Michael Russell has backed plans to connect Scotland and Northern Ireland via a bridge.
The Scottish Brexit Minister called for talks with politicians in both countries about the prospect of a “fixed link” connection between the two UK nations.
Mr Russell, who made clear he was speaking as the MSP for Argyll & Bute, addressed the Republic of Ireland’s upper house joint committee on European Union affairs on a visit to Dublin earlier this week.
Fine Gael senator Neal Richmond spoke to the MSP about the idea for the bridge, the National reported, as he discussed ways to build upon cultural and historic links between the two countries.
Mr Richmond said: “You mentioned in your remarks the Celtic connections, or the idea of a Celtic arc, being discussed I think quite imaginatively by one of your colleagues, of a bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland, and I think’s that well and good and something to aspire to,”
Mr Russell replied: “In terms of the Celtic arc, I think some of the work of John [Webster, head of the Scottish Government in Dublin] and his team are doing and some of the work we are doing together on building businesses and investment is a good foundation for that.”
He added: “I’ve seen many proposals for fixed links. In the 19th century there was a proposal for a railway tunnel between the north of Ireland and Campbeltown.
“I think it’s a great idea, it would open up my constituency and that’s a good headline to see. There is a lot of talking to be done about that but I think it is important that talking starts. I know recent coverage indicates that it should happen.”
Mr Russell is the first Scottish politician to publicly back the idea.
The notion of a bridge between Scotland and Ireland has been floated many times by a variety of think tanks and academics since the SNP first came to power in 2007.
Last month a leading Scottish architect argued building a crossing would create a ‘Celtic Powerhouse’. Alan Dunlop, visiting professor of architecture at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and Liverpool University, claimed a combined road and rail link between Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway and Larne in Nothern Ireland would cost around £20bn. However, any bridge there would have to overcome the obstacle of Beaufort’s Dyke, a 200-metre deep sea trench off the Scottish coast.
In 2015, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, of the DUP, compared the importance of building a fixed crossing over the North Channel of the Irish Sea to the high-speed rail project underway in the south of England.
The UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has also raised the possibility of building a bridge from England to France.