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Not enough potholes being fixed in NI - O'Dowd

Pothole
The Department for Infrastructure received more than 25,000 complaints about potholes last year

Not enough potholes are being fixed in Northern Ireland, the new infrastructure minister has said.

John O'Dowd added as both an MLA and a driver he was "perfectly aware of the poor states of our roads".

His comments come as figures show the number of complaints about potholes more than doubled in 2023.

Mr O'Dowd's department was contacted 25,067 times, compared to the 2022 total of 11,608.

The minister, who was appointed on Saturday, said "the reality is with a limited budget we are only able to provide a limited service to repair potholes etc".

Prior to his appointment, the Department for Infrastructure said it was struggling to fix many roads because of a budget shortfall and it could only deal with the "highest priority defects".

Speaking to BBC News NI's Evening Extra on Tuesday, Mr O'Dowd said it was not for him to decide which potholes should be repaired and his department had "properly qualified engineers and staff to do that".

He explained he would be making the case to Executive colleagues to look at ways to "improve the road maintenance budget", including during funding monitoring rounds.

'United case'

On Tuesday, the first and deputy first ministers said the Executive would take a "united case" to Westminster on public finances.

Michelle O'Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly added they want a "fair and just settlement for public sector workers and public services".

Earlier, MLAs debated a motion to endorse a letter to the prime minister calling for Northern Ireland to be given "the resources that it needs to deliver effective public services".

It was passed with an SDLP amendment calling for ministers to produce "costed plans for revitalising public services... in line with a comprehensive programme for government".

The UK government has offered a £3.3bn financial package to the new Executive which includes funding for public sector pay awards.

Michelle O'Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly
Michelle O'Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly head up Northern Ireland's new Executive

The letter from ministers said this would only provide a "short-term solution to the pressing issues we now face".

In their dispute about pay, trade unions have taken industrial action in recent weeks, including a walk-out of thousands of workers on 18 January.

Among them were transport workers who on Monday rescheduled a planned strike for 15 February.

Unite, GMB and Siptu said this would allow "space" for a pay award to be made.

The infrastructure minister told Evening Extra he would meet transport unions on Thursday to discuss his department's approach to the dispute.

Mr O'Dowd said this would be about "how we are going to, hopefully, support Translink in being able to put forward a fair and equitable offer to the workers".

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) also said after meeting the Finance Minister Caomihe Archibald it was confident the money was available to settle pay claims.

Ms Archibald said she would meet with civil service trade unions this week and wants negotiations to "commence and conclude as quickly as possible".

The minister said she had written to the Treasury to request a meeting about Stormont's finances.