Working towards Irish Unity




Digging a hole

So, it isn’t happening, then, this tunnel thing?

You know, the one linking Larne to Portpatrick that Boris and his pals in DUP said was such a good idea The ‘fixed link’ so that Northern Ireland can be umbilically attached to what is gratingly referred to as ‘the mainland.’

They originally wanted a bridge if you remember, but British coastal waters can be some of the roughest in the world and you can imagine what the AA would make of having to haul cars out of the drink every five minutes?

So, a bridge turned into a tunnel.

Officially, it is being looked at by a committee of the great and the good, with a report due in the summer. But it isn’t looking promising.

That seems to be the inescapable conclusion of recent remarks by the Secretary of State for Transport.

Speaking to the Financial Times last week, Grant Schapps floated a fresh idea. Rather than linking Scotland and Northern Ireland, he suggested digging a 50-mile tunnel between Wales and Dublin instead.

‘“Why not?” he exclaimed, arguing that it was vital to connect mainland Britain with Northern Ireland [sic]. Referring to Johnson’s idea of a bridge or tunnel from the region to Scotland, he said: “I don’t know whether it should be there or to Wales.” A tunnel between Wales and Ireland would offer Northern Ireland a short-cut to its main UK and European markets but Shapps’ allies admit the idea is not exactly fully formed.’

‘Not exactly fully formed.’

What a lovely euphemism for, ‘This idea has just flashed across my brain and I’m now saying it out loud.’

Worryingly, Schapps (and the FT) seem oblivious to the pretty significant fact that Dublin is not actually, you know, part of Northern Ireland.

And quite what the Irish Government makes of this ministerial spit-balling is unclear.

I suspect it will be a bit like if your next-door neighbour suggested getting rid of the shared fence dividing your back gardens so you can have more joint barbecues.

A bit over-familiar.

Sensible people who know about civil engineering have pointed out from the start that a tunnel linking Scotland to Northern Ireland brings a particular set of challenges.

(This is me employing a euphemism).

What they really mean is that the idea is nuts.

For starters, the sea is too deep and a load of World War Two ordinance was dumped there in the 1940s. One million tonnes of it, to be exact.

It seems a British act of weapons decommissioning has kiboshed the idea.

Irony of ironies.

Of course, the feasibility of a tunnel, or its utility, let alone the economics, is hardly the issue.

It is all about throwing a lifeline to the DUP, which is fraying at the edges, in large measure because Boris led them up the path over the Protocol.

A recent poll has them running joint-second with Alliance – a full nine points behind Sinn Fein – as they leak voters at both ends, with liberals deserting them in favour of Alliance and hardliners switching to Traditional Unionist Voice

So Boris Johnson has a rare pang of guilt for his actions, but he also has his own motivations.

He does not want the Union to disintegrate on his watch. Hence his oft-repeated line about the UK being a consortium of ‘four nations’ (although Northern Ireland can hardly said to be that).

Add-in the temptation for a bit of post-Brexit swaggering and digging a tunnel represents his latest bout of magical thinking.

It also reflects his love of the grandiose.

As Mayor of London, he wanted to build an airport in the Thames Estuary and a new footbridge across it. Alas, (for him), both projects flopped through a combination of unviability and excessive cost.

Despite there being no need for a tunnel – with ferries and flights adequate to the task of transporting people and goods across the Irish Sea – Boris and the DUP won’t let anything as mundane as facts get in the way.

But instead of symbols and grandiosity, why don’t they put their heads together and come up with something that Northern Ireland actually needs? (A motorway linking Belfast and Derry might be a good start).

Ultimately, two things will happen here.

The first is that a report will be published that keeps the idea of a tunnel in play, helping the DUP ahead of what are set to be a watershed set of elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly next year, at which it is likely they will come second or even third.

The second is that, with the elections out of the way, this whole business will be shelved. Forgotten about. Never mentioned again.

Perhaps they will bury all copies of the report in Beaufort’s Dyke, along with the WW2 explosives?