New Unity of Purpose Between Galway City Council & Communities to Protect Biodiversity & Heritage

Over the last few years, the protection of biodiversity and preservation of areas of natural heritage has deteriorated in Galway city. Serious pollution in Lough Corrib; increases in litter and illegal dumping in bogs, parks and woodlands; the almost complete disappearance of community tree plantings events; the attempts by officialdom to build a new road through the Terryland Forest Park; the failure to implement the Galway City Habitats Inventory (which agreed on a management plan and an annual monitoring process for 28 important natural habitats) by City Hall; the failure to develop 'ecological corridors'; the failure to appoint a City Biodiversity Officer; the loss of lands to an ever-expanding housing/roads construction a la urban sprawl; the ongoing destruction of hedgerows and drystone walls as field and roadside boundaries; the daily killing of native mammals such as hedgehogs, badgers and foxes by car traffic have all impacted negatively on wildlife.

But thankfully there has been a corresponding fightback by courageous individuals and organisations who consider it their duty and responsibility to educate people on the need for each of us and of humanity collectively to safeguard what is left of our natural environment before its disappearance leads to our own annihilation. Groups and organisations such as Atlantaquaria, An Taisce, Birdwatch Galway, Galway Bat Group, Inland Waterways Ireland, Galway City Community Forum, Castlegar Connect, Galway Education Centre, NUIG's Martin Ryan Institute and Applied Ecology Unit, Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden and concerned individuals such as Kay Synott, Tom Cuffe, Gordan D'Arcy and Caitriona Nic Mhuiris; politicians such as Catherine Connolly, Niall O'Brolchain, Derek Nolan and Cllr. Frank Fahy (FG) as well as city officials such as Sharon Carroll, Rosie Webb, James Harrold and Stephen Walsh deserve credit for their herculean efforts on behalf of the other species that live amongst us.
Their efforts have led to many eco-awareness programmes being adopted by schools and communities.

Our own NGO - has also played its part in changing public opinion.

For the last few weeks have witnessed significant progress in a number of key areas that the ‘Friends of the Galway Forests’ initiated or have been closely identified with since the group’s inception in late 2007. These successes include a local authority ‘Cash for Cans’ scheme, funding for a Community Garden Harvest Festival and the resurrection of the Terryland Forest Park Steering Committee.

1. ‘Cash for Cans’ Scheme Launched by City Council
Galway City Council this week officially launched Ireland's first pay-back scheme for drink cans. Well done to Councillor Catherine Connolly and to city officials for pushing this community proposal towards a successful conclusion.
The idea was initiated by the 'Friends of Galway Forests' in 2007, when we began lobbying the then Minister for the Environment to introduce a national ‘cash for beverage cans and bottles’ programme in order to clean up our parks, fields and natural habitats. When no favourable response was forthcoming from Minister Gormley, we re-focused our efforts in persuading city council to introduce a local scheme that hopefully the new government may ultimately roll out nationwide with a more significant cash payback for both cans and bottles. After all such a scheme exists in many other European countries and existed in Ireland for bottles until a few decades ago. Well done also to Community Forum reps Kieran Cunnane and Eleanor Hough for keeping the issue alive at SPC meetings and to Delo Collier and Michael Quinn at CDB meetings.

2. New Conservation Volunteers Group Agreed for Terryland Forest Park
After a series of correspondence, discussions and meetings with Stephen Walsh of Galway City Parks, it has been agreed to establish a new Conservation Volunteers group to organise a programme of on-site activities and projects for the Terryland Forest Park.
Nollaig McGuinness (Galway City Partnership), Michael Tiernan (Friends of Galway Forests), Paul Gillen (HSE), myself and Stepehn Walsh are presently compiling a programme of works for 2011/2012.

3. Resurrection!- Terryland Forest Park Steering Committee
After years of direct action as well as intense lobbying through a series of council sub-groups, a very workmanlike meeting between senior city director Ciaran Hayes and myself agreed on the terms of reference and membership of a Terryland Forest Steering Committee Mark 2.
The new committee will have representation from relevant groups such as HSE West, GMIT, NUIG, Community Forum, OPW, schools etc. who together will support and advise City Hall in its implementation of biodiversity policies, formulate an annual calendar of events, promote the park as an outdoor classroom, an outdoor laboratory and as a recreational resource.

4. Men’s Skills Group Secure Workshop Premises
A Ballinfoile Mór Men’s Shed (Cumann na bhFearr) was established in early 2011 thanks to the herculean efforts of Michael McDonnell and Michael Tiernan supported by Caitriona Nic Mhuiris. Amongst its aims are the promotion/teaching of traditional Irish crafts and skills. Earlier this week it secured a one year lease from City Council for a large 2 storey workshop premises in the Sandy Road Business Park.
Since its inception, members have undertaken a range of activities in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden that have included plumbing, electrics, carpentry and construction. A recruitment drive will commence in September for new members and to select appropriate built and natural heritage projects. Such a group could become a valuable long-term asset to the city, the local community, to the city's heritage and to the Terryland Forest Park in areas such as coppicing and hedgerow planting.

5. Community Harvest Festival
An important meeting will take place at 7.30pm on Tuesday next (July 26th) in the Menlo Park Hotel to coordinate the planning of a Harvest Festival and Community Celebration on September 10th in the Ballinfoile Mór community organic garden at which all interested groups and agencies are being invited to attend. The structure of the meeting will be based around a series of tables where different topics (arts, plantings, construction, biodiversity) will be discussed and agreed upon. The Sept 10th Festival will promote the work of a number of community and eco groups, will host an intercultural food fair and will be a celebration of the modern urban version of the traditional rural Irish Meitheal. This Harvest Festival has the potential to become an important annual neighbourhood gathering and celebration of ‘community’ within the Ballinfoile Mór locality. Hence it would be vital that as many people and organisations as is possible make an effort to attend the July 26th meeting. For we need ideas and people involvement in order to make this festival an outstanding success and to become a showcase for all local eco-communities.
Funding has been secured from City Hall for the Festival whilst RAPID and the Galway City Partnership have supported the garden project since its inception.

