Back in 2008, an article gracing the pages of this newspaper appraised scepticism surrounding the ability of Galway West TD Noel Grealish to “land the big road” as promised prior to the General Election of the previous year.
The “big road” to which it referred was the Claregalway Relief Road, which was a cornerstone of Dep Grealish’s campaigns in the elections of both 2002 and 2007.
Having been elected on the back of this promise, pressure was mounting in 2008 for the former PD, now Independent, to come up with the goods. “Certainly, if there aren’t diggers on site by 2011,” the article noted, “he’ll have a battle on his hands.”
Hopes were high among the frustrated commuters of Claregalway that progress would finally be made during that period. Dep Grealish was a key supporter of Bertie Ahern’s government as a PD and, later, Brian Cowen relied on his support as an Independent.
Others were being bombarded with gifts in return for their backing as a historically unpopular government desperately clung to power. Michael Lowry secured hospitals, libraries, and swimming pools for Tipperary, while Jackie Healy Rae boasted that new roads in Kerry were so smooth you could iron silk knickers on them.
Surely, this was the moment for Dep Grealish to cash in his political capital and deliver on a promise voters had seen him recycle in successive election campaigns. However, while Holycross and Cahirciveen were enjoying their health centres, community halls, and new roads, residents in Claregalway remained stuck in traffic, surrounded by floods and sewerage problems.
Nonetheless, the Galway deputy dusted off his old election literature in 2011, recycled his promise to land the big road, and was duly elected again – notwithstanding the fact that there were no diggers on site.
This hat trick of election victories on the back of an undelivered promise was made possible in part by a careful display of political choreography that kept the Claregalway Relief Road on life support for a decade by drip-feeding voters tantalising signals of hope.
Just when things looked most bleak, Dep Grealish, or his ally, Independent Athenry-Oranmore candidate Jim Cuddy would issue a statement saying the sod on the new road was poised to be turned.
In December 2010, it was announced that construction was expected to start in early 2012. In September 2012, there was “every possibility” that work would begin in 2013.
When progress seemed likely on the Gort-Tuam Motorway, which skirts the proposed route for the Claregalway Relief Road, Dep Grealish insisted his road would go ahead despite the motorway.
When plans to advance the Gort-Tuam Motorway were announced, he changed tack and insisted that the Claregalway Relief Road was dependent on the completion of the motorway.
A spanner was thrown in the works this year, however, when straight-talking Transport Minister Leo Varadkar was quizzed on the prospects of building the Claregalway Bypass and he gave a characteristically honest answer.
Heunceremoniously eliminated all hope of a Relief Road in Claregalway. Minister Varadkar’s switching off the relief road’s life support machine is a game changer.
Dep Grealish will face a dilemma at the next election when he decides whether to include his perennial promise of the big road knowing it has no basis in reality, or whether to drop it from his manifesto and hope the electorate is oblivious to its absence.
Certainly, the death knell of the Claregalway Relief Road, after three terms in office promising its delivery, is a failure for which Grealish may be accused of being held accountable. It will equate to a loss of support, the extent of which remains to be seen.
Oneoptionforthe Independent TD would be to offset this loss in support by joining Fianna Fáil, with whom he has publicly flirted in the past. The party has a good chance of regaining a second seat in Galway West in the 2016 General Election, and Dep Grealish would find a receptive party support base in the city to amalgamate with his own voters in this scenario.
In three successive general elections, the people of Claregalway have offered their support in the expectation that it would deliver the promised relief road. Like children on Christmas morning, they have rushed downstairs the day after the polls only to find nothing under the tree. Noel Grealish now faces the unenviable task of telling them that there’s no Santa Claus.