Early swoop on trees surprises `warriors'
Published 28/01/2000 | 00:11
THE CONFRONTATION in the Glen of the Downs between the authorities and the eco-warriors came to a head yesterday, as Wicklow County Council and professional lumberjacks moved in to clear the last of the 700 trees to be felled, to make way for a new roadway.
Through intensive and successful intelligence work, the council succeeded in choosing the best possible moment to chop the trees an early morning when there were very few protestors in camp.
Throughout the siege which has lasted two and a half years council officials have kept a close eye on the glen, monitoring reports of spiked trees and underground tunnels.
Some months ago, a council official patrolling the woods came across a tunnel secured with an steel padlock.
Sources close to the council said that they had closely monitored the glen and the protestors and decided to move in at a time when there was least danger to anyone's safety.
After the rush hour traffic had ceased yesterday morning, gardai, under Superintendent Phil Moynihan, closed the N11 through the glen for a distance of five miles. There was traffic chaos as vehicles were rerouted through Delgany and Greystones.
The chief engineer of the County Council, Charles McNamara said the cutting had begun on the west side of the glen but ``when we experienced so little opposition, we moved on to the east side as well.''
Much of the woodland felled yesterday consisted of scrub and small trees, but a number of prime ash and oak specimens were also cut down.
However, when the road was re-opened to traffic a number of motorists, who were travelling at a crawl, expressed surprise that so few of the trees were gone.
The eco warriors began to arrive in the glen as word of the felling spread. They made a token effort to get in the way of a JCB clearing scrub but the driver simply got out and took the keys with him.
Perhaps the most poignant came when a huge oak fell with a crash and the protestors' tree house toppled on to the road.
Gardai and council officials had checked that the tree houses were empty before they moved in. But the end of the long occupation of the glen was sharply illustrated by the pathetic bundles of bed clothes and personal possessions that toppled from the tree house.
Protestors told the Irish Independent that although they had known for some time that the end was near, they had no idea that the council would move in so quickly.
Although the council was perfectly within its legal rights in felling the trees yesterday, the protestors, due in court again next Monday for refusing to leave the glen, said they had expected that the council would have waited until after that particular hearing.
There was an unearthly hush in the glen yesterday as the saws stopped, the traffic was stopped and the trees lay on huge tangles of branches along the sides of the roadway.
However, the silence will be broken quickly enough as the £35m dual carriageway through the area gets under way. It is expected to take two years.
Last night, Wicklow County Secretary Bryan Doyle repeated his pledge that 6,000 trees would be planted in conjunction with the road's construction. He pointed out that the 700 removed were only a tiny fraction of the 80,000 or 90,000 trees in the glen.
He expressed the hope that the protestors would realise that what was removed ``was just a small sliver of land.''