Bog cotton or people’s homes - that is the choice as wrecking ball looms

Not since the slack-tongued Mylie Cyrus straddled a wrecking ball in the nip has there been such excitement over the demolition of buildings. However proposals to demolish up to 130 houses to make way for a new bypass in Galway has got locals twerking with rage.

Town-hall meetings are taking place, and normally placid residents appear willing to take up their pitchforks in a battle to safeguard their homes.

Among those affected is one poor sod who must be wondering what he did to offend the design consultants who worked on the plan. One of the routes sees the demolition of his business in Briarhill and then proceeds to Menlo, where it goes right through his home. Surely, such near tragic comic misfortune could only otherwise be expected in the context of a drone strike or an earthquake.

Not even the bluebloods have been spared from the planner’s path of destruction. One of the routes narrowly misses the country residence of Uachtaráin na hÉireann Michael D Higgins by only a few hundred yards. It is not just the prophets who will be weeping if His Excellency is prevented from writing a poem due to the incessant noise created by traffic passing so close to his front door.

A number of the routes also propose to traverse Galway Racecourse at Ballybrit. This will result in the cancellation of the festival for a couple of years at least and, even if it goes ahead after that, the ground will be so poor that the races are likely to resemble a scene from the film Warhorse. The plans involve the construction of a tunnel beneath the racecourse, which should ensure that beltless construction workers enjoy the view on Ladies’ Day so long as their wolf whistles do not distract the horses on the turf above.

Bog cotton doesn't vote

It is interesting that the original route for the Galway Bypass was abandoned because it would disturb bog cotton and destroy its natural habitat. The new routes similarly threaten to destroy habitats and disturb another species, however: Galwegians.

Now 130 households are desperately nurturing sprigs of bog cotton in their back gardens in the hope that they might take root and spare their homes from the destruction necessary to create the new N6 Galway Transport Project ring road. Whatever this special protection apparently afforded under the EU Charter of Bog Cotton Rights, there is another factor that will surely determine politicians’ standpoints on the issue as we approach a general election campaign: bog cotton does not vote. Then again, most of Sinn Féin’s supporters do not vote either, so perhaps their public representatives are more at liberty to choose a less risk-averse strategy on the issue in the months ahead.

The elephant in the room – and homeowners would only love an elephant in the room if it meant their property was considered a natural habitat – is the fact that the new routes also pass through ecologically sensitive sites and are likely to end up in the courts in the same manner as the original route did.

This is one of the reasons why the new route options appear to be a particularly ham-fisted attempt at presenting alternative solutions to Galway’s perpetually enduring problem.

There does not seem to have been much regard afforded to existing buildings and amenities before the planners blindfolded themselves and began slashing at a map with crayons. The red route, for example, seems to be some sort of analogy for the Labour Party in recent years: veering away from working-class areas near Westside before converging with the blue route near Barna and plunging sharply south.

A selection of impossible alternatives

The burgeoning debate over the new routes embodies so much of what is wrong with Irish society. Firm supporters of the Galway Bypass, who now find themselves in its path, suddenly think more people should cycle and that the traffic is not so bad.

Conversely, people who opposed the original route on the grounds that it would destroy an ecologically sensitive habitat will probably be sharpening their machete for bog cotton if they see bulldozers heading for their homes.

Both sides can probably rest easy, however, as the moribund original route has been replaced only with a selection of impossible alternatives – impossible due to their cost and impossible due to the scale of their disruption. It appears, therefore, that the plan for a bypass – like the traffic that it was intended to alleviate – is at an interminable standstill.

Instead of coasting home on a freely moving thoroughfare, we may as well get used to the warbling intonations of George Hook in the evening; and the gurgling respiration of Cathal MacCoille in the morning. The irony of listening to Mary Wilson’s Drivetime while stationary in a vehicle for up to two hours in the evening is untenable.

Until we decide to encroach on an ecologically sensitive habitat – or consent to damaging our own – we will have to rely on the radio to preserve our sanity during epic journeys home.

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