Greenway plan hits a major stone wall in Galway
Plans to develop a new cycle and walking path from Dublin to Galway have hit a major snag.
Angry farmers in east Galway claim Department of Transport officials threatened to use CPO legislation to acquire land for the initiative and have warned they will oppose any attempts to impose the cycle path on land owners.
Land has already been secured from Dublin to Ballinasloe through transfers of ground belonging to Irish Waterways and the public transport authorities.
However, the final stretch of the route from Loughrea to Galway city cuts through private farms. Getting access to this ground is proving divisive.
Local farmers, through the IFA, are resisting because they claim the proposed route will dissect their farms or reduce the value of their holdings.
In contrast, supporters of the plan believe it will revitalise the economies of local rural communities.
John Mulligan, a proponent of the greenway, insisted the cycle route would have huge benefits in terms of rural tourism for the country. He said there was a massive market in Europe for long cycle routes like the proposed Dublin to Galway greenway.
However, while land owners and farmers said they were not against the tourism initiative, they expressed anger at the manner in which the Department of Transport has conducted discussions on the greenway over the past three months.
David Lane, a suckler farmer working 40ac near Craughwell, said the Department of Transport was not interested in the concerns of local farmers.
He claimed many farmers would go to the wall if the greenway plans were pursued in their current form.
He said the Department of Transport officials told him strips of his land would be acquired by CPO for the greenway if necessary. Land strips for the greenway average 10m in width and the proposed route cuts right across farms in many cases.
Mr Lane said the Department of Transport seemed to be unaware of the health and safety problems they were creating.
"I have a bull that I have difficulty with and even mains wires can't restrain him. What defence is a timber fence? If he hears heifers bawling on the other side of the greenway a six foot concrete wall wouldn't keep him away from them. Can you imagine the problems this would cause for the greenway tourists; but the planners seem to be unaware of these problems," he said.
Mr Lane, who stocks sheep as well, also pointed out that the danger of dogs on the greenway was another hazard that farmers fear.
Kevin Hannon, who runs a 40-cow dairy enterprise on 100ac near Ardrahan, had similar misgivings, especially about the thought put into the project by the planners,
"They had a free run from Dublin to Athlone, but from Ballinasloe to Galway they are going over virgin territory and they seem to be unwilling to consider the problems they are creating," Mr Hannon said.
The planned route dissects his land which means that his herd will have to cross the greenway four times a day, adding to his workload as he will have to clean up the greenway every time his cows cross it.
The dissection of land will also curtail his ability to expand. He is currently reclaiming land and increasing the size of his herd.
"I accept that some farmers will be able to build bike sheds and accommodation on the greenway for tourists but for me it will mean changing the farm from dairying to beef," he said.
Mr Hannon is also unimpressed by the CPO threat.
"I hear they are talking about €80,000/ac. But that's not compensation. I'll have to give 33pc back to the Government and my single farm payment will be affected and what I want to do with the land from a dairying viewpoint will be finished."
Pat Murphy of Galway IFA reiterated that farmers were not against rural tourism but he said the issue of agreeing the proposed route had been very badly handled.
"There has been no consultation whatsoever on this issue with the affected farmers apart from the threat of a CPO," Mr Murphy said.
John Mulligan believes the greenway will open up new economic opportunities for farmers and rural dwellers.
He pointed out that the area along both sides of Hadrian's Wall in northern England had been spectacularly revived by the building of a similar greenway.
"I fully support the concerns about the division of farms by any kind of infrastructure but the thrust of the debate so far seems to be about wanting the route to go elsewhere and that is a mistake.
Suggestions that the greenway be routed along the old N6 are irrational as nobody is going to plan a holiday in Ireland along a road," he said.
His take on the greenway controversy is simple and positive.
It's a "cash cow" he says. Obsolete stone barns can be converted to camping barns and coffee shops and eating places along the route can be opened.
"Farmers are right to insist on consultation and to try to avoid CPOs if at all possible, but please don't destroy the project by forcing it along an unsuitable route," Mr Mulligan added.
A spokesman for the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohue, told the Farming Independent that the project would be the subject of consultation as it progressed into Galway and as funding to complete the greenway became available. The minister would be meeting local TDs on the matter shortly.