Jim Allister ‘little Irelander’ remark inflammatory says SDLP MLA

Infrastructure Minister Nichola MallonInfrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon
Northern Ireland’s infrastructure minister has denied behaving like a “little Irelander” in opposing a bridge to Scotland.

Nichola Mallon rejected the claim levelled by TUV leader Jim Allister as he criticised her response to the UK government’s plans to enhance transport links across the UK.

Ms Mallon’s party colleague Mark H Durkan demanded an apology from Mr Allister, describing his remarks as “insulting and inflammatory”.

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The exchanges unfolded as Ms Mallon faced Assembly questions on the Government’s Connectivity Review, which has instigated a study on the feasibility of a tunnel or bridge linking Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The review’s interim report also recommended a series of other infrastructure schemes that would potentially benefit Northern Ireland.

Ms Mallon has criticised the exercise, characterising it as the government interfering in matters that have been devolved to regional administrations.

She told the Assembly that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be better spending the billions of pounds on an existing projects in Northern Ireland rather than a “vanity project” of creating a fixed link with Scotland.

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The SDLP minister highlighted that several funding commitments made by the government in the 2020 New Decade, New Approach deal to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland had not yet been honoured.

“I believe that a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland whether a bridge or tunnel is a vanity project,” she said.

“The enormous costs of construction could be much better spent to improve infrastructure right across the north.

“We already suffer a substantial infrastructure deficit, especially in the north west, and the Executive and the British government have given many promises to deliver schemes to address this deficit, not least in the New Decade, New Approach agreement.”

Mr Allister heavily criticised her remarks.

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“I have to suggest to the minister that she let herself down and the people of Northern Ireland by the pejorative, contemptuous and ill-considered response that she made before the ink was dry on the interim report,” he said.

“I do suggest to the minister it’s time she took off her nationalist blinkers and was something more than a little Irelander.”

Ms Mallon insisted it was not a unionist or nationalist issue. She said the bridge/tunnel proposal was more about a “political game” Mr Johnson was trying to play with the SNP.

She said: “This is as much about using Northern Ireland in a game, in an electoral game with the SNP that Boris Johnson is obsessed with more than anything else.

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“One thing we know right across this house, regardless of our political position, is that we cannot trust Boris Johnson.

“Boris Johnson does not care about the people of Northern Ireland, he will not put our interests first.”

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Alistair Bushe