A number of Ballina based councillors expressed their anger that the stalled N26 project has been left in limbo. Fine Gael councillor Seamus Weir told a meeting of the Ballina Electoral Area committee of his frustration at the silence on the issue since it was refused planning permission by An Bord Pleanála. He asked the council executive if there was an update on the project. “We had a meeting two months ago and we spoke at length about it,” he said. “I have heard nothing since about it, we adopted this plan in 2002 and since then we have had landowners having their lands frozen and now they still don’t know what is going to happen. It’s just not fair on them. Is this project dead in the water or what? The reality of this is that we do need this road, the people need the road. I’d favour downgrading the road from a dual carriageway if it made it easier for it to go ahead.”
Senior engineer for Mayo County Council, Noel Burke, told the meeting: “The design office in the council is working with the NRA on a new approach to the design to address the two issues that the board raised, the traffic level and the environmental issues, they are endeavouring to go back to the board with a new plan that will satisfy them.” Cllr Weir questioned if the land was still frozen, to which Mr Burke replied it was.
Cllr Michelle Mulherin supported Cllr Weir’s stance on the issue and laid the finger of blame at the Government and the new programme for government that was agreed between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. She told the meeting that the transport objectives nationally had shifted towards public transport rather than roads since the new programme was agreed and said, “the reality is that the NRA have given us the green light at every stage up to this, they have funded us every stage to where we are now but the priorities have changed in relation to the transport projects.”
Cllr Eddie Staunton told the meeting that when the first stretch of the road was opened, Minister Cullen told him that the work would continue all the way down. “But where are we now four or five years later,” he added. “I can’t see this changing at all, and it’s not fair on farmers and their families who can’t get planning permission because they don’t know where the road is going.” Fianna Fáil councillor Annie May Reape told the meeting that she was glad that the council was working with the NRA, and that she was aware that the Minister for Transport told the roads SPC that this was the way to progress.
Chairperson of the roads committee, Cllr Jarlath Munnelly, told the meeting that he will be meeting with the NRA on Friday week (May 14 ) as chairman of the roads SPC of Mayo County Council, and the N26 is first on the agenda for the meeting. He went on to say that he did not think the dual carriageway was the big issue, the environmental side of the decision was the major issue to the route. He also informed the meeting that he was looking at a way to get the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment to take up the issue.
Cllr Mulherin said she was angered that the Minister told the Roads SPC to work with NRA. “For a Minister to tell us to go back and work with the NRA, who have been working with the design office for years on this already is totally unacceptable. The rug has been pulled out from under us completely on this project.”