The crumbling state of the roads network in Northern Ireland is a “glaring example” of the consequences of the “austerity agenda” from Westminster, Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd has said.

Mr O’Dowd addressed concerns about the rise in the number of potholes on roads at the Assembly on Monday, after being told one route was like the “surface of the Moon”.

The minister said only the “highest priority” road defects are currently being repaired.

In February, Mr O’Dowd announced an additional £8.1 million was being made available to fix some of the worst roads in Northern Ireland.

However, he said that his department continued to operate in a challenging financial environment.

The minister was asked if he would restore the depth level at which his department would fix a pothole from 50mm to 20mm.

Northern Ireland Minister for Infrastructure John O’Dowd (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr O’Dowd said: “My department has been operating in a difficult financial environment for a number of years due to underfunding and austerity by the British government.

“In response my department has had to reduce its road maintenance activities to a limited service which prioritises delivery of essential services for maintaining public safety and protecting the transport network.

“Consequently, only the highest priority defects across the network are currently being repaired.

“This means defects greater than 50mm depth are being repaired across all roads.

“However, on high traffic urban and rural roads, defects greater than 20mm are also being repaired.

“The level of repairs being carried out in any financial year depends on the funding available to my department.”

North Down DUP MLA Stephen Dunne said the number of potholes on local roads was “truly shocking”.

He said a route within his constituency “has a road surface more akin to the surface of the Moon”.

He said: “When will the minister take proper action to address our roads crisis?”

Mr O’Dowd responded: “We are taking all actions available to us.

“We have set in place a plan in terms of reacting to the potholes. I accept potholes are an issue across many roads but it is not only within this jurisdiction.

“In the south and in England, Scotland and Wales there is also a crisis in relation to potholes and it all goes back to one issue, 14 years of austerity leads to deterioration in public services, public infrastructure and our roads are a glaring example of that.”

The minister said he would be making a bid for additional funding for roads maintenance in the June monitoring round.

He added: “Many of our public services are crumbling.

“The thing about roads is you see it physically in front of you.

“This is what happens when you have an austerity agenda at the heart of the British government for the last decade.”