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Northern Ireland project pipeline stalls amid political deadlock

The Stormont building in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Image by Robert Paul Young

Protests across Northern Ireland highlighting the country’s lack of functioning government have drawn attention to more than £2bn in stalled infrastructure projects.

At yesterday’s #WeDeserveBetter events voters demanded an end to the country’s political limbo, which hinges on a row between the region’s largest parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Feìn.

Northern Ireland’s government at Stormont has been closed for 589 days – a new world record for the length of time a country has been without leadership.

As a result, several high-profile schemes have been put on ice, putting hundreds of construction and supply chain jobs at risk.

Among the high profile projects awaiting approval is the the long-awaited North-South electricity interconnector, worth £200M; a £175M transport hub in the centre of Belfast; and an 85km project to improve the A5 from Londonderry to the Irish border.

Specialist Engineering Contractors’ (SEC) Group NI executive officer Alfie Watterson said the on-going uncertainty was putting huge pressure on small and medium sized enterprises and main contractors across the province.

“The Stormont situation is having a very negative impact. While existing projects are continuing, anything that requires ministerial approval to begin is basically on hold. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will not step in from Westminster because that would be like direct rule, which is obviously very sensitive politically.”

Projects have been deemed to require “ministerial approval” after a court ruled in the summer that civil servants were not legally entitled to have the final say on whether a waste incinerator plant in County Antrim could go ahead.

“Feedback we’re getting is that engineering specialists in Northern Ireland are looking for work in England and Wales rather than at home. They don’t hold out any hope things will improve soon,” added Watterson.

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