At the western edge of Europe lie two little islands with a complex past.
Ireland and Britain are just 12 miles apart at the Irish Sea’s narrowest point, but waters run deep here — in every sense. For the past century, Ireland’s northeast corner has been part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In a bid to improve domestic transport links, the UK government is now conducting a feasibility study to see whether Northern Ireland can be linked by a bridge or tunnel to Scotland, its neighbor over the water. The findings are due later this summer.
The idea is not a new one, but it’s been gaining traction since 2018, when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the bridge concept his support, and Scottish architect Alan Dunlop unveiled his proposal for a rail-and-road bridge between Portpatrick in Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland. More recent arguments — dubbed “sausage wars” — between the European Union and the UK over trade links disrupted by Brexit have added a fresh impetus to the search for a way to create a frictionless route across the water.
The distances involved are short. However, there are geological and environmental challenges so immense this would be one of the most technically ambitious projects in engineering history. There are also questions of economics, infrastructure and entrenched local politics. The Westminster plans have met with scepticism from local politicians, with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon describing it as a diversion from “the real issues,” while in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill called it a “pipe dream bridge.” Now isolated in Europe, the UK today has a reputation more for burning bridges than building them. However, if it pulls this project off, it could be a wonder to rival the Golden Gate Bridge or the Channel Tunnel. The question the upcoming report must answer is: Can a fixed sea link be done — and is it worth it?