Friday 19 July 2019

Bridge name confirmed after four long years

Emotions ran high at lengthy council meeting as Ross councillor's Kennedy name won out over Pink Rock bridge, writes David Looby

Artist’s impression of what the completed Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge is expected to look like
Artist’s impression of what the completed Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge is expected to look like

Ireland's longest bridge - which is currently being built near a town and area synonymous with many great men and women - has been called after the mother of President John F Kennedy, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, after councillors voted by a small majority in favour of the name at a tense and emotionally charged meeting.

The vote was carried 8-6 at a meeting of New Ross and Piltown municipal district councillors in Slieverue, on Wednesday afternoon, four years after the bridge naming was first debated at a meeting of New Ross Town Council.

The 15km New Ross Bypass dual carriageway currently under construction includes the world's longest three tower extradosed bridge, a type of cable-stay structure, spanning the River Barrow.

It will measure 887m and stretch from Pink Point, County Kilkenny to Stokestown, County Wexford.

Five of the six councillors from the Piltown Municipal District favoured the Pink Rock name, called after the area the bridge reaches County Kilkenny: Pink Point.

In a six-week public submissions process in May and June there were 142 valid submissions from County Wexford residents and 47 different names were suggested. 71 valid submissions were received in Kilkenny, with 30 names proposed, Pink Rock being the favourite by far.

27 people made submissions for the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy name to New Ross Municipal District, followed by 17 for the Pink Rock Bridge and 16 for the William Marshal Bridge. One person suggested the Michael D Higgins Bridge.

At the beginning of the meeting New Ross man Paddy Rochford approached council officials saying if the Kennedy name was preferred it would be an embarrassment to New Ross, (suggesting the town is too synonymous with the Kennedy family), threatening demonstrations whenever a member of the Kennedy family visits the town. When he left councillors were shown a video showing the complicated engineering processes involved in building the bridge which will cross 300m of water. Two million man hours of work are going in to the bridge and bypass project.

Councillors were told the Pink Rock area was chosen as the river naturally narrows at the area, meaning a shorter bridge was required than elsewhere along the river. The Pink Rock rock outcrop also allowed the bridge to reach to 36 metres, providing ample space for boats passing underneath.

The cables are 400mm in diameter and went through two million cycles of testing in a Chicago laboratory over a three week period to ensure they were strong enough. Director of Services with Kilkenny County Council Sean McKeown said the public consultation process was agreed by both councils, adding that it concluded on June 13. Mr McKeown said the submissions process was heavily advertised in paid for ads in the local media and in stories in the Kilkenny People. 2,200 Kilkenny people who use the website were notified.

He said Pink Point is a location recorded on the Ordnance Survey map of Ireland, adding that it has been used for over 150 years. Mr McKeown said a subcommittee met twice and a short-list of ten names was drawn up and the name ultimately recommended was the Pink Rock Bridge.

Director of Services with Wexford County Council Eamonn Hore said the submissions process was widely publicised and three methods of voting were provided. Mr Hore said: 'People could vote online, through email and they could send in hard copy submissions to all public buildings, including libraries. The forms were available at the Killag Show. The process was highlighted on the front page of the New Ross Standard.'

He said New Ross has been waiting for the bypass for 25 years and the bridge naming was first discussed at a meeting of New Ross Town Council on July 9, 2014. There were 151 submissions in total, including ten from County Wexford residents who made submissions through Kilkenny County Council's public submissions process.

Mr Hore said a lot of effort was put into the names and a short-list of five was arrived at. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy name was agreed by a majority of 7-1 councillors at a meeting of New Ross Municipal District council in early September.

'The bypass will have a defining impact on the town of New Ross. It will be a catalyst for improved quality of life and future prosperity for the town and the region,' Mr Hore said.

He said by naming the bridge after Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy an economic, heritage and historic benefit would accrue, adding that it is in the locality's interest to have a name which resonates in an international context.

'The new bridge will be unique in the world and a tourist attraction for the area,' Mr Hore added.

He said: 'While the entire N25 New Ross bypass represents an amazing technical and construction undertaking, there can be little doubt that the magnificent bridge over the River Barrow is the outstanding technical achievement in all of Ireland in recent times and a technical achievement of international standing. We are 10 months out from the opening of the bypass which will fundamentally change New Ross town.'

New Ross Cathaoirleach Cllr John Fleming said he made a submission in favour of the name because he has seen the economic benefit being associated with the Kennedys has had for New Ross, as highlighted by the crowds at the Kennedy Summer School.

'Over the years tens of thousands of people have come to New Ross due to the Kennedy connection. Having a proper name to promote an area is the key. We owe this to the rate payers, the restaurateurs, coffee shop owners and gift shop owners having increased the rates. I want to see New Ross thrive and the bridge is a wonderful feat of engineering. We had the longest bridge in the region in Wexford and now we have the longest bridge in the country.'

