“We will not die if we do not get a greenway” says Co Galway Senator, who also seems to have a problem with German tourists, comments Cian Ginty.
Rural Ireland can’t cry about a lack of investment while objecting to investment. But that’s not the way that Senator Fidelma Healy Eames (formerly of Fine Gael) sees it. At a debate about community development projects in the Seanad recently she said: “As they said, the rural schools have been hit and there has been a flat domestic economy, so they wonder why this is now being imposed on them.”
Amazingly “this is now being imposed on them” is not referring to a dump or a motorway, but a modest greenway. Namely the Dublin Galway Greenway. Greenways are nowhere as near as disruptive to farming as motorways are — and greenways have well-established local economy, community and health benefits.
If farmers who are objecting to the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) for the Dublin to Galway Greenway have selected Healy Eames as a spokeswoman, they have possibly selected a too honest of a spokeswoman because she shows a complete lack of knowledge of greenways in general and how greenways can be built around farm land with little or no lasting disruption. Ignorance is bliss. It allows people to say rather silly things.
While in this article Healy Eames is main focus, her arguments have been used by others including some in farming groups. So, it’s important to tackle such arguments.
She said that 250 landowners were present at a recent meeting in Co Galway and “there was 100% disagreement with the acquisition of lands by CPO.”
Healy Eames added: “The general view was that this greenway is a great idea in principle, but if it is to work in practice, lands must be acquired by agreement with landowners… I am working in the Maree, Oranmore, Clarinbridge and Roscam area to reach agreement on this project and to move it on by helping to work out a route that is agreeable to everybody. The 250 landowners are all opposed to it unless it is done by agreement. That is a considerable number. The project will never get off the ground unless there is goodwill.”
This is political rhetoric at its worse. If CPOs were removed from the toolbox of cycling and walking route planners just a single landowner could hold out for a large payment for a critical section of a greenway route. Detours can be costly, disruptive and unattractive.
As freelance journalist Anne Lucey writes about use of CPOs on a planned greenway in Co Kerry in today’s Irish Times, she writes: “While it was possible to agree alternative routes with some [landowners], there were a number of locations along the old line where changing the route was simply not possible.”
The end of Lucey’s article might be the real issue for some landowners — it says council management has rejected calls to increase the land purchase price from €15,000 an acre for outright purchase. CPOs ensure that the state does not pay above the market value of the land (plus costs for disruption, more on that below).
Healy Eames says that she is aware that the greenway would bring tourism benefits, but she has fallen for the myth that CPOs are only for “critical” projects. “One can understand the use of CPOs for critical infrastructure such as the M6, and even that was difficult. This, however, is what I would classify as desirable infrastructure. We will not die if we do not get a greenway.”
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Tourism and other reasons mean high-speed regional roads with high volumes of traffic are not an attractive option for greenways — but the Senator is also unaware of this. She said: “I would urge the use of the old N6 road from Athlone to Galway.” The old N6 — now the R446 — is highly unsuitable as greenway. While most of the Dublin-Galway traffic has diverted to the M6 motorway, the road is now a regional road which still has notable volumes of traffic on it which travels at high speed.
The conditions are horrible for a greenway which is supposed to be attractive and safe for people walking and cycling of all ages — not just tourists but local families and even older children on their own. But even if we were to build a cycling and walking route along the R446 road it would have many issues — it would take up the space currently used for hard shoulders and turning lanes; it would come between the carriageway and house.
If built on the R446, there would be no choice but to build it between the carriageway and farms and fields. Some farmers would be annoyed regardless of where the greenway goes.
“I am aware of the popularity of the greenway from Achill to Westport. That is wonderful, because it utilised a disused rail line,” said Healy Eames. Lots of the disused railway line on that greenway — the Great Western Greenway — was long gone. With consent, that route actually cuts right through the middle of some fields and in other parts it diverts away from the railway alignment. If farmers have issues with the greenway route the way to work on that is to engage in the issues to minimise the impact.
Healy Eames brings up a bucket load of red herrings, some of which some regional Irish Farmers Association (IFA) reps continue to repeat on projects in Galway and Mayo even after they’ve been given answers.
“What about tourists who stray off the route and go onto people’s private property? Where does liability lie in that case?” said Healy Eames wandering — bizarrely this was previously a reason IFA reps said that permission access arrangements could not work.
You could understand the potential issue with liability in the case of permission access — the landowner owns the greenway but is allowing access, a tourist gets confused, wandering off the greenway and gets hurt… is the landowner liable? ‘No’ is the answer county councils have given clearly, and repeatedly — their liability insurance covers the greenway and people wandering off it. None of this applies to CPOs — people leaving a publicly owned greenway and trespassing is the same as somebody jumping a ditch on a local road and trespassing.
“What about farms where there are four movements of cattle per day, such as dairy farms?” said Healy Eames. Adding: “What about dividing paddocks and splitting flocks and herds?”
If the greenway route is to “split” a farm, it’s not like a motorway which really splits farms. The greenway can be slightly diverted. In the unlikely event that a diversion proves impossible, the farm activity can be accommodated by a gated crossings of the greenway or, in some cases, underpasses.
Healy Eames goes on: “What about the labour costs and access to water? In my area, the route is proposed to run alongside the Ballinamana River but that river is used to water cattle at the moment.”
A guide to CPOs at Jordancs.ie says that the “Principle of Equivalence” means “that the affected party is left in the same financial position after the CPO as they were prior to the process. The compensation should reflect both the actual land acquired and the diminution in value (if any) of the retained area as a result of the CPO.”
In other words, if there are labour costs and access to water costs brought about as part of use of CPOs, then the landowner has to be compensated.
We’re also left wondering if Healy Eames welcomes German tourists to Co Galway. On the Seanad record she said: “The first thing the NRA mentioned to the Galway farmers, which was stupid beyond measure, was that it had surveyed German tourists and found that they wanted this greenway.”
To blame Germans for the any possible grievances people have with the German bondholders or their government is highly questionable. But condoning that kind of thinking is exactly what Healy Eames is doing repeating generally ill-informed comments about greenways, and talk of having “another war on our hands” if CPOs are used. Yes, that’s in the Seanad record, she says we don’t want another after “the wars over water”, referring to opposition over water meters (which most farmers have been paying for years).
But Germans and “water wars” are not the only silly things to be invoked. She also bizarrely attacks the minister for transport saying he “does not understand rural Ireland” because he is from Dublin — a line of argument which would be poor any day. But it looks even more foolish on a day when the minister for sport Michael Ring — a strong defender of rural Ireland — was in standing in for the transport minister and had already in detail agreed fully with the Dublin TD’s position. As we reported recently, the minister of state for rural economic development
and rural transport also agrees with the use of CPOs.
If Healy Eames and supporters of the same arguments got their way they would allow the councils around the country to be held to ransom to landowners holding out for larger payments for small bits land.