Conor “wrongest man in Ireland” Skehan, keeps getting it wrong on walking and cycling

Comment & Analysis: Conor Skehan was once called the “wrongest man in Ireland”.  From my experience of his ramblings about pedestrian and cycling projects, he flings out half-believable claims, but when it comes to details, he’s substantively wrong most of the time.

His latest Sunday Independent column is definitely not an outlier on this. It’s actually amazing how wrong one person can be.

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A bit of background: Skehan has close connections with at least one of the people who have been battling against the pedestrianisation of Malahide’s New Street. In his Sunday Independent columns, he mentioned the town in one or two articles, and in others, he avoided naming it but instead took the indirect approach of attacking outdoor dining, etc.

Effectively he has been part of a motley crew in the town against the pedestrianisation.

Recently, 22 councillors voted for the street’s redesign to suit pedestrianisation, 9 voted against it, and five abstained.

So, I was half surprised it took Skehan this long to go on the attack again in his Sunday Independent column.

The article, headlined “Green Party’s wrecking ball hellbent on destroying economic prosperity,” attacked several green policies. However, one of the most notable elements of his article was a few words he seems to have left out: Climate change isn’t mentioned (unless you’re counting him name-checking the department with Climate in its name), nor is the war, Ukraine, or inflation.

At least brash climate change deniers somewhat face climate change, Skehan brushes it under the carpet.

I’m going to mainly focus on the article’s walking and cycling elements and leave the Greens to defend themselves and anybody in other areas to point out the flaws in those areas. And Skehan also devotes a good chunk of the article to cycling.

But it’s worth saying that it’s stunning to try to mention inflationary issues without actually discussing any of the causes and just focusing on environmental policies.

It outlines how, in Skehan’s mind, the “future of most of the major parts of the Irish economy” is “threatened by key aspects of government policies,” and then he asks, “Do we have any idea what an ­outlier Ireland has become?”

Just wait for the example he gives and how wrong he is.

I don’t want to be accused of inaccurately summing up what he wrote, so, I’m going to quote three paragraphs directly:

For example, Ireland now spends 10 times more per capita on cycling infrastructure than Germany or France, yet Dublin is ranked as ­having the second-worst traffic ­congestion in the world.

While nobody disagrees that ­cycling can play a role in relieving traffic congestion, the expenditure must be in proportion to the benefit. In Ireland, cycling accounts for about 4pc of movement, yet since 2021 we have spent €360m annually on cycling infrastructure. What is a proportionate amount to spend?

Annually, Ireland’s spending on cycling is now €69 per ­capita, compared to Germany’s €6 or ­Denmark’s €4. Clearly Irish spending is wildly disproportionate.

The €360m is for walking and cycling, not just cycling.

In the most substantive of the above paragraphs, he’s, at best, comparing apples and oranges. It’s just not comparing like-with-like by comparing Ireland to Germany, France, and Denmark in the way he did. We have mainly national funding, a system which is very centralised. The three countries mentioned have much stronger local funding streams and have regional funding, which is nearly nonexistent in Ireland.

Of course, you also don’t just invest in what you have. You also invest in what you want. If we really want higher levels of cycling, then we should be investing in much higher levels of funding than countries ahead of us.

I think people get a bit too concerned about solving traffic congestion — a more practical goal is to free as many people as possible from that congestion by giving them options such as walking, cycling and public transport.

The apparent ode that “­cycling can play a role” is in line with him trying to butter people up in a previous article by saying cycling is “intrinsically good” — but more honest of his views, he has also called cycling the “fads of the few” in another previous article.

On the issue of “proportion to the benefit,” cycling has consistently proven to have strong health, mobility, and economic benefits. A recent report, funded by the National Transport Authority, found that cycling instead of driving has €1.40-€1.52 per km economic benefit in cities on the island of Ireland.

The €360m investment in walking and cycling projects made in the Programme for Government has also been devalued by inflation and construction inflation. The €360 amount is based on 20% of the 2020 capital budget for transport (set in 2019).

Because of inflation, there should now be much more funding per year to keep up with the 2019 levels.

Later in the article, he writes: How soon will we wake up from this nightmare of utter irresponsibility and ask ourselves how proportional representation has allowed such a tiny grouping to have such a disastrous and disproportionate effect on our economy, political stability and social cohesion?”

Let’s forget about the hyperbolic “nightmare,” etc., and again how it tries to label all active travel funding as cycling funding. The truth is that besides contrarians like him, most people are supportive of changes to make our roads safer and less car-dominated.

Survey after survey shows public support for climate action and more space for cycling and walking. Yes, a loud minority and, in some cases, a majority are against individual projects. But, overall, people support investment in cycling.

He then rants on about the Green Party again when policies such as cycle paths and pedestrianisation are supported by politicians across the political divide.

The vote on Malahide was passed with 22 for and nine again. On Fingal County Council, only 5 are Green Party councillors.

More recently, the Dún Laoghaire Living Streets project was approved by 30 votes in favour and seven against. The area only has 6 Green Party councillors, so just 1/5 of those who voted for the project.

Talking about proportionality, it’s amazing how much space cycling takes up in his article. There are so many other areas to focus on, but focusing on them might have exposed his arguments too much as anti-climate action. And the anti-cycling thing is in vogue with contrarians.

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  1. Kind of infuriating what you can get away with in a national newspaper. Don’t know where his €360m comes from given NTA only had active travel spending at under €200m in 2021 and just above €200m in 2022.

    NTA actually detail out what was delivered by type in their 2022 annual report including 188.2km of walking infrastructure and 71.9km of cycling infrastructure with Shared Use Pedestrian Cycle Path (16.7km ) and Urban Greenway/Traffic Free Link (17.7 km) being in both.

  2. Sounds like typical Conor. Uselessly contrary in order to get a reaction. Talking so confidently on a topic while being incorrect, poorly researched and out of his depth. He probably wrote that article in the last 10 minutes before his deadline. I feel sorry for him really. Glad I don’t waste my time reading his dirge.

    Unfortunately articles such as his stir up sections of society to fight genuinely good projects. This means more money is spent trying to get the public on board when planning projects, and even more when fighting legal challenges. Then less money is left to implement those schemes.


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