Galway farmers object to coast-to-coast cycle route from Dublin
A coast-to-coast cycleway linking Dublin to Galway has been thrown into doubt after farmers objected to the route being directed through their land.
The 280km cross-country Greenway, using the Royal Canal, disused railway lines and a new bridge over the River Shannon, was expected to be a flagship tourism attraction for the country.
Several phases have already been completed, with the four million euro Mullingar to Athlone section opened to great fanfare in recent weeks.
But plans to construct the western part, running through Shannonbridge, Loughrea, Craughwell, Clarinbridge and Oranmore to the Galway coast, have been plunged into disarray.
Transport Minister Pascal Donohoe has shelved proposed work on this 145km section after objections, mainly from farmers in Galway.
Consultations with 194 landowners - around a fifth of those along the western section - found that just under two thirds were opposed to the cycle path.
More than a quarter were in favour of it, while less than one in 10 are still undecided.
A report on the consultations handed to the minister stated that the underlying concern was that farmers don't get any livelihood from tourism.
"The question 'what's in it for the farmer?' was raised in the consultations," the Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) report states.
As a result of the row, Mr Donohoe has switched funding to a section of the Greenway between Maynooth and Westmeath, through counties Kildare and Meath, which is ready to proceed.
"The goal of an iconic cross-country Greenway from Dublin to Galway remains a priority for this Government, however we will now focus on completing the Greenway from Maynooth to Westmeath, with a view to having that section completed in 2017," he said.
"Funds are limited in respect of Greenways, as they are in all areas, so I have come to the decision, in the interest of delivering not just the Dublin to Galway Greenway but greenways throughout the country, to progress only those projects that have been properly assessed and approved and that have planning permission in place and are ready to go."
Mr Donohoe said he wanted to allow time for all to "reflect on the issues raised" by the Galway farmers and for consideration of an alternative route.
"The success of the sections of the Greenway that have been opened to date demonstrates the benefits to local communities in the form of increased tourism and easy access to outdoor local activities," he added.
The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) blamed poor consultation with landowners for the disruption to the western section of the greenway.
Harold Kingston, the IFA's environment and rural affairs spokesman, said there are alternative routes the cycle path could take with less impact to its members.
"This decision has been taken because local authority officials and representatives from TII failed to adequately and professionally engage with landowners in the planning phase of this greenway," he said.
"A framework exists for other national infrastructure projects such as roads and gas pipe lines which supports landowners through the process.
"The IFA has again called on both the Department of Transport and TII to engage with farmers and fairly address their concerns."