The way the State deals with property owners in Ireland has been severely criticised by Galway County councillors, one of whom described its approach as being “totally unacceptable”. It follows a discussion to remove the threat of compulsory purchase orders hanging over landowners on the proposed greenway route between Galway and Ballinasloe.
Last year a number of public meetings about the new cycling route took place in Loughrea, Oranmore, and Ballinasloe. The IFA, farmers, and landowners voiced anger and frustration that their lands were to be acquired using CPO.
Speaking at this week’s council meeting, director of services for the environment Liam Gavin said he appreciated there was huge concerns about the project. “I completely recognise that farmers and landowners are crucial to this scheme. The message has come through strongly that their issues must be examined and they must be consulted further. How we proceed with this project will be a result of the outcome of these discussions. The National Roads Authority has stalled plans, due to the concerns raised, and until a proper procedure to move it forward can be established.’’
Oranmore-Athenry councillor Martina Kinane said although the greenway was a really good initiative, she firmly believed the CPO process should not be followed through, and said she could not stress enough how important this was to landowners in her electoral area. “I am not saying they are against the greenway, they are just against CPO which is the nub of the problem. I feel the issue was handled badly from the start and created a negative vibe between the State and landowners.’’
Killimor based Jimmy McClearn said to propose the use of CPO before any landowner was spoken to was “arrogant and unnecessary”. Fianna Fáil’s Michael Connolly said there had been a blatant disregard for property owners. “When we had a public consultation meeting in Ballinasloe, I met a farmer who said his farm was to be severed in four places and he had known nothing about it up to that point. The consultants were very insensitive in the way they handled this issue. You can’t go ahead and sever a farm and think the farmer is not going to be affected, of course their livelihood will be damaged.‘’
Connemara representative Tomás Ó Curraoin inquired why cycle lanes could not simply be added to the new motorway between Galway and Dublin. Director of services Liam Gavin said it was the policy of the NRA not to place cycleways beside national routes due to safety, noise issues, and comfort for cyclists.
Mr Gavin promised “meaningful discussion” with affected parties along the proposed route. “Any progression of the route will be done with detailed consultation with landowners, the IFA, businesses, and homeowners. It is critical their concerns are raised at local and national level. There will be no finalisation of any routes until that is done.’’
However, Mr Gavin said it was important the message got across that the greenway was a positive development. “It is a good idea, anything that brings economic benefit to the county from east to west should be strongly considered. Some people will argue it is not critical infrastructure but I would say, it absolutely is.’’