Major Irish infrastructure plan launched

NGO complains to the European Commission alleging failure to assess environmental impacts

The Irish government yesterday launched the country's largest ever plan for investment in infrastructure, valued at euros 51.6bn (I£40.6bn) over the seven year period 2000-2006. A wide range of spending areas will benefit, including roads, public transport, social housing, coastal protection, afforestation, employment and industrial research and development. The planned 50% increase in spending was welcomed by Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern as "investment on a scale never seen before in our country". The plan's central thrust is to enable the level of infrastructure in Ireland to catch up with its booming economy, and also to narrow gaps in living standards in different parts of the country. Nearly euros 6bn is earmarked for national roads development. "Congestion on our arterial routes is increasing," said environment minister Noel Dempsey. "The number of private cars has risen by 40% since 1992 ... But we still have a considerable way to go before reaching European ownership levels." The plan also includes euros 3.8bn of investment in water and waste water services, of which euros 533m is earmarked for quality improvements to rural water supplies. In response to the plan, NGO Friends of the Irish Environment said yesterday that it had complained to the European Commission, alleging that the government had failed to provide a "comprehensive ex-ante evaluation" of its environmental impacts "as specifically required". "In particular, Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions will massively exceed our international commitments if this plan is implemented," the group said.

Follow Up:
Irish finance ministry, tel: +353 1 676 7571; Friends of the Irish Environment, tel: +353 1 832 4087.

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