Councillors in Athlone have been left disappointed after Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, effectively washed his hands of the Railway Field issue.
The Minister had intimated to councillors that he was willing to weigh in on the dispute with CIE regarding the purchase of the field during a visit to Athlone in the summer. However, when contacted by local Fianna Fáil councillor, Aengus O’Rouke, recently on the issue, Minister Ross claimed getting involved was beyond his remit.
Cllr O’Rourke told the Minister that CIE’s unwillingness to part with the Railway Field is “impeding our potential for improved access to Athlone which in turn would open up economic growth opportunities for the town”. He said Athlone is crying out for “refurbishment, renewal, and enhancement” and pleaded with the Minister to intervene “to pull this matter back to the negotiating table in order for both sides to finally agree a deal and an all-important time line”.
In his response, Minister Ross said he has responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. “Issues relating to property are a matter for Coras lompair Éireann (CIÉ ) in the first instance. I have referred your communication to CIÉ for direct reply to you,” he concluded.
Talks took place between the council executive and CIE officials last week without any further progress being made on the issue.
Speaking yesterday (Wednesday ), Cllr O’Rourke said: “I wrote to the Minister around seven weeks ago, kind of as a follow-up on our meeting with him during the summer. We had felt as though we had hooked him to the project. We made it clear to him that we needed him to be involved in a hands-on way. I got a letter back basically saying - ‘Nothing to do with me, talk to CIE’. I am just floored by it all.”
Fine Gael councillor John Dolan also expressed his disappointment with the development. “It is hugely disappointing from the Department. Minister Ross, I won’t say he made a commitment, but he took note during the summer and said he would have no problem contacting CIE about it. I don’t see what the problem is with him giving CIE a call on the issue. He is in a unique position as Minister to do so.”
Cllr Dolan added that the council has not given up on the idea of meeting with the Minister during his visit to Ballymahon this Friday, and that he is currently in contact with Longford-Westmeath Independent Deputy, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, in an attempt to facilitate it.