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Is Dublin deaf to dissent from beyond the Pale?

Irish Independent
Thursday February 26th 2004

by Marese McDonagh

There is a growing "them and us" syndrome between Dublin and the rest of the country and people who live outside the city are mad as hell about a lot of things.

If the campaign to re-open a disused rail link through the western part of the country doesn't get the green light, it's going to be perceived as yet another indication that nobody is listening in the capital city.

A Sligo-based IFA official, Joe Coulter, warned recently that the country might just "topple into the Irish Sea" if a serious effort is not made to correct the population imbalance.

He was speaking in advance of the Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan's visit to five railway stations on the Sligo/Limerick line, which closed to passengers in the 1960s.

There is grass growing on the track at most of the 20 stations on this route. Colman O Raghallaigh, spokesman for the lobby group West on Track, said that when they closed it down the government of the day "pulled out of the west and told the people they could go to America or England".

But, as the Minister was told, they may have closed it down but thanks to the Minister's intervention in the late 1980s, when he held the same portfolio, they never took away the line and the thoroughfare is still in public ownership.

Consultants believe that as a result, the capital costs of restoring the service would be just under euro250m.

Minister Brennan is insisting that no section of the line can be reopened until the sums are done because it is taxpayers' money which is at stake. Kiltimagh man Joe Kelly wondered if there was such rigorous value-for-money examination of projects like the Luas and Metro.

Luas gets mentioned a lot in the context of the western rail corridor. The consultants who examined the project pointed out that the 114 miles of rail between Collooney, Co Sligo, and Ennis, could be made operational for the equivalent of five miles of Luas or 2.5 miles of Metro.

The Galway-born Minister may have felt he was on home ground when he went west recently but on his visit he was effectively welcomed to one of the colonies.

Father Micheal Mac Greil, a sociologist in Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, explained to Minister Brennan that for several years now, people living in the west, the Midlands and parts of Ulster have started to believe that they are a colony of the expanded Pale. Father Mac Greil has spent 25 years hounding successive governments about this rail project and took the opportunity to educate the relevant Minister about a condition he dubbed "post-colonial attitudinal schizophrenia".

Interestingly, after Minister Brennan walked the line at five stations in counties Sligo, Mayo and Galway, his audience seemed equally divided between those who believed he had delivered nothing and those who can already hear the commuter trains whizzing between Athenry and Galway.

The Minister's promise to set up a working party to examine which sections of the line might be considered first, was greeted with snorts of derision from his political opponents. Sligo/ Leitrim Independent TD, Marian Harkin, a former chair of the Council for the West, said she was dumbfounded by the lack of a financial commitment, especially given the euro37m to be spent to allow Luas "cross the road" at one Dublin roundabout.

Fine Gael's Michael Ring said the country was full of reports. "What we want are euros," he insisted.

West on Track have derided the "negative spin" put on the Minister's words, but Father Mac Greil, with no pun intended, had to "read between the lines" to find the positive news. And while the battle-hardened campaigner insisted that agreement in principle had now been delivered, Father Mac Greil said he had also hoped that "a bit of track would be delivered in the short term".

The Minister did make a pointed reference to the potential of a commuter service between Tuam and Athenry and O Raghallaigh believes that work on this section of the line will begin in 2005.

The Minister's comment that the line would not be built on sentiment or emotion alone clearly nettled some of those who had already done their sums and believe the line will generate more than enough income to pay its running costs.

But as with all great rail lines there is sentiment attached. Dozens of local people, many of them elderly, turned out to meet the Minister when he and his entourage crowded into stations in Claremorris, Kiltimagh, Charlestown, Tubbercurry and Tuam .

In Kiltimagh, 79-year-old Henry King said that as a temporary postman he had witnessed many tears being shed in the station when he delivered mail to the train in the 1950s. "A lot of people left from that station and went across channel and they never came home," he said.

West on Track believes what is needed now is a commuter service for the thousands of workers who do not have to emigrate but who cannot park their cars in cities like Sligo and Galway. Traffic congestion is now costing Galway euro1.8m every week, with the volume of traffic on the N17 from Tuam up nearly 40pc in the last five years.

All week local radio stations have told the stories of those whose lives could be changed by a decent public-transport system. As one business man in Mayo said: "We do not want to be seen as whingers. We are just here to make our case."








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