Ambassador Castro, Minister Kehoe, Minister D’Arcy, Deputy Howlin, Deputy Browne, MEP Mick Wallace, ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a pleasure to be back in Wexford for the official opening of the M11 Gorey to Enniscorthy.
My thanks to Wexford County Council and TII for the invitation.
As you know, this project was achieved on time and on budget. And I want to recognise the role of Dragados and BAM in making that happen. We also welcome Ambassador Castro here today in recognition of the many Spanish links.
As some of you will know, this is a project that has a special connection for me. In April 2014, as Minister for Transport, I signed the contract for this road. Signing that document with me was Deputy Brendan Howlin, the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and I wish to pay tribute to his role in making this project a reality.
At the moment some people are trying to create a false choice between investing in the roads network and investing in public transport.
We need to have both. Of course we need better rail, bus and cycle opportunities, and so in Project Ireland 2040 we will invest twice as much in new public transport projects as in new roads over the next decade. That’s the right balance I think.
At the same time, we must counter a pervasive anti-roads agenda. New roads like this, like the New Ross Bypass, like the M20 between Cork and Limerick, like the N4 to Sligo, or the N5 to Westport are essential to ensuring that all parts of Ireland can prosper in the years ahead.
These roads will reduce congestion and travel-times, improve road safety, and open up economic opportunities. And on these roads will travel electric vehicles, hybrids, buses and LPG trucks.
Yes, there are environmental challenges. And so we are making road transport more environmentally friendly, and we have set out how to do this in the recently launched Climate Action Plan. But if we scrap the roads programme, if we scrap Project Ireland 2040, we are telling all the parts of the country outside of our cities to wait. Wait, stuck in tailbacks and on bad roads, while investment is transferred to Metros and light-rail in the cities.
I don’t think that is fair. I think we have the right balance within Project Ireland 2040. It’s a strong investment in public transport, and also in the roads programme.
Few projects demonstrate the value of the roads programme as much as this one.
It’s a road that will improve travel times, reliability, and safety.
It’s about connectivity, improving access to the South-East and hugely importantly, to and from the port of Rosslare Europort.
It’s also an excellent example of how Project Ireland 2040 is delivering for the South-East Region.
Camolin, Ferns and Enniscorthy, will have reduced traffic congestion, increasing their attractiveness as places to shop, work, live and raise a family.
Travel times between Dublin and Wexford will be reduced by between 15 and 30 minutes.
As we know, this part of the country has faced many challenges. The recession hit hard. Jobs were lost, optimism was in short supply.
That’s all changing. Today’s opening is part of a greater comeback story for Wexford and the South-East.
Unemployment in Wexford has been cut in half since 2011, and is falling all the time. People are coming to live here and the population is rising again – an increase of 18,000 since 2006.
There are many reasons for optimism and this new road is only one of them.
Under Project Ireland 2040 we are investing €4 billion in collaborative projects through four different funds. 17 projects have been funded in the South-East under the first call and I’m sure more will follow.
Our mission is to deliver four things:
- improved infrastructure,
- greater connectivity,
- better jobs, and
- a higher quality of life.
There’s more to come. The N25 New Ross Bypass will open by the end of this year and will include Ireland’s longest bridge, extending 900m over the River Barrow.
These two projects will result in the alleviation of severe traffic bottlenecks in Enniscorthy and New Ross, giving us improved road user safety and sustainable economic growth across the South-East.
And there is also the new Technological University for the South East which I am confident can be born in the next year.
We don’t know what will happen with Brexit, but we do know that we have to prepare for all possible eventualities. This new road is part of a bigger plan for the South East. We are continuing to invest to improve the quality of our port facilities, in Rosslare and the Port of Waterford, because we recognise their role in maintaining transportation linkages with continental Europe.
As we face the reality of Brexit, we will find that every investment in greater connectivity is an investment in our future economic security.
So this new road is good for Wexford, it’s good for the South East, it’s good for Ireland, and it’s good for Europe.
And, with that, I am delighted to declare this road officially opened.