— Minister to look to see “if there is indeed potential for developing the remainder of the greenway”
Options for the future of Ireland’s first cross-country walking and cycling route, the Dublin to Galway Greenway, are due to reach transport minister Paschal Donohoe due within days, he said this week. Although, it is only likely to be published after the minister digests it.
He said that he expects the report “by the end of September” and that he and his department “will ascertain if there is indeed potential for developing the remainder of the greenway to Galway” — a phrase which is the clearest sign from the department that the greenway is in doubt. Before now the minister and the department had been clear that the route was a certainty.
The section of the planned greenway between Athlone and Galway has proven difficult because of opposition from landowners, who are supported by local politicians. Unlike the eastern half of the route which uses state-owned canal banks and disused railway alignment, the western section was due to travel mostly across private lands.
“Permission access”, where landowners retain ownership of the route, has proven problematic on other greenways, so this was not seen as a viable option. Landowners have however fought against the compulsory purchase of their lands, claiming that their farms would be “split in half”. Only around 40% of landowners are understood to support the greenway crossing their lands.
The minister was responding to a parliamentary question by Denis Naughten, an independent TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim, who asked for progress to date on the western section of the route.
Minister Paschal Donohoe said: “As the Deputy will be aware, a structured consultation process is ongoing between representatives of the project team tasked with the delivery of the Western section of the Dublin to Galway Greenway and landowners affected by the current preferred route. The consultation process is being led by representatives of Galway County Council and I am expecting a report on this process to be submitted to me by the end of September. I hope that some resolution can be found around the issues that are concerning a number of the affected landowners.”
“In pursuing this project, the Department is seeking to create a valuable tourism and leisure product, one that is likely to bring significant benefit to all members of the community along the route. The objective of the consultation is to achieve consensus around addressing the concerns of affected landowners and the wider farming community,” said minister Donohoe.
He added: “Once I have received the report, I will consider the associated findings and, together with my officials, we will ascertain if there is indeed potential for developing the remainder of the greenway to Galway. I will communicate the findings to you and other local representatives in due course.”
Speaking in the Dail last Wednesday, Naughten added: “While I am on the issue of Ballinasloe, I wish to raise a matter with the Minister which I wrote to him about earlier this week, that is, the inter-urban greenway and cycleway that is being developed from Dublin to Galway. I have asked the Minister to look at this issue again because I believe a major mistake is being made in how this route is being mapped out.”
Naughten said: “I have said in the House previously that what we need to do is start from a different baseline. That baseline should be the public lands available between Athlone and Galway, whether Bord na Móna lands, Coillte lands, National Parks and Wildlife Service lands or those of the former Land Commission, which still holds a significant land bank in the west. There are also many public rights of way that are no longer in use. I believe that if the Minister mapped out those in the first instance, he would be surprised by the amount of land available. The Minister could use this land to map out the route. We should also consider the attractions around them. I have no difficulty in that area. What is really frustrating is that this has not been done to date. Despite this, Roscommon County Council, on its own initiative, has used that particular model. The council now believes it is possible to secure an acceptable route between Athlone and Ballinasloe for the cycleway. It would be completely off road with no need to use the compulsory purchase order route.”
He added: “If it can be done between Athlone and Ballinasloe then I firmly believe it can be done between Ballinasloe and Galway. However, we need to go back and look at how we map it out. Rather than looking at scrapping that particular route – I know that is being given consideration at the moment in some corridors – I call on the Minister to look again at how the initial corridors were designed. I believe we can get a solution.”
IMAGE: Part of the Dublin to Galway route on the banks of the Royal Canal in Ashtown, Dublin.