A PLAN for a multi-billion pound bridge between Scotland and Ireland - revealed by The National - has reached a global audience after being picked up more than three years later by the broadcaster CNN.

The US-based station carried a television and online feature over the weekend examining details of the proposal which aims to improve transport between the two countries and boost their mutual economies.

Scottish architect Professor Alan Dunlop first put forward the idea for the "Celtic Crossing" in The National in January 2018 and since then it has been the focus of considerable public debate on both sides of the Irish Sea.

CNN reported that renewed interest in the plan has now come about as a result of the "sausage wars", ongoing clashes between the UK Government and the European Union over post Brexit rules relating to Northern Ireland which has affected the trade in processed meat.

READ MORE: Bridge from Scotland to Ireland could create 'Celtic powerhouse'

"Ireland and Britain are just 12 miles apart at the Irish Sea's narrowest point, but waters run deep here - in every sense," said the article on the CNN website on Saturday.

"For the past century, Ireland's northeast corner has been part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

"The idea is not a new one, but it's been gaining traction since 2018, when... 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 feature examined the considerable geological and environmental challenges presented across the 12-mile stretch of water as well as the political context of the bridge.

Boris Johnson backed the plan at the DUP's conference in 2019, later dubbing it the "Union Bridge".

READ MORE: Mike Russell backs talks on fixed link between Scotland and Ireland

After becoming Prime Minister the following year he commissioned a study from the HS2 chair Sir Peter Hendry to examine the costs involved in building a bridge - or tunnel - while the Scottish Government has been unsupportive. The Irish government has kept a broadly open mind.

One exception in Edinburgh has been Michael Russell, the former constitution secretary and SNP MSP, who favoured the proposal in 2018 because of the potential benefits it could bring to his Argyll constituency. Russell, who is the SNP President, stood down as a MSP ahead of the May election. 

"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," said the CNN article.

The National:

Two routes are being discussed for a bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Portpatrick route would connect with Larne and not Belfast, as shown above.

"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?"

Back in January 2018 Dunlop originally suggested two possible routes for the crossing - between the Mull of Kintyre and Torr Head on the Antrim Coast or between Portpatrick and Larne.

However, he warned at the time that Beaufort’s Dyke, a 50 kilometre long sea trench up to 300 metre deep off the Galloway coast would be a challenge for engineers.

The CNN piece also examined the difficulty presented by the Beaufort's Dyke.
More than a million tonnes of unexploded munitions as well as chemical weapons and radioactive waste were dumped at the site by the Ministry of Defence between World War II and the mid-1970s. 

The Portpatrick/ Larne connection is from just north of Portpatrick at Port Mora and to Larne, not to Belfast. The route would allow the bridge to circumvent the dyke, so travellers do not have to pass directly over it. 

Rough seas and strong currents would pose further technical challenges.

Dunlop, who was interviewed by CNN for the features, told The National today he was not surprised at the broadcaster following up the bridge story, which has been previously examined by TV channels in Australia and Canada.

He said he continued to stand by the plan and that he believed it could create thousands of jobs in the area in the short term and bring considerable economic benefits to Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and the north of England over the longer term.

The architect referred to a pledge by the First Minister ahead of the Holyrood election in May to build a bridge over the Clyde from Gourock to Dunoon which he saw a potential boost for the "Celtic crossing".

He said this could be one of a number of stepping stones across Argyll to link up with the Mull of Kintyre to Torr Head crossing.

"If you calculate the number of people across Scotland, Ireland and the north of England, it could potentially benefit something like 27 million people,  so I think there is a real economic argument to be had," he said.

"Of the two proposals - the one from the Mull of Kintyre to Torr Head and the one from Portpatrick to Larne - the one that is the least workable is the former as once you get to the Mull of Kintyre you have a long journey to get to the Glasgow central belt.

"But with Nicola Sturgeon promising prior to the Holyrood election to build a bridge between Gourock and Dunoon ... this plan would be workable." 

Dunlop said as a result of Johnson's endorsement, many independence supporters were against it.

He added that he was saddened that the plan had become "politicised" and appealed to Yessers to see its potential benefits, particuarly regarding possible increased opportunities for more trade with Ireland.