-border bridge at Narrow Water linking County Down near Warrenpoint with Omeath in the Carlingford peninsula in County Louth. Now the project has been given the go-ahead by the Northern Ireland Finance Minister Sammy Wilson of the DUP and the way has been cleared for funding of €17.4m to be obtained from the Special EU Programmes Body under the INTERREG scheme. The BBC reports that the scheme for the bridge 660 metres (2,165 feet) long will be subject to various conditions in relation to its upkeep by Newry and Mourne Council as well as Louth County Council.

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

They have been talking about the project since 1976 when the East Border Region committee was formed by ten councils on both sides of the border, years before the Anglo-Irish agreement or the Good Friday agreement. The provisional EU offer of help last year was welcomed by the EBR Committee Chair, Councillor Jackie Crowe, a Sinn Féin member from Monaghan.

Proposed Bridge

Proposed Bridge

The approved scheme is for a single carriageway cable-stayed bridge across Carlingford Lough, which will be able to open to enable tall ships, leisure craft and other marine vessels access to Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin in Newry. The total length of the scheme is 660m while the towers have a height of 90m and 37m respectively. The design is by Roughan O’Donovan Consulting Engineers, who were also responsible for the new Boyne Bridge on the M1 near Drogheda.

Margaret Ritchie MP

Margaret Ritchie MP

The SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has taken a keen interest in the project since her involvement with the East Border Region Committee as a Councillor in 1985. She paid tribute to people such as her predecessor Eddie McGrady, Jim McCart, Donal O’Tierney and Barney Carr, who she said had never faltered from their belief in the bridge and who had shaped the economic debate for it and kept the project alive during very difficult political times in the North. In March she had raised questions with Sammy Wilson and accused him of dragging his feet in approving the Stormont contribution to the project.

Following a meeting with the Minister today Ms Ritchie said  she was delighted to confirm that residual funding had been secured to allow the construction of the Narrow Water Bridge, which she described as one of the most important North South projects to be brought forward.

“Narrow Water Bridge will enable, not only many jobs to be provided in construction, but also will be a vital gateway to the Mournes on completion. It will be an important catalyst for economic investment and tourism not only in South Down and the Cooley Peninsula but throughout the island of Ireland. The project is a shining example of how far we have come as a community and in our North South relations. It also symbolises the future of our economy, which is in our tourism product, and this is now something, thanks to the peace process that we can export worldwide“, she said.

The MP said she had been making robust representations to secure funding for this project for considerable time and previously had met with all other funders including the Taoiseach, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement Committee in Dublin. She said today was a very positive day for the Narrow Water Bridge project, the people of Warrenpoint, Kilkeel and the Mournes and she thanked everybody who she said had worked so hard to bring the project to this now very advanced stage.

Narrow Water project

Narrow Water project

 

A BRIDGE TOO FAR?

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

First things first. If you came here looking for a commentary on the Allied advance in the Second World War and battles such as the bridge at Arnhem, then you will be disappointed. I am sorry if I misled you. But the title seemed appropriate for the ongoing controversy over the proposed bridge at Narrow Water at the head of Carlingford Lough. They have been talking about the project since 1976 when the East Border Region committee was formed by ten councils on both sides of the border, years before the Anglo-Irish agreement or the Good Friday agreement.

The proposed structure would link County Down just beyond Narrow Water Castle with the opposite side of the shore near Omeath in County Louth. The project eventually received planning permission and the prospect of EU funding of €17.4m last year. This green light was welcomed by the East Border Region Committee Chair, Councillor Jackie Crowe, a Sinn Féin member from Monaghan.

Proposed Bridge

Proposed Bridge

The approved scheme is for a single carriageway cable-stayed bridge across Carlingford Lough, which will be able to open to enable tall ships, leisure craft and other marine vessels access to Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin in Newry. The total length of the scheme is 620m while the towers have a height of 90m and 37m respectively. The design is by Roughan O’Donovan Consulting Engineers, who were also responsible for the new Boyne Bridge on the M1 near Drogheda.In his statement welcoming the project on 24th October 2012, Councillor Crowe is quoted as saying that the proposed bridge was:-

a genuinely symbolic cross border project providing the first bridge linking Ireland and Northern Ireland and will provide a momentous tourism and economic catalyst for the whole of the region. The Bridge development will provide much needed jobs in the construction sector in the short term and will undoubtedly enhance the tourism potential of the region as it acts as a gateway to the Mournes and Cooley Mountains”.

And I thought Sinn Féin always referred to the island of “Ireland” as a 32-county entity……but perhaps this was a statement drawn up by someone else. It also seems to contain an error often repeated by others that this is the first such cross-border bridge. Surely Councillor Crowe has heard of the projects successfully pursued with the Irish government by his party colleagues in Monaghan to get two small cross-border bridges rebuilt which the British Army had blocked in the early 1970s? Annaghroe and Knockaginny bridges across the River Blackwater connected Glaslough in County Monaghan and Caledon in County Tyrone and were re-opened in October 2010 by the then Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, whose colleague in government Dermot Ahern was very supportive of the Narrow Water project as a Louth TD and Minister for Justice.

