— Farming groups are trying to fight a cold war against CPOs on many fronts
COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Rural Ireland is not well served by leaders of the farming community acting like Donald Trump. The leaders’ fake or ill-informed ideas about the compulsory purchase order (CPO) process is just that — acting like Trump.
Nothing in this article is saying that farmers do not have legitimate concerns about greenways or the use of the CPO process. Trump’s supporters also have legitimate concerns, but these concerns are bundled up and mixed with fear and that fear is misdirected by people who make a living by using the fear of others to their advantage.
Farmers have general fears about their livelihood, the safety of their families and livestock, the security of their property. Some farmers have faced shocking crime and others have had to fight repossessions of farms and their family homes. But farming leaders have wrongly played up or linked these fears to grievances with greenways.
The latest — although by no means the only — example of this is a statement released over the weekend by the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock.
The comments against CPOs are focused on the section of the Galway to Dublin greenway between Athlone and Galway, but it’s really a national issue relating to routes in Kerry, Mayo, and future routes around the country.
Sherlock said: “ICSA fully stands behind farmers in the region and we share their legitimate concerns about the negative impact of a Greenway route that splits farms or which interferes in any way with the business or the privacy or security of individual farmers. It must be understood that this is not a piece of essential infrastructure but an experimental tourism project and no tourism project can be a success without the goodwill and active positive engagement of locals.”
Back in 2014, the Galway IFA chairman, said something similar. He said: “[CPOs have] involved ESB lines, gas pipeways and new roads but to destroy a commercial farm for a walkway is just something that farmers will not accept. This is not critical infrastructure and there are alternatives available”.
At the same time, the Galway/Mayo IFA regional officer Roy O’Brien said: “It is quite simply, totally unacceptable that farmers could face into a situation where their lands could be dissected with this Greenway route. This would put some farmers out of business – an alternative route must be sourced, most probably along the side of the old N6 Galway to Dublin road.”
All three of these men are deliberately or otherwise misleading farmers and the public in general.
The idea that farmers would go out of business because of a greenway — even if the CPO process was used — is far-fetched in the extreme. A greenway is a pathway which is a few metres wide, it’s not a motorway of 40 or more metres wide with no at-grade crossings.
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And the idea that the CPO process is reserved for some kind of undefined “essential infrastructure” might make for a nice sound bite, but it is just not true. The compulsory purchase of land is only reserved for the public or common good and greenways meet this requirement by the trailer load — greenways aren’t just good for tourism, and rural development but they are also good for health, the environment, and for giving children, teenagers and the wider community safe routes to walk and cycle on.
While people have different views on what’s essential or not, many people in towns and villages in places like Mayo and Waterford see their greenways as “essential infrastructure”. Calling a greenway a “experimental tourism project” is a sign of one of two things — (a) the rural development chairman needs to do his research or (b) he knows what he’s talking about and is wilfully misleading people. Greenways have more than proven themselves in Ireland and long distance cycle routes are not experimental but common place in many countries.
Demonising the CPO system is just wrong. It’s a process which starts with discussion and then negotiation with landowners. The idea that the CPO process has to be off the table before landowners engage is impractical because it would mean just one landowner out of 1,000 could block a route.
One person blocking a route which has benfits for the wider public is wrong, but the same can be said about 30 landowners doing the same thing.
Sherlock’s comments that Minister Ross should not to rely on “expensive outside consultants operating on the basis of maps and theory to decide the issue” is trying to simplify the issue, it’s an attempt to focus anger against the project and gloss over the fact the consultants have visited the areas many time and have engaged with many landowners. Not all landowners are opposed to the route using their land. On
Farming groups know all of the above — but there’s a war on-going against the use of CPOs for greenways and that should deeply worry anybody interisted in rural development, tourism, and walking and cycling safety.
Delay after delay causes costs to rise and both the farming leaders and the farming and farming and rural media need to refelect on the rhetoric and unnecessary fear they have spread. It needs to be challenged.
The Minister for Transport said recently: “engagement and consultation with landowners is required and, when finalised, will inform the approach to be taken when talks are resumed on the delivery of the section of the Galway to Dublin greenway between Athlone and Galway.”
It’s time that farming leaders showed some leadership, it’s time that people with the title of rural development in their titles toned down anti-development rhetoric and supported engagement. But for all of that to happen the Cold War against CPOs needs to stop.