Greenway campaigners are claiming a renewed groundswell of support for their campaign to upgrade the old Sligo to Athenry rail line into a walk and cycleway through the west.
The Western Rail Trail Campaign has called on County Councils in Galway, Mayo and Sligo to ‘seize the change’ to develop the 130m route – on the back of newly available funding from the Department of Transport.
And they point out that, unlike other routes, this one is already in public ownership – so there is no issue with farmers fearing a split of their land.
The greenway also wouldn’t prevent a future reopening of the rail line; in fact the Western Rail Trail Campaign says that the walk would effectively protect the route for a future return to rail if the Government so decided in future.
Campaign spokesman Brendan Quinn has welcomed the fact that an online petition in favour of the greenway has now achieved over 15,000 signatures as the new Government Greenway Strategy is about to be launched.
“There is overwhelming support for the greenway in Sligo Mayo and Galway with community support groups in each county along the route, the response to the petition is amazing we passed 15,000 signatures last week and it just keeps going up” said Mr Quinn.
The group is an alliance of community groups in Galway, Mayo and Sligo campaigning to preserve the alignment of the closed rail line from Athenry to Collooney by utilising the route for tourism and leisure as a greenway until such time as a railway may be possible.
“It would be crazy if all three county councils don’t seize this opportunity for funding for what will be Ireland’s longest greenway and will be a huge tourist attraction for the West.
“At the same time the greenway will protect the route in public ownership should a railway ever become viable,” he added.
Mr Quinn said that the new greenway strategy due to be launched by the government will make available over €50 million for greenway development.
“One of the biggest single issues in creating a greenway is land ownership and rights of way,” he said.
“The entire 130km route from Sligo to Athenry is already in state ownership through Irish Rail so there are no issues of land ownership, the route already belongs to the state and there are no plans for the railway to re-open anytime soon.
“So why not create a public amenity with a 130 km greenway from Sligo to Athenry which will be a massive tourist attraction and bring great amenity benefits to the communities it passes through?” he added.
The umbrella group points to the plethora of local groups advocating a greenway for the rail line – including community groups in Athenry, Tuam and Milltown, supported by two Galway East TDs, Minister Ciaran Cannon and Anne Rabbitte.
In Mayo, the Kilitimagh Greenway group is leading the campaign for the Mayo section of the closed railway to be converted to Greenway from Charlestown to the county border at Milltown, with a parallel greenway to be put in place alongside the short section of track in Kiltimagh which is proposed as a velo-rail route, subject to planning permission.
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‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’
It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.
Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.
“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”
The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.
He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.
A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.
But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.
Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.
They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.
Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.
The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.
Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites
The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.
Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.
Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.
“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.
“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.
The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.
That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.
The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.
Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.
However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.
It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.
Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.
Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.
Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996. Both men remain in custody.
A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.
A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.