Campaigners claimed a victory this week after a walking and cycling greenway route between Galway and Sligo gained cross-party political support, however such widespread support is limited to the constituency of Sligo-Leitrim. It does not include counties Mayo or Galway, which combined forms well over half of the route.
While the Western Rail Trail Campaign (formally known as Sligo Mayo Greenway Campaign) claimed victory with the cross-party support, separately on its Facebook page, it said: “Mayo and Galway candidates have been very slow in coming forward to support the greenway openly.” It added: “Mayo candidates are eerily silent on the issue”.
The route would run between Collooney in county Sligo to Athenry in county Galway, and links towns such as Tuam and Claremorris. The railway line is technically in full state ownership, but has suffered encroachment, theft of the rails, and local councils removing rails at level and bridge crossing while repairing or upgrading roads.
The greenway campaign has slowly gained support over another group, West on Track, who want the railway restored and are dismissive of the greenway proposal. While, the Western Rail Trail Campaign claim they are “seeking to protect the alignment of the non operational railway line from Collooney in County Sligo to Athenry in county Galway by placing a greenway on the route until such time as a railway is possible.”
The reopening of the railway is unlikely in the short term after the section of the Western Rail Corridor between counties Galway and Limerick was reopened in 2012 and has suffered low passenger numbers since then. But support for the greenway is still far from universal in counties Mayo or Galway.
Brendan Quinn of the Western Rail Trail campaign said in statement: “We have been delighted with the almost unanimous positive response we have received we are now very optimistic we will have cross party support with four TDs who all support the greenway from Collooney to Athenry on the closed railway route.”
He added: “We are very pleased to be able to inform the voting public that every single candidate bar one has responded to the survey with positive support for the greenway campaign… “The main party candidates have been totally supportive, with Labour, all three Fianna Fail and Fine Gael candidates, PBP, Renua and the Green Party candidates all sending messages of support as have all the independent candidates with the exception of [Declan] Bree. Sinn Fein have for the first time openly declared their support for the Collooney to Athenry greenway that would connect the north west to the Dublin-Galway greenway.”
According to our sources, the lack of support in county Mayo is not straightforward — it includes those against the greenway because they want the railway instated; those who think both railway and greenway would cost too much; and those who want to focus on other planned greenway routes in the county — with an element of protectionism from politicians closer to the successful Great Western Greenway, in the west of the county.
The lack of support in county Galway is also an issue. The greenway group said: “Our greenway champion Lorraine Higgins (Labour) is getting a great response on the doorstep when they realise she is the only Galway East candidate so far who openly supports the greenway.”
The lack of support from politicians in Galway will not surprise many of those following greenway news in Ireland. A similar lack of support and, even, hostility towards the planned Galway to Dublin Greenway resulted in the minister for transport to direct officials to focus on completing the Dublin to Athlone section. Promised funding for the western section of the route is almost all on hold.
IMAGE: Picture of part of closed railway line from Collooney to Athenry, from Western Rail Trail Campaign