Jackie Healy-Rae: payback

Government departments and state agencies may be currently engaged in unprecedented belt-tightening. But it pays to pledge your support for Taoiseach Brian Cowen, as independent TD Jackie Healy-Rae knows only too well.

A spokesman for the National Roads Authority (NRA) has confirmed that contractors are on site to construct a 5km bypass in Castleisland, Co Kerry, which is expected to be completed by the first half of 2011.

It is the only new national road scheme to go to construction this year, after a government decision requiring all new projects to obtain 'sign off' from the Department of Finance

By comparison, a number of other planned projects, including the upgrade of the N11 and the reconstruction of Newlands Cross on the N7 in south Dublin, have not been given the go-ahead to date by the department.

Healy-Rae, who has previously claimed credit for securing the bypass for his constituency, is one of two independent TDs still supporting Brian Cowen's government. Independent Finian McGrath withdrew his support due to government cutbacks last year

Fianna Fáil Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue is also a constituency rival of Healy-Rae in Kerry South.

The Castleisland bypass is set to cost a total of €35m, and will comprise 3.5km of dual carriageway and about 1.6km of single-lane road, the NRA spokesman said.

Asked if the decision to go ahead with the project was due to Healy Rae's influence with the government, an NRA spokesman said it had been the subject of an extensive "cost-benefit analysis".

"From this analysis, it is one of the stronger projects identified in the entire programme for that region," he said.

"It will remove one of the key traffic bottlenecks in the area."

Announcing details of his department's allocation to the NRA earlier this year, transport minister Noel Dempsey said that reduced tender prices of between 15% and 20%, along with earlier completions in recent years, had resulted in the money being found to enable Castleisland to be funded this year.

However, last October the project was one of six national road projects which Dempsey listed as being "deferred" for at least a year.

This prompted a furious public reaction in Co Kerry at the time, as the bypass had been a significant issue on the doorsteps during the 2007 general election.

Healy-Rae previously said he lobbied successfully for the bypass in advance of sanction for the project being granted by the Department of Finance last March.

At the time, he said he used his position as a government supporter to "at all times put the interest of the people [of Kerry] first".