It seems the progress of the Narrow Water project, described by its promoters as “iconic” and “histooric”, is not going to be as smooth as they hoped. Is it a bridge too far for unionists? Last November the First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson requested an investigation into the decision to grant EU funding. He rejected a claim by the SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie that he wanted money channelled away from North-South infrastructure schemes towards community projects involving former loyalist paramilitaries. The following month, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson told the Assembly there was a “political smell” about the application for funding. He questioned the speed with which the Stormont Environment Minister, Alex Attwood of the SDLP, had granted planning permission for the bridge.

Margaret Ritchie MP

Margaret Ritchie MP

Now Margaret Ritchie has accused Sammy Wilson of dragging his feet and hiding behind other government departments when it comes to approving funding for the project. She quoted Mr Wilson’s argument that he could not approve the outstanding £2m for the Narrow Water Bridge until the Department of Regional Development had prepared a Roads Order. Ms Ritchie said she had now received confirmation from the Department for Regional Development that it is currently preparing the draft Roads Order, which is expected to published next month. But according to the Minister Danny Kennedy, she said, the formal making of the Order will not happen until the Department for Finance approves the business case.

Ms Ritchie said this response clearly states that the Minister for Finance can make the decision to approve the Narrow Water Bridge funding now and that this decision is not held back by the work of the Department of Regional Development, despite claims to the contrary. She said if it remained the case that Sammy Wilson is not prepared to approve the funding then the First and Deputy First Ministers must ensure a decision is taken without further delay, in the interests of the wider community and the tourism industry in the Mourne area and throughout the island. Furthermore as this is an important North-South economic development project there is now a clear need for the direct intervention of the British and Irish Governments to ensure that this project faces no more unnecessary delay, she added.

The MP has taken a keen interest in the project since her involvement with the East Border Region Committee as a Councillor in 1985. She paid tribute to people such as her predecessor Eddie McGrady, Jim McCart, Donal O’Tierney and Barney Carr, who she said had never faltered from their belief in the bridge and who had shaped the economic debate for it and kept the project alive during very difficult political times in the North.

Narrow Water project

Narrow Water project

UNIONIST DIS-UNITY

Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt

What happens next is what happens next”   That’s my nomination for quote of the week. You can now see why ex media star Mike Nesbitt is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. His ability to state the obvious with ease and not answer any difficult questions from interviewers, now that he is on the other side of the microphone or the camera. Mike had been asked on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster (1:58:00) about the future direction of the UUP and whether there would be other agreed unionist candidiates in future elections. The question arose following the resignation from the party last night of former deputy leader John McCallister MLA, over the UUP/DUP decision to run an agreed unionist candidate in the Mid-Ulster by-election, which I wrote about yesterday. Mr Nesbitt described the move as a “one-off”, but some wondered if it would just be the start of the end for the UUP and its amalgamation with the larger party led by Peter Robinson.

Then came a second bombshell for the UUP. Lagan Valley Basil McCrea MLA did an interview with the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster in which he announced his resignation. He hinted that plans were underway for the formation of a new “opposition” party along with Mr McCallister and the East Londonderry independent MLA David McClarty (formerly UUP).

Mr McClarty told the same programme on the BBC anybody who was a betting person would have put their money on John and Basil going at some stage. It happened extremely quickly, and it wrong-footed an awful lot of people, he said.  Mr McClarty said the UUP had lost its way. The Ulster Unionist Party is sending out mixed messages; they want to be progressive and pluralist, he said, yet they really have now turned this bye-election into a sectarian head count and we’re back to tribal politics. The three will be keeping in contact over the next few weeks and it remains to be seen what plans they will come up with.

One of the criticisms made by Basil McCrea was that the choice of one candidate on the unionist side (who is unlikely to win the seat anyway, given the current level of support for nationalist parties) would lead to a sectarian dogfight on the campaign trail. DUP leader Peter Robinson rejected this and said unionism was not sectarian.

The agreed unionist representative is Nigel Lutton, an orangeman who has worked with Protestant victims’ groups and whose father was shot dead by the IRA in 1979, shortly after he had left the RUC Reserve. Sinn Féin are putting forward Francie Molloy and the SDLP candidate is deputy party leader Patsy McGlone.

Patsy McGlone

Patsy McGlone

He hit out at the decision by the two unionist party leaders to back Mr Lutton and said it had the potential to reduce the by-election into a bitter sectarian struggle, echoing the views of Basil McCrea. He felt it would only create deeper tribalism. He claimed that Mike Nesbitt was leading the Ulster Unionist Party into electoral oblivion and was denying the electorate a choice. Eric Bullick will run for the Alliance party.