The long awaited upgrade of the N26 from Ballina once again became the focus of a political to and fro between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil this week in the Mayo County Council chamber. Fianna Fáil councillor Annie May Reape speaking at the October meeting of the local authority said: "In relation to the N26 what is the situation? I led a delegation to Transport Infrastructure Ireland with members of the Roads SPC. I was horrified to be told that it's not even in the capital budget, nothing in the agenda for it, where is it at? We were always told that it would be completed after the 2011 election and it's further gone off the agenda. We were promised everything else in 2011, but we've no representation in Ballina in government and that's probably the problem, under Fianna Fail it was brought to Mount Falcon and now we might get half of a bridge done, the N5 is on the back burner as well, it won't be ready for years."
Fine Gael councillor Neil Cruise responded to Cllr Reape saying: "I'd like to deal in facts and logic rather than some of the stuff I've heard today. In 2009 the N58/N5/N26 system of roads was on the scrap heap, An Bord Pleanala refused it planning. It was put on the agenda in 2011 again, it was never promised to happen in 2011 the whole process was started again in 2011. Where that is at right now? There is a preferred route adopted by the members in Ballina and in this council for the N58/N5/N26. TII have said they want to do the Cloongullane road stretch which is 1.5km of roadway plus a new bridge, downstream of an existing bridge at Cloongullane.
"That involves taking out some very dangerous bends on the N26 road, where is that at the moment? It's at CPO and Natura Impact Statement level. I often wonder and when I'm listening to things in the media are there people in the area who do not want these things to happen. Because about six months ago I would have heard a councillor on the radio saying that it was in grave danger of being shelved, because the costs were too high, that same councillor came on the radio again and said that it was going ahead but the costs had gone up a bit and recently they announced the CPO and the Natura Impact Statement if that isn't a turnaround I don't know what is. Cloongullane is going to go ahead whether we like it or we don't, thanks be to God, it's a great thing to see happening."
Cllr Reape hit back at Cllr Cruise saying: "I want to respond to the rhetoric we just heard in this chamber, I can't believe what I'm hearing. I was at the meeting with TII in Dublin and I heard what was said and the N26 is nowhere on the agenda, it was designed, but it's gone. In 2011 promises were made up in the TF that the N26 would be the first road done out of Ballina and you were all roaring and shouting, you weren't as good the next election and everything has fallen on the back burner, you did promise everything and don't forget it. You got nothing done for the county, ye got nothing done for this area and everything was done under the previous administration."
Independent Ballina based councillor Gerry Ginty hit out at both of the sides in the argument saying: "Can I just say, that the N26 on both sides this has been used as a political football by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, Fianna Fail could have finished that road 30 years ago. As far as I'm concerned both of you are equally responsible."
Outlining the situation from the council's point of view Mayo County Council chief executive, Peter Hynes, told the meeting: "On the N26, it was at a very advanced stage and An Bord Pleanala, for reasons that are in the public domain, turned down the EIS and it went back to scratch. The CPO for the bridge end of it will be signed by the end of the month, it will go through due process, I don't want to comment on it and will hopefully move to construction in a timely manner, and you're probably looking at two years to get that size of project done. It's an investment of between €10 and €15 million and will certainly help with one part of the road. Is it the project we would like? No, but is it the best we can do at the moment? Yes. If anyone has any ideas of where we can get another €250 million to put into it, then I'm sure the Minister for Finance would be very open to suggestions."