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Ruling will leave N59 road plan dead in the water

Denise McNamara

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A decision to refuse the upgrade for the N59 between Maam Cross and Clifden would result in even more deaths on a treacherous road and delay for many years any further development for Connemara.

That was the warning of Oughterard Councillor Thomas Welby who said this project – as well as the planned new coast road to replace the R336 – was now “dead in the water”.

An Bord Pleanála decided by a 3:1 majority vote to refuse to approve the proposed development in line with the Inspector’s recommendation.

The overriding reason was its potential impact on four European Sites – the Twelve Bens/Garraun Complex Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the Maumturk Mountains SAC and two Connemara Bog Complex SACs.

The project would have negatively affected the site’s blanket bog and Northern Atlantic wet heath –  dwarf shrubs such as heather on shallow bog, which are both Annex 1 – or protected habitats.

“In the absence of clear information in relation to the habitats which are within and adjacent to the proposed road development, it is not possible to conclude that the proposed road development would not result in the loss of such habitats, for which it is a stated conservation objective to maintain or restore the favourable conservation status.

“It is not, therefore, possible to conclude that the proposed road development, alone or in combination with other plans or projects, would not adversely affect the integrity of the European Sites in view of the sites’ conservation objectives.”

The consultant ecologist engaged on the project found that the degree to which “the integrity is affected [of the two priority habitats] is slight” – the overall area of land affected relative to the rest of the SAC was less than 0.02% in each case.

“This is potentially compounded by indirect effects (de-watering, etc) and ‘in combination effects’ from other developments but the situation is broadly unchanged.”

The ecologist also found it “technically possible” to create compensatory habitats in areas of degraded and damaged peatlands.

The Board found that Galway County Council had acted correctly in pursuing the project given the “sub-standard nature of the existing N59” in terms of width, alignment and surface quality and the improvements would result in traffic safety for all. They also applauded the fact they had followed the line of the existing road to minimise environmental concerns.

The Board considered approving certain sections of the project, which did not contains SACs. This was detailed in the Inspector’s report and amounted to 13.9km – or almost half the length of the proposed 29.4km.

However, three out of four members shared the Inspector’s concerns regarding the implications that would have on drainage, the location of wetland treatment areas for surface water run-off, the continuity of cycleways and footpaths and the diversion of services.

“The Board further considered that such an amended proposal would be significantly different from the one proposed for consideration and, therefore, did not pursue this option.”

Cllr Welby said these four SACs were the scene of fires every summer because they were under-grazed and left fallow.

“This is a road dotted with crosses where people have died and now there will be more after this decision,” he fumed.

“We’re talking about people’s lives – yet people are coming second best by far. It’s a bad day for Connemara and it’s a bad day for the people.”

The first section of the N59, Oughterard to Maam Cross, was approved by An Bord Pleanála but on condition Galway County Council work in cooperation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to minimise the impact on the environment.

Agreement has not been reached with the NPWS and that section of the road has been stalled, Cllr Welby stated.

“The NPWS are not a willing partner in these projects yet they pretend to be at the consultation table. They’re sending us back to the dark ages. This is a road which was 90% along the current N59. We might as well forget about the new coast road.”

This is the second major project in 18 months refused for Connemara due its landscape designation – a treatment plant was approved for Oughterard but an upgrade of the sewerage system – pipes laid since 1947 – were rejected.

The only way forward on the Maam Cross to Clifden project was to submit an application under the IROPI (imperative reasons of over-riding public interest) process – which would cost many millions more than it already has, he said.

Connacht Tribune

Old mills set for new life as distillery

Declan Tierney

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An artist's impression of the new distillery.

An old corn mill in East Galway is set to be transformed into a €6 million whiskey and gin manufacturing distillery – once planning permission has been granted for the development.

And if approved, the distillery has the potential to create more than 15 new jobs directly in the village of Ahascragh, providing a huge economic boost to the area – and rescuing the old corn mill which ceased operation in the 1950s.

A planning application for the new brewery has just been submitted by Gareth and Michelle McAllister of McAllister Distillers in North Dublin, with a decision due before the end of the year.

Gareth McAllister told The Connacht Tribune that he intended to renovate the old building while retaining some of the old features such as a mill wheel, and utilise the stream that runs through the property.

The complex, as well as producing various styles of Irish whiskey and gin, will also include a visitor centre, rooms for hospitality events, a retail shop and cafe.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also purchase a digital edition here.

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Connacht Tribune

Aer Arann marks half a century of linking islands to the mainland

Dara Bradley

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Current Aer Arann owners Jarlath Conneely (left) and Peter McKenna, pictured in front of their aircraft. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

When Coley Hernon of Cill Rónáin on Inis Mór wrote letters to newspaper editors in 1970, questioning why the Aran Islands couldn’t have an air service like that operating from many Scottish islands, a number of Galway businessmen responded to the challenge.

Among them were visionaries Jimmy Coen and Ralph Langan, who established a local airline, Aer Arann Islands – and on August 15, 1970 the first flight took place between Inis Mór and the Galway mainland, at Oranmore.

According to the Connacht Tribune archives, the inaugural flight of the twin-engine plane, which cost £40,000, carried ten people in all, including a number of Bórd Fáilte officials and tourism representatives.

“The weather was unkind and heavy mist and squally winds made for unpleasant conditions but nevertheless the inaugural flight went off according to schedule,” the Tribune newspaper report said at the time.

When they landed, they were greeted by members of Aran Islands Tourist Development Association at a new £20,000 airstrip at Killeaney.

That first commercial flight from Galway’s mainland to the Aran Islands will be commemorated this weekend, 50 years later.

From those humble beginnings, it’s a company that has faced turbulence during its five decades, not least in recent years when there was uncertainty over State supports (PSO, Public Service Obligation) for the service . . . but at its core has always been a sense of duty to serving islanders.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also purchase a digital edition here.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway among counties least hit by Covid

Dara Bradley

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Galway has so far suppressed the spread of Coronavirus this summer – with the latest figures showing the county is one of the least affected in the Republic of Ireland in the past fortnight.

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 population stands at just 3.1 in Galway in the last two weeks, compared with the national average of 18.42.

Three of the counties plunged into a partial lockdown again last Friday – Laois, Kildare and Offaly – had cases per 100,000 over the past fortnight of 86.19, 146.51 and 123.14 respectively.

The rate in Clare was 28.62, Mayo was 6.32, Roscommon was 1.55, and Tipperary was 1.25.

In the past week, Galway surpassed the 500-mark for confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic struck in March.

None of them are now in hospital, according to the data.

In the week to Sunday, there were a total of three new cases confirmed in Galway, bringing the running total to 501. The previous week, there a total of five new cases.

On Tuesday of this week, both of Galway’s two public hospitals, University Hospital Galway and Portiuncula, were Covid-free, and were not treating any patients in wards or in ICU who were confirmed as having Covid-19.

Get all the latest coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also purchase a digital edition here.

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