Minister Brendan Howlin and his general election “promise” of a motorway extension that may not be delivered

Less than a month before the general election, Labour’s Brendan Howlin announced that agreement had been reached for the bypass of Enniscorthy, Co Wexford to continue further south to bring it much closer to Wexford Town.

That was before the election though.

Now, the national transport infrastructure authority is saying it has made no decision on extending the bypass motorway and that the only funding in place for the project is a €100,000 grant to the local authority for a feasibility study.

TII No Records

The announcement that agreement had been reached on the extension was made at a sod-turning ceremony for another road scheme in Co Wexford on February 1, where Brendan Howlin gave a speech.

According to a report in the local Wexford People newspaper, Mr Howlin told the assembled crowd that agreement had been reached with Transport Infrastructure Ireland to bypass Oylegate.

I subsequently submitted an FOI request to both Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and Minister Howlin’s Department of Public Expenditure about the decision.

As we all know, pre-polling day “promises” are always in need of inverted commas. As Pat Rabbitte famously put it: “Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?”

TII responded to the FOI request to say they held no records on the decision, simply because none existed.

The Department of Public Expenditure also said they held no records relating to the decision.

A meeting had been scheduled to take place between Minister Howlin, the CEO of TII Michael Nolan, and Wexford County Manager Tom Enright on 20 January.

However, it had never taken place as Mr Howlin got waylaid by “a series of votes called in the Dáil Chamber during the scheduled time”.

Asked if he had jumped the gun on announcing that the extension had been finalised, Minister Howlin’s spokeswoman said money had been allocated “to commence design works on a scheme”.

However, Transport Infrastructure Ireland have said the €100,000 in funding is intended for a preliminary feasibility study.

A spokesman for TII said: “There is no decision as yet and this process will be looking into whether or not it would be value for money.

“They are in the process of appointing a consultant and it [the feasibility study] would be a stand-alone project.”

Asked to comment further, Mr Howlin remained confident his promise would be delivered on notwithstanding the fact his time in office is getting shorter by the day.

Howlin Response

The project is a major issue in Wexford as the town of Oylegate will be the only urban centre on the entire route running from Belfast all the way to the port at Rosslare, which will not have been bypassed.

Concerns have been raised locally that the existing traffic bottleneck on the N11 — which are particularly bad on Bank Holiday weekends — will simply move further south to the village.

Newly-elected Fianna Fáil TD James Browne TD: “The impression everybody got was that the extension was going ahead and now it seems that it’s only at a feasibility stage.

“Everybody was of the view that this was confirmed. In fairness to Brendan Howlin, he did ensure the delivery of the Enniscorthy bypass but there was always this concern that the bottleneck would be moved to Oylegate and if it is not extended, it will become a bottleneck, there’s no question about it.

“I think people will be very concerned to find out that this is nowhere near as advanced as was being suggested.”

Minister Howlin was the first politician to be elected in his Wexford constituency despite the wipeout that Labour faced in the rest of the country.

Enormous expenditure in the county may have played a part with one quarter of a €2.25 billion stimulus plan in 2012 earmarked for the county.

As part of that package, two motorway projects — including the Enniscorthy scheme — were given the green light, while Wexford town also secured money for a new courthouse, new garda divisional headquarters, a primary care centre, and significant schools investment.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times at the weekend.

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