TUV Leader Jim Allister has accused the DUP of betraying the fight for early progress on further dialling of the A26.
With the A5 not proceeding, the Assembly debated how the money thereby freed up should be spent. Mr Allister was strongly backing a UUP motion calling for it to go to other named roads projects, including the A 26, and the Roads Minister told the Assembly the A26 could be ready to start in the autumn of 2014. However, the DUP joined with Sinn Fein to block the move and used their numbers to amend the motion to simply call for the available spend to go on other capital projects, not specifically road projects, such as the A26.
Describing their move as a ploy to grab roads money for other pet DUP/Sinn Fein projects, Mr Allister rounded on the DUP for betraying the needs of the A26 and frustrating an opportunity for early progress on the project. Specifically, the TUV Leader challenged the DUP to say if in response to Minister Kennedy’s roads proposals to other Executive colleagues, DUP Health Minister, Edwin Poots, had proclaimed that the A26 was not of “strategic importance”. Mr Allister is awaiting the outcome of an FOI request on this issue and will publish the material when received.
In the course of his remarks in the debate Jim Allister said:-
“I support the motion. I think that it is balanced and realistic, because it does not just recite a wish list but very importantly says that the money that is available here and now should go to other road schemes so that it might not be wasted.
“I start from the premise that if money is allocated for road schemes then, fundamentally, unless there is very good reason, it is road schemes that it should be spent upon. We arrive at the situation where the A5, a flawed scheme as demonstrated by the court ruling, is now something for which we are all paying a very considerable price.
“What has struck me most about the debate is the base politics of it. The base politics lies in the DUP/Sinn Féin amendment; amendment No 2. It is quite clear that what is being played out here is a desire to siphon off roads money into projects —
Mr Flanagan: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask you to ask Mr Allister to correct his term. It is not a DUP/Sinn Féin amendment. It is a DUP amendment.
Mr Allister: We will see, when the vote comes, just whose amendment it is.
“It is quite clear that what is afoot here is to rob the roads Minister of any opportunity to announce any new projects, lest he get any kudos for it, and to garner them to the DUP/Sinn Féin cabal so that, for example, the First Minister and deputy First Minister might have the vanity opportunity to announce a new capital project for something or other. Hence the desire to squeeze out of the roads budget capital money to spend in other Departments where political capital can be made out of those announcements. That is the basic truth of the matter. That is what lies behind amendment No 2. It is plain to anyone listening to the debate that that is what is afoot. I think that it would be a scandal if the money were whipped away from roads.
“My real concern, and I would like the Minister to comment on this, is that an outcome of this is that we could see a double whammy to good, deserving projects, such as the A26. We could see the A5 money being taken away for some other vanity project. Maybe the DUP/Sinn Féin are going to spend it on their new pet project, the Maze, or some capital project such as that. Who knows? We could see the A26 losing out, because the money is taken for some non-roads capital project. Then the A5 will be resuscitated, and by the stage at which we should have been reaching the A26, it will be trumped by the A5, and those road projects that have faithfully been taking their place in the queue, like the A26, will be trumped. That is what I mean by a double whammy. They do not get the fallout now from the loss of the A5 — it is taken from them — and they do not get it later, when the A5 is reinstated, because they are then knocked out of the programme.
“I listened with amazement to Mr Storey say that his priority was the A26 — such a priority that he is going to vote today to delist it from the motion; take it out of the spending priority that the motion would give it, and reduce it to something far less important than the other pet projects that the DUP has in mind.
Mr Swann: Will the Member give way?
Mr Allister: Yes.
Mr Swann: I know that Mr Storey is not here, but Mr Frew is missing as well. He said in a debate on the A26 that:
“At no time have we ever not supported the upgrade of that road.”
Does that tie in with Mr Storey’s attitude here today?
Mr Allister: I think that Mr Storey’s priorities are quite clear; it is to corporately, with the DUP, support whatever vanity capital projects would bring most glory to their Ministers. If that causes casualty to the A26, so be it.
“The whole A26 saga is very interesting. The Minister sent a paper to Executive colleagues. Today at Question Time he rather pointedly said that he trusted that other parties in the Executive will support the projects that he is putting forward, knowing that they are probably about to undermine him.
“Other Ministers have had the opportunity to declare themselves on the projects that the Minister has identified. I would like to hear from the Minister, and from others, if they know the answer, whether the rumour is true that the Health Minister decreed in a response that the A26 and none of the other projects are of strategic importance. If that is right, that is a scandalous thing to say. We are talking about a road where more people die every year than on most roads. We are talking about a road that is crying out for improvement. Is it the case that a DUP Minister has dared to say that the A26 is not a strategic project and has no strategic importance? Is that what we are seeing playing out in amendment No 2?”
Speaking after the debate Mr Allister said, “Given that for years local DUP representatives have posed as champions of the A26 Project, I am deeply disappointed that they used their numbers, along with Sinn Fein, to block this opportunity for progress. My fear now is that if the A 26 does not proceed during the window of opportunity created by the stalling of the A5, if the A5 comes back on stream it is such a costly project that it will knock the A26 improvements down the road by several years.”