"These years should be my golden years. Instead I am living in Dante's Circle of Hell," a Ballindooley woman whose house is set to be demolished as part of the plans to construct the Galway City Ring Road, told an oral hearing into the project this week.
Ballindooley resident Dee Goggins told the hearing that she believes this road project is part of a chicken and egg policy, saying that the pedestrian, cycling and public transport aspects cannot be built until the road is built.
"My house will be demolished. Four or five months before we were told, I was informed by a farmer that the road was going right through our house. So the route was predetermined before there was a public consultation."
She raised her concerns about whether this road will reduce congestion. She asked how hard did the applicants try to avoid demolishing houses.
"What is being taken out here is a total village. In addition, any claims that this will be a positive development for Connemara are spurious.”
She said that she noted how NUI Galway and Boston Scientific were both dealt with "at the eleventh hour," and that she suspects that a quid pro quo was reached with the university.
"The Racecourse is a facility which is used just three times a year. All of this is part of the process of delivering the road with the help of two heavily-State funded bodies," she said.
She said that bats and falcons have been looked after with bathouses and nesting areas, but that human mammals do not fare as well.
"There are no rehousing plans and no supports. The process has been going on six years and there have been just two letters from the council in that time. We were promised a liaison person and that never happened.
"We have been told that their valuation cannot come into action until there is a notice to treat, which might be 2021 or 2022 yet. No sane adult will tie themselves to a valuation with no date.
"This is a whole community decimated, part of the city Gaeltacht," she said, adding that the section on health in the impact study quotes from a report that she was involved in authoring and in which she has not been referenced.
"This report is not relevant to the road,"she said. "The aspects which deal with the psychological impact of this on the residents are written by Dr Hogan who is an occupational therapist. He is not a psychologist, so this is not an area of expertise. He writes about anxiety and fear and getting used to a new reality. He is not sitting in my shoes. These are arrogant statements and are total humbug.
"My life has been on hold for six years. I am in limbo. These should be my golden years, not living in a version of Dante's Circle of Hell. My time here at this hearing has to be taken out of my annual leave. Everybody else here is being paid to be here.
"The Taoiseach was on the radio before the elections saying the road would be built. One of the candidates had 'Build The Bypass’ on his signs in the election. Well, Galway gave him his answer to that.
"But how can politicians make these claims as this implies that An Bord Pleanala is not independent and can be subject to political interference," she asked.
Tuesday's hearing opened with former MEP Sean O Neachtain saying that for four decades, he has supported the concept of a Galway ring road as he feels it is imperative if the Connemara Gaeltacht is to survive.
"As a member of Udaras na Gaeltachta, I will be explaining the importance of the road to the Gaeltacht. Three hundred and eighty companies operate in the Gaeltacht area and if we want to keep employees in the area we depend on the road to get in raw materials or to get their material to the market. The Irish language will not survive if we do not have employment in the area.
"The port at Rossaveal brings 200,000 to the Aran Islands every year, the airport at Minna depends on access to Galway city. This is why the road is so important. We cannot keep going into the city centre in order to get to the Gaeltacht, losing two hours on every trip," he said.
Furrymelia resident Damien Kelly said that the shape of transport in Ireland in coming years will be impacted by the changing foreign direct investment model of economic growth and by work patterns which might see more people operating from their homes, therefore reducing the need for more cars on the road.
He said the operation of traffic lights and the management of school transport should be looked at as ways of reducing congestion, rather than a plan such as this.
"The approach here has been to provide the most invasive way possible with major impact on families and homeowners. It is the planning equivalent of what Cromwell did," he said.
He added that he did not want to ask the experts any questions because the questions he had received from ARUP heretofore were not in layman's language.
In response, Eileen McCarthy from ARUP rejected his concerns and said that the project office had been opened for six years and has had meetings with Mr Kelly about this.
Cappagh resident Kevin Gill said that he had concerns about the possibility of flooding in the area. He asked how many social houses would not be built at Ballymoneen because of this road. He was told by ARUP's Eileen McCarthy that the road has not stopped any current plans to build social housing in that area. She said, however, that a portion of the landbank would be used for the construction of the road, but that no planning had been approved for this land.
Mr Gill asked if any project in Ireland had destroyed so many family homes as this project plans to do, and Ms McCarthy said she was not aware of any such project. He then asked a series of questions concerning the health impact of this road on those who live within a certain proximity.
"The air in the area where we live will not be as good as it is now. I have had emergency heart surgery in the past year and I do not want to risk my health or the health of my children," he said.
He said that light pollution caused by this road will bring increases in obesity and inability to sleep. He was told by Dr Mark Hogan: "Without being simplistic, you can close your curtains," to which Mr Gill replied he had windows four metres high and would need curtains four metres tall to achieve this.
