Gardai are expected to be present at public consultation for the over 200km Galway to Athlone Greenway today after maps and information sheets were pulled down from displays at an event yesterday.
Four public consultation events are to take place this week after the ‘Emerging Preferred Route’ was revealed on Monday. This started at the Oranmore Lodge Hotel yesterday.
Today (Wednesday) there will be another consultation information event in Gort at Lady Gregory Hotel from 3-8pm. This will be followed at Portumna Town Hall on Thursday, March 30 at 3-8pm; and at Shearwater Hotel in Ballinasloe, on Friday, March 31 at 3-8pm.
Several people who contacted IrishCycle.com yesterday and this morning outlined how they felt intimated, how they felt they couldn’t express support to the project team at the event and how they left early than they would have otherwise because of the protest.
Cllr Joe Byrne (FG), a Galway County Council councillor, said: “I wasn’t there and I don’t know exactly what happened, but the one thing I will say is that I’m very supportive of a number of land owners, homeowners and community groups who have a number of issues with what’s being proposed in this preferred route, but I think protesting inside in a hall, maybe the use of loud noise, I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
“I think we need to work with the project team to try and get a resolution for everybody,” he told IrishCycle.com. “I have to acknowledge that some groups are very annoyed over the process, but I think we have to be respectful and work together to try and resolve it.”
Cllr Byrne said that he has issues with the greenway coming too close to houses and views that as an invasion of privacy, he said that severance of farmland should be avoided at all costs and questioned the greenway routed via environmentally sensitive and protected areas.
Many of the protesters have outlined that they are not against the greenway in principle, but have various concerns including the use of farmland, complaints of the lack of consultation while the consultation process is ongoing, environmental concerns, and claims about the risk of anti-social behaviour and health and safety issues.
The issue was also covered on Galway Bay FM’s Keith Finnegan show this morning, a recording of which can be listened to online. Galway Bay FM said that descriptions of the protest that were given to them include it being “electric”, “boisterous”, and “mayhem” when some protesters entered the building, it’s unclear how many of the protesters were involved with this.
Some of the protesters interviewed by Galway Bay FM contradicted each other with some saying that the project team have been sometimes responsive to local concerns and willing to adjust the route and others claiming that is not happening at all. The estimates of the number of protesters who were outside varies from around 30-50 people.
Declan Kenny, a farmer with land close to the route, today told the presenter of the show that he pulled down that maps. He said that the map showed land that he farms. He said that the route “severs” an access road to land that he farms which is family-owned.
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On Galway Bay FM, Kenny said: “I didn’t have to ring you, I didn’t have to make myself know, you have to understand how angry I am that I’m willing to make myself known. I’m not going to hide behind something I done. I done it because I’m angry.”
“When I went inside I seen a map on the wall [which showed the route] severing my land, severing an access road to my land without any consultation. So I got angry and took the map down. Without consent, my map was on the wall,” he said.
Kenny said: “Last Wednesday or Thursday I got a phone call from a neighbour to tell me where it [the route] was] going and I rang a lead engineer on the project to ask him why didn’t he ring me and he said it doesn’t concern you, and that’s why I’m angry.”
Asked does that mean he should go and rip the map off the wall, he said: “Sure, it’s my private property.”
Asked if they had not been contacted by the project team, Kenny said that the project team had “not got out on the ground and spoken to the people.”
He added: “It’s the stress, we’re living with this, we’re not sleeping at night, it’s putting a strain on our families, relationships everything. This isn’t proper. It isn’t right.”
In a recorded interview from the consultation event last night, Michael Kelly, project coordinator and senior executive engineer at Westmeath County Council, said that the project is at the preferred route stage which means over the next 18 months they are preparing a planning application to be submitted to An Bord Pleanála.
“We originally had a constraints study consultation back in 2020 followed by five route corridors with a second public consultation, then a third public consultation last year,” he said when talking to Galway Bay FM.
Kelly said that around half of the route is planned to be on State-owned lands. He said: “To connect those lands, the remaining part of the cycleway had to traverse privately owned lands, and for the last year we have been in consultation with landowners trying to come up with a route and minimise the impact on these landowners by traversing around the perimeter of their landholding where possible. And that’s what we have on display.”
He said since last February that they have had a team meeting with landowners and that the team has worked in accordance with the best practice for greenways which was agreed upon between the Government and farming groups.