Galway county council staff were this week accused of being discourteous to farmers whose lands are along the proposed Greenway route between Galway and Ballinasloe. The route has proved controversial due to initial fears that land for the Greenway was to be acquired using compulsory purchase orders (CPOs ). The IFA, farmers, and landowners previously voiced their anger about that proposal. Earlier this year councillors voted to remove the threat of CPOs and council staff have been liasing with farmers and landowners along the route to move the process forward.
However at this week’s council meeting, Loughrea councillor Moegie Maher outlined how he had attended a meeting about the issue recently. He said all farmers present had voiced their unhappiness about their treatment from council staff. It was claimed, among other things, that staff who were visiting their properties were not listening to them.
The accusations were flatly denied by director of services for roads and transportation Liam Gavin, who said it was completely inaccurate to say that staff were not being friendly to landowners. “What has come across very strongly here is the need for a lot more consultation and discussion with farmers on this issue and we are currently in the process of doing that and finding out what people do and don’t want. Our staff are very good and very courteous. They have not intimidated anyone, in some cases they are meeting people who are in favour of the Greenway, in other cases they are meeting people who are not. They are taking opinions into account and gathering information. We will continue to do that until we have visited all landowners and we will move from there.”
However Councillor Maher said he was reluctantly having to challenge the comments made by Liam Gavin. “This is not what we are hearing, somebody is telling fibs somewhere. There were 150 people at that meeting and that is the feedback we got. Indeed the overall message was that farmers want nothing more to do with the Greenway.”
Fellow Loughrea representative Shane Donnellon was also at the meeting. He said he was backing up the comments made by Councillor Maher and it was disapointing to hear the negative feedback from farmers.
Fine Gael’s Ann Rabbitte was another attendee, she said she did not want a message going out that councillors were against the Greenway. “We don’t want the message going out that we are anti-Greenway, we are pro-development but it must be done with proper consultation.’’
‘A huge issue’
Athenry-Oranmore electoral area representative Martina Kinane said this was a major issue and she called for a special meeting to be held to fully discuss it. Council CEO Kevin Kelly said a special meeting would be more beneficial at the end of the current consultation process when all information had been gathered. Councillor Kinane then called for an up-to-date presentation ‘to assess where we are currently at with this’.
Independent councillor Jim Cuddy said the bottom line was that farmers needed to get it in black and white that there would be no CPOs involved in the process.
Connemara based Tomás Ó Curraoin again inquired why cycle lanes could not simply be added to the old road between Galway and Dublin. “The Greenway is being pushed in a place where it is not suitable. Why would you be hitting people twice and going on to people’s lands when a route is already there.’’ It was outlined at a previous meeting that it was the policy of the NRA not to place cycleways beside national routes due to safety, noise issues, and comfort for cyclists.
Council CEO Kevin Kelly told the chamber that a Greenway presented an opportunity for significant economic activity within the county. He said all discussions with landowners thus far had been based on permissive access. “By the autumn, there will be a clear understanding as to the views of the landowners involved. We need to figure out in due course whether their issues can be overcome. It is expected the current process will give clarity on the matter. It will be after that, that the Department of the Environment will assess the next stage. As it stands there is no planning or funding in place for the Greenway. It is in a national context decisions on those will be made as opposed to at council level.’’