Don’t ask their opinion and then ignore it

Let the people decide. But when the people had their say it obviously wasn’t the right say, and so their wishes were rejected.

That’s what happened in Ballina, the salmon capital of Ireland, the capital of north Mayo, a town which is constantly fighting to have its name as a genuine tourism destination recognised. Yet they, the councillors, the elected representatives, who are put into office by the people for the people, didn’t think Mary Robinson was a suitable candidate to have the newly erected pedestrian bridge named after.

If they had dealt with this like adults and simply put forward recommendations and taken a vote and lived by that vote then democracy would have prevailed. But what has panned out is nothing short of disgraceful. Politics came into play. Grudges were reactivated and the nature of local democracy has been called into disrepute.

The bridge was officially opened last October following a €1.65 million investment. A name should have been decided before the official opening. But, like a lot of things in local politics, personalities got in the way and like squabbling children they couldn’t reach a decision.

Fine Gael’s Michelle Mulherin accused Fianna Fáil of snubbing Mary Robinson, one of the most highly regarded women in the world and a native of Ballina. Fianna Fáil’s Johnny O’Malley vehemently rejected this accusation. He had previously submitted a notice of motion that all works of public infrastructure should go out to public consultation prior to being named. Eventually the town councillors agreed to go down this route. However it wasn’t a straightforward decision either. Cllr Mulherin wanted the naming of the pedestrian bridge to be excluded from this process and be called after Mary Robinson, but her amendment was rejected. Cllr O’Malley said it was imperative the public take to the name or else it won’t be used. He was speaking from experience when the council named Belleek Park John F Kennedy Park, but people still call it Belleek Park. And he probably has a point. And the fact of the matter is the public are already calling the bridge the Salmon Weir Bridge given the length of time it has taken the council to decide on a name. But yet the public’s opinions were called for and they spoke.

One hundred and eighty three submissions were made, almost a third relating to former president Mary Robinson. Other popular submissions were a variation of Beckett Bridge, given that the land the bridge was built on was owned by the Becketts, a family who provided work in Ballina for three generations. There were 34 submissions supporting this particular name. John Schneider/Hollister received 25 submissions, with 59 miscellaneous other submissions. Interestingly there were only 15 submissions for the Salmon Weir Bridge, but that’s the title which won the battle.

The whole handling of the situation by Ballina Town Council leaves a sour taste. While it is not the most earth shattering of items to come before the elected representatives, one wonders how they manage to deal with important economic issues or planning issues when something a little more trivial takes over six months to conclude. Right now they need to focus their attention on job creation and the refusal of the N26 by An Bord Pleanála and I’m sure that’s what they are doing. At least the bridge issue is off the agenda, but will the people of Ballina make the effort to enter into public consultation in the future when their feelings were blatantly ignored on this occasion?


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