Cllr Michael Sheehan said he has never in his 20 years in politics witnessed such a strong reaction as to that which followed a story in the New Ross Standard highlighting how most councillors favoured the Kennedy name. 'We all want what is right for the area to prosper on both sides of the bridge. I think we really need to be careful about how we do this and we need to listen to the public,' suggesting councillors had a moral obligation to voters who will be voting for them in the next six months. 'In six months time we'll be going around asking the people to support us in the same way we supported them.'

Cllr Sheehan said people feel the process was erroneous, unfriendly, non-inclusive and unfair. 'This morning I got a call that there is a petition with 900 signatures calling for a new public vote to name the bridge. I think it would be unfair of us to make a decision today. No matter what the opinions are I would hope the bullying, harassment and personal, insults whoever is sending them to headquarters, will stop. Anonymous articles are being sent. I put my hand on the Bible and say I think the process has been anything but fair.'

Cllr Whelan said a high ranking Fáilte Ireland official told him the previous Saturday night at the JFK Trust's 30th anniversary party that the Kennedys put New Ross on the map. 'It (the connection) has kept the area alive and what's good for New Ross is good for south Kilkenny,' Cllr Whelan said.

Cllr Oisin O'Connell said the Kennedys have a personal connection with New Ross, adding that there are cultural, heritage and economic ties which favour the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy name.

'The one name applies not just to a woman, but to a mother as well.'

He approved of the submissions process used and invited Piltown councillors and Kilkenny County Council officials to advance a full argument for the Pink Rock name.

Cllr Willie Fitzharris said his main concern as a councillor and member of the JFK Trust is how to get more money into New Ross. 'We can only pick one name. There are a lot of credible names. We have proven beyond all doubt that the Kennedy name is good for New Ross without a shadow of a doubt. I think there was a very open and good process.

'I suspect a lot of people who are talking didn't bother to fill out the form.'

Cllr Larry O'Brien said people had six weeks to put forward their suggestion. 'If you ask people in two years time they won't know the name of the bridge.

'If the people who are now objecting committed their time to improving New Ross in other ways they would be a lot better off. I think it couldn't have been any fairer. The war was lost; the name was picked and the people chose it, so let's accept it lads.'

Independent Cllr Melissa O'Neill, from Piltown Municipal District, was the sole voice in favour of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy name from her district.

She said she felt the Pink Rock name was more of a geographical name, unlike the name of a person who is a symbol of strength for women internationally. Cllr O'Neill said Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy represents heritage, adding that the Kennedy name has brought a significant economic and social benefit to her native Bruff in County Limerick and to New Ross.

'For me it's not a bridge for Wexford or Kilkenny, as the longest bridge in Ireland it's a bridge for all of Ireland. There were 900 on a petition. Why didn't these people go and make a submission?'

Cllr Fidelis Doherty said the Kennedy name has been 'well honoured' in New Ross. 'I really feel strongly about this. The bridge comes into the Pink Rock. It's not about winning or not winning. There is no winner in this. It's a bridge that will bring huge advantages to the area.'

Cllr Doherty said she has direct connections with the Kennedys through her husband but feels the Kennedy name is well respected and endorsed in New Ross. 'This is our opportunity as elected members to represent the area. Can we think of something other than the Kennedy name. It's a really momentous thing: I know there are bigger issues.'

Cllr Pat Dunphy asked for the numbers in favour of the Pink Rock bridge name to be added up between both municipal councils and for the same to be done with the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy name to see which won the popular vote. 51 favoured the Pink Rock name and 28 favoured the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy name.

He said: 'New Ross is very well served by the Kennedy name. You wouldn't have to ask anyone within 100 miles of New Ross about the economic benefit, but maybe it's time for another name.'

Meeting chairman Cllr Ger Frisby said: 'An issue like this is always going to be divisive. The process has been fair and it has been transparent. We are in a situation where we have two names and both have merit.'

He called for a roll-call and the following councillors voted in favour of the Kennedy name: Cllr Anthony Connick, Cllr Willie Fitzharris, Cllr John Fleming, Cllr Martin Murphy, Cllr Larry O'Brien, Cllr Oisin O'Connell, Cllr Melissa O'Neill and Cllr Michael Whelan.

Cllr Eamon Aylward, Cllr Sean Breathnach, Cllr Pat Dunphy, Cllr Ger Frisby, Cllr Melissa O'Neill and Cllr Michael Sheehan voted in favour of the Pink Rock name.

'The vote is taken and it will go forward for ratification,' Cllr Frisby said.

Cllr O'Neill called for a round of applause for the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy name which its eight backers and some officials joined in on.

New Ross Standard