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Sell off plan to save Irish roads programme

IRELAND's GOVERNMENT is considering privatisation of the Dublin Port Tunnel and the Republic's M1 motorway to raise funds for more road projects.

In a surprise move, Irish transport minister Seamus Brennan said there were plans to sell the two infrastructure elements to the arms length National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF).

The fund invests state and public sector pensions. It could buy the assets and then recoup its outlay from tolls.

The Port Tunnel, due for completion in 2005, is designed to take port and freight traffic away from the congested city centre. It will link with the M1, the main road from Dublin to Belfast.

The plan would raise money for infrastructure projects and provide a more attractive investment strategy for its public sector pension fund.

The fund is looking for stable investment options as global financial markets go through a period of weakness.

High construction inflation has doubled the cost of an ambitious road programme due to cost $5.9bn between 2000 and 2006.

A sudden decline in the Irish state finances in 2001 slowed the programme down. There were no new starts in 2002 although more have begun this year.

A spokeswoman for Ireland's Department of Transport told NCEI that it was estimated that the port tunnel could fetch between $1bn and $2bn.

Diarmaid Fleming lA review by the Institution of Engineers of Ireland (IEI) of the Irish Republic's $52bn National Development Plan reveals that the programme is running well behind schedule. To complete the planned improvements to infrastructure between 2000 and 2006 will require significant extra funds, it says. The IEI estimates that the country's $5.6bn road programme is up to 15 months late and will not be fully implemented until 2013 at current funding levels. Doubling funding to allow completion by 2009 is urged, as well as reform of the planning system to fasttrack key projects.

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