The public inquiry into the upgrade of one of Ireland’s most dangerous roads has started.
The A5 links Donegal and the north-west to Dublin.
It runs through Derry and Tyrone to the border at Aughnacloy.
At least 47 people have died along the road since it was approved for an upgrade in 2007.
At that time, the Stormont Assembly approved a project to upgrade the entire 93km road to a dual carriageway.
The scheme is backed by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland.
The first phase of construction was due to begin in 2018.
But the scheme has been mired in planning and legal challenges since.
The costs have also spiralled from an estimated £800m to £1.6 billion in the intervening years.
People who have lost family members on the road were among those gathered outside the venue to lobby for the scheme.
They included Kevin and Maggie McCloughan from Fintona, whose 19-year-old son Maurice was one of two young men who died in a crash on the A5 in December 2016.
Mr McCloughan said he always had the thought that if the road had been upgraded, his son might be alive today.
Commissioner Gareth Kerr, who is chairing the inquiry in Omagh, Co Tyrone, told participants that “we are painfully aware that the A5 scheme has been trapped for more than a decade in a cycle of information gathering, public consultation and abortive decision making”.
“We intend to present the department with clear, robust recommendations on all key issues so that it can make and implement firm decisions and bring this saga to an end,” he added.
“On the final day, I will indicate approximately when we expect to deliver our report to the department.”
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty also attended the opening day of the two-day inquiry.
He said the government should live up to its commitments to substantially co-fund the scheme.
The current government commitment is £75m.
The first week of the inquiry will deal with technical issues, including an environmental statement and proposals for a new vesting order to purchase land.
It will then break for a week and resume on 30 May, dealing with strategic issues including the justification for the scheme, possible alternatives, and funding.Several hundred people attended a public meeting held by a group campaigning to have the upgrade constructed as soon as possible, Enough is Enough, in Omagh last Tuesday night.
As the A5 is the main road link between Donegal and Monaghan, where it joins the N2 to Dublin, the Irish Government initially pledged to pay half the cost, but that financial commitment was later reduced to £75m.
During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, Mr Doherty, who will attend the opening of the inquiry today, asked Minister for Finance Michael McGrath to recommit to the 50-50 funding agreement.
The minister did not give a commitment, but reiterated the Government’s support for the project and said it “won’t be found wanting” when the project has gone through all of the statutory processes.Tags: