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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Paedophile sentenced to a further 17 months in prison
A convicted paedophile, described by a Garda as ‘a prolific child abuser’, has had a 17-month prison sentence added to a 13-year sentence he is already serving for the rape and sexual abuse of children.
Disgraced primary school teacher and summer school bus driver, 69-year-old Seosamh Ó Ceallaigh, a native of Tuirín, Béal a’ Daingin, Conamara, had at all times denied two charges of indecently assaulting a ten-year-old boy at a Gaeltacht summer school in Béal a’ Daingin in 1979.
The offence carries a maximum two-year sentence.
A jury found him guilty by majority verdict following a four-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last month.
At his sentence hearing last week, Detective Paul Duffy described Ó Ceallaigh as a prolific child abuser who had amassed 125 child abuse convictions, committed while he was a primary school teacher in Dublin and while he operated an Irish language summer school in Beal a’ Daingin.
They included convictions for rape and sexual assault for which he is currently serving sentences totalling 13 years.
Those sentences were due to expire in August 2024, but last week, Judge Rory McCabe imposed two, concurrent 17-month sentences on Ó Ceallaigh, before directing the sentences begin at the termination of the sentences he is currently serving.
The judge noted Ó Ceallaigh’s denial and lack of remorse and the lifelong detrimental effect the abuse had on the victim as aggravating factors.
Dismay as marine park proposal rejected by planners
A lifeline project, with the potential to create around 200 long-term jobs in an area of South Connemara ravaged by unemployment and emigration, has been rejected by planners – primarily environmental grounds.
The proposed marine park or Páirc na Mara, east of Cill Chiaráin village, was viewed by many as a real chance to turn the tide for this unemployment blackspot.
Locals – and the vast majority of Galway West politicians – were supportive of the project which was viewed as one that would revitalise the area.
That said, Galway County Council’s decision to refuse permission for the marine park was welcomed by Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages which had expressed fears that the marine farm would extract huge amounts of fresh water to breed more than 1.5 million salmon smolts.
They said that millions of litres of fresh water would have been extracted on a regular basis by the salmon farm company operating the smolt rearing units – from the same lakes as the Carna and Cill Chiaráin water supply system.
“Local residents can now rest assured that their domestic water supply won’t be hijacked to line the pockets of people who have no regard for the local environment or residents,” said Billy Smyth, Chairman of Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages.
It was proposed to provide a marine innovation park Pairc na Mara on a 60-acre brownfield site at Cill Chiarain.
The development involves the provision of a number of marine-based facilities as well as education and research facilities in the townlands of Cill Chiarain, Ardmore and Calvary.
It involves the abstraction of water from Lough Scannan, its transfer to and temporary storage in Iron Lake along with impoundment and pumping to the Marine Park site with a rising main.
According to the application, Galway County Council has previously granted planning permission for aquaculture-based activities on the site of the proposed marine park back in 2002 while the first phase of the innovation park was built in 2005.
There were a considerable number of submissions supporting the application with many saying that this part of Connemara would benefit greatly from such a development.
But there were others who expressed concern over the potential impact it would have on the environment, and it would be located in a highly sensitive area.
Cllr Gerry King said that it was a valuable opportunity lost to the area given the amount of unemployment that exists. He added that there was local outrage at the decision.
The Fianna Fail councillor met with those behind the project and residents in support of the project. He said that they all agreed that this decision should be appealed to the higher planning authority.
It was refused on the basis that it would adversely affect the integrity and conservation objectives of the European sides in the vicinity of environmental value.
Planners stated that they could not be certain that the project would not adversely affect the integrity of Cill Ciaran Bay, the islands and Connemara bog complex
They also said that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report did not present a sufficient level of information on the impact it would have on human health, biodiversity, land, soil, water along with cultural heritage and the landscape.
Council rules that honey business is in Special Area of Conservation
A North Connemara beekeeper has expressed his dismay at the County Council’s refusal to issue an exemption to allow him proceed with an apiary on farmlands at Rossadillisk.
Tom Termini, who has lived in the area for the past 25 years, purchased the lands just off the coastline with the intention of beekeeping there, but plans to expand have come to a halt after an enforcement order was issued by the Council last Summer.
Mr Termini said he had been of the understanding that the 20msq agricultural storage building which was portable in nature would not require planning permission because of its agricultural purpose and its location on appropriately zoned lands.
However, after receiving a letter from the Council, he engaged the services of an engineer who recommended seeking a Declaration of Exemption from planning.
“The area is located in a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) so we engaged the services of another engineer who carried out an Environmental Impact Assessment and it was found it would have no impact,” said Mr Termini.
The report, compiled by Delichon Ecology, states that there are 17 sites protected by European SAC status within 15km of the proposed development, but concludes that ‘the completed groundworks and proposed agricultural building, either individually or in combination with other projects and plans, is not likely to have a significant impact on any European site’.
Mr Termini said no explanation as to why his application was refused was forthcoming, but that he had since applied for retention on the partially completed structure.
“After I invested in the property, I started down the route of setting up the apiary because I had one when I was in the States, and I’m a member of the local association. I decided to build a bigger shed so we could expand beyond being a service to have a product offering,” said Mr Termini who owns and operates Bluedog Honey.
He said the company would bring economic benefits to what was a small, rural area and the lands he owned were 90% bog, unsuited to many other forms of agriculture.
“We’d hoped to have it up and running by February 2020, but the pandemic set that back and then we got the letter from the Council as works were progressing towards opening this February.
“This facility would not impact on the area – other than using water to wash natural matter, there is no discharge – I’m perplexed by it all really,” said Mr Termini.
An application for retention of the structure was sent to Galway County Council this month, with a decision due by August 15.
Mr Termini said he would be forced to appeal to An Bord Pleanála if this application was turned down, but said he was being assisted by local Councillor Eileen Mannion, whom he said supported enterprise in the area.
“This has been going on for 18 months and really, what I want to do is get to the next stage where we can grow the business and deal with the stresses that come with that – not this,” said Mr Termini.