Wednesday 21 August 2019

Lay of the Land: Forsaking green fields for shovel economics

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Fiona O'Connell

Summer is a good time to take a road trip through Ireland. Until you do so and realise that ugly roads are ruining it. Everywhere you go, from New Ross to Sligo, new motorways criss-cross the country, covering it in concrete.

All for the sake of shovel economics; a phrase coined by a local that comes to mind whenever I drive to Dublin, where they are extending the motorway that was itself extended some years ago, spreading out on all sides like spiders.

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I'm surprised Christy Moore's Don't Forget Your Shovel isn't blasting out from speakers as you pass those black and yellow signs of a figure with a shovel. Or a billboard depicting the seven dwarfs singing 'hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go', busily obliterating our land and our heritage.

For motorways are the boorish opposite of that proverb "it's a long road that has no turning". They are destroying our curious and complex culture by hammering out highways, as if this is the USA, not Ireland.

Everywhere along them is the skeletal structure of those petrol station chains that don't just fuel cars but also pump us with fast food. Almost as if motorways are vehicles, no pun intended, to provide them with business. As well as the enormous number of car dealerships that you also see everywhere. Ironically, independence seems to mean that instead of digging roads in England, we dig them here. Maybe we still have a slave mentality and don't see this as our country, and value it as such. Instead, we look at our land in terms of how we can make money out of exploiting it.

Because creating jobs is what it's all about, 'creating' being the verb most commonly appended to that four-letter word which seems to justify every construction site, no matter how short-term or dire the consequences. If in doubt, dig a hole and hey presto, you have men at work, in the most basic meaning of the word. As well as benefiting the Government, of course, by making it look like it's doing something.

It reminds me of that joke 'drink coffee so you can do dumb things faster', for motorways enable us to drive nowhere special at higher speed. Yet isn't it crazy, given environmental concerns, climate change as well as the health epidemic of obesity and diabetes and other diseases, that we are making it possible to spend even more time commuting? Instead of setting it up so we can work from home, or locally?

Apart from recent studies linking pollution to reduced lung growth, even in people who live near motorways in otherwise open spaces, what about our already critically endangered wildlife? We are relentlessly encroaching upon their habitat.

It isn't just huge numbers of those animals that face annihilation as a result of the relentless spread of modern roads. Time to ditch shovel economics before we dig our own graves.

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