Ms McCarthy said that the light from the new road will only increase light by one lux, the equivalent of a moonlit night. "We live in complete darkness at the moment and this will change forever if this road is built," Mr Gill replied.
Mr Gill asked the officials if they would be happy to move their children and their families to live so close to a motorway.
"Cappagh is a safe dark environment for animals for foraging and for humans, and it will be destroyed by light pollution. What paradigm of development was used to design something so destructive."
He asked if the Galway Transportation Study and the possibility of flying cars had been considered in this project, to which he was told that the GTS was just a strategy while GCRR was a specific proposal.
Peadar O Maolain BL, appearing for Boleybeg landowners Kevin, Geraldine and Shane Kelly said that they had concerns which overlapped with the other speakers.
He said that in particular they are worried about the depositing of water onto the Cappagh Road and other areas. They were also said to have concerns about the impact of the road on the cultural heritage of the area, such as the destruction of stone walls, and the effects on the Connemara pony industry, in which they have an interest.
Gerald O'Donnell, appearing for Padraic and Imelda Burke, addressed the hearing and made reference to the 2006 Galway City Outer Bypass, asking for comparisons on the number of homes impacted by both.
Gerald O'Donnell sought clarification on how many people were indirectly impacted by noise, etc. He was told this depended on proximity to the road.
Eileen McCarthy said that the GCOB had eight affected. GCOB did not get planning from N59 to R336. So it was reflective of a scheme that did not get planning from the whole number. He said he presumed that the number of homes affected by the road would be many times greater than the GCOB.
He asked if Galway County Council would indemnify homeowners if any home were to become flooded as a result of this road.
"We all know that if any of these houses get flooded, that they will not be able to get house insurance," he said.
Mr O’Donnell said that while heretofore, people were encouraging village life, this plan will be deterring that.
"This is a short term solution to a long term location," and he recommended that if this route is rejected, they would consider making a fresh application for the old one.
Speaking on behalf of himself and his family, homeowner John Hughes asked what plans there were to rehome those who lose their house. He made the point that homeowners who have a mortgage to clear and buy a new home will be unable to get a new mortgage due to their age, stage of life at work, etc.
In response, ARUP's Eileen McCarthy said that the council has a scheme whereby it can agree a value with the homeowner and pay an amount of this as soon as planning is agreed, with the remainder paid within three months. This scheme is to expedite the acquisition process.
Coolough resident Linda Rabbitte said that some maps did not have new properties on them, but she was corrected by Eileen McCarthy who said that all properties were on the maps used.
Ms Rabbitte said she was concerned by the heavy traffic flow planned for the use of Lackagh Quarry as a quarry during the construction phase. She asked how she was going to be able to access the main road with that level of traffic.
In response, Ms McCarthy said that ARUP has calculated the level of traffic for the course of the three-year construction period.
"In year one, there will be 50 trucks per day; in year two, 110 a day; in year three, 70 a day. There will be specific traffic control plans that will be undertaken by the contractor,” she said.
Last to address the hearing on Tuesday was Peter Cunnane of Hands Across The Corrib, a long-standing environmental group who have secured notable successes in the courts against An Bord Pleanala.
"We have been perceived as trouble-making crackpots, but the European Court of Justice thought otherwise,” he said.
“This time we were told that every question has been answered. We believe that the cards are stacked in favour of the proposal from the start.
"This is a flawed process. Most of the people working on the project are from a civil engineering viewpoint, and this has resulted in a lot of groupthink.. A lot of the evidence presented here is aspirational.
"We acknowledge that Galway has serious traffic problems. How to solve them is a matter of dispute. The civil engineering answer is to build more capacity. We should be concentrating on reducing demand for existing capacity.
"It takes vision to pioneer a different solution. The heart of Galway will continue to be congested.
"It is a public scandal that for the last 30 years, nothing has been done to tackle the root cause. All you have to do is stand at any of the traffic junctions at rush hour in the morning and you will see that there is not a bus to be seen.
"Look at the routes from Moycullen, from Headford, from Gort — and there is just a handful of buses at times that only suit a rigid 9-5 city centre worker," he said.
He said the proposed links road at Parkmore and Briarhill should be treated separately from the project as they should have been built anyway. They are separate projects but they are included so they can benefit from the ring fenced funding.
"There is no reason to believe there will be any more progress in the city in the next 30 years than there has been over the last 30. The evidence of the council has been peppered with the word sustainability. But where is the sustainability? Pouring millions of tonnes of concrete open to green fields.
"This is an outdated proposal. Ignore the aspirational promises. The GTS is not the subject of this hearing. The motorway aspect of this should stand or fall on its own merits. It cannot justify the demolition of 54 houses. We call on the board to reject the proposed GCRR scheme," he concluded.