6. New Castlegar-Ballindooley-Clooncauneen Castle Walking Route
A very productive on-site investigation by Brian Smyth, Brendan Smith and Councillor Frank Fahey took on Sunday June 26th to check out the possibility of developing/mapping out a walking/cycling route connecting the Headford Road to the Tuam Road near the castle of Cloonacauneen Castle. The scenic trail studied was characterised by quiet hedgerows/drystone lined botharins, passing bogs, castles, and pasture lands. But there was a noticeable high level of industrial-scale illegal dumping. A few days later Councillor Fahey held very productive talks with local landowners regarding issues of access, botharín repairs etc.
It is quite possible that this new walking/cycling route could become operational by summer 2012 and would compliment the now popular ‘Off the Beaten Track’ Ballinfoile-Castelgar-Menlo cycle heritage trail thus forming the basis for developing a local community-based eco-heritage tourism strategy for Galway city.

As an update, 44 cyclists took apart in the last ‘Off the Beaten Track’ tour on June 19th.

Disappointment with Galway City Mayor's U-Turn on 'Zoning & Vested Interests' Comments

Below is an article of mine the main elements of which appeared as a letter in the current edition of the Galway Advertiser:

In January, Fine Gael Councillor Hildegarde Naughton electrified the political landscape with a major revelation on the state of local politics in Galway city: “We’re either here to serve the public interests or vested interests. There is an elite in this city that has been pulling strings for the last 20 years and councillors are doing their bidding for them.” She felt that this relationship resulted in councillors re-zoning 150 hectares of land in contravention of the citizenry-consulted Galway City Development Plan and against the advice of planners, leading to a surplus of commerciall land that undermined other land requirements. She called on all councillors to have the courage to stand up, side with ordinary citizens and say enough is enough.

Consequence of Property Speculation

Her views echoed that of so many community activists who have seen the quality of life of neighbourhoods destroyed by an urban sprawl too often characterised by concrete jungles of overpriced houses in suburbs suffering from absentee landlord neglect and of ghost estates; that is starved of an natural heritage-recreational facility infrastructure and with an anti-pedestrian/anti cyclist/anti-public transport road system; where key industrial lands needed for the Smart Economy jobs are sacrificed to build rows of empty offices and retail outlets; where prime agricultural lands needed to feed the world’s growing population and to protect biodiversity are re-zoned to met the short-term unsustainable demands of greedy property speculators.

Corrosive Influence of Vested Interests on Irish Politics

Politicians cannot serve two masters. It is a matter of public record that developers have made donations to elected representatives in Galway city and across the country. Being good businessmen, they are probably looking for a return on their investments. Likewise it is well known that many politicians both here and elsewhere havestrong associations with the property sector.

Yet sadly we now find that this outspoken young female councillor who dared to speak the truth has been forced to grovel before her accusers by publicly apologising and retracting many of her previously strongly held statements in order to secure the position of Mayor.

No office of state is worth such a sacrifice.

It has brought the Mayorship into disrepute.

Mistake Not To Refuse Ultimatum

Councillor Naughton would have been wiser to have refused such an ultimatum, stood by her comments and to have sided with those of her fellow councillors who have consistently over the years stood up against vested interests. For in not so doing, she has disappointed those of us who were expecting her to be part of a new political landscape that would sweep away the unholy alliance of property speculators, bankers and compliant politicians who have destroyed Ireland’s sovereignty, ruined our countryside, reduced the nation to penury and forced unborn generations to financial enslavement by having to pay for their property gambling debts, greed, incompetency and mismanagement.

For the thrust of her earlier statements has been confirmed by experts and others right across the political spectrum.

Developer-driven Galway City

For instance the then acting Galway city manager Ciaran Hayes told councillors in late 2010 that rezoned lands were unsustainable and would only benefit developers.

An Bord Pleanála Chairman John O’Connell said recently that, “land zoning was the greatest failure in Irish planning and had brought the system into disrepute.”

At the same January meeting that our present mayor made her views first known, Brian Walsh (now TD) commented as he voted against commercial rezoning that, “(It is necessary for councillors)…to vote in accordance with what is right for the city rather than what appeases individuals with vested interests. Yet the very issue that Councillors Naughton and Walsh were alluding too, namely the request from former Fianna Fail mayor Michéal Ó hUiginn for a rezoning of 9.5 acre lands in Shantalla, was voted through this week in contravention of government’s strategy on urban retail planning and against the advice of city planners. The city does not need more supermarkets, institutions that led to more job losses than they create, who have helped destroy farming in this country.

Fianna Fáil - " of bankers, builders and developers..."

Éamon Ó Cuív T.D., a politician who personifies many of the original egalitarian principles of Fianna Fáil, stated immediately after the last General Election that his party had to move away from the corrosive image of the Galway Tent with its associations with big builders and bankers by admitting that “we have to reposition the party away from the image of a party of bankers, builders and developers.” He hoped too that, “Those who affiliated to Fianna Fáil just because we were in power will move away from Fianna Fáil now we are not in power”.

No-one has asked Messer’s Walsh, Hayes or Ó Cuív to apologise for or retract these comments. So why has the present mayor done so?

Mayor Naughton must be praised though in admitting that she made a grave error of judgement this week in giving the casting vote to deny David Norris the opportunity to address Galway City Council which she promised to rectify. She should follow this brave decision by returning to and implementing her previously held conviction that the needs of ordinary people should take precedence over vested interests.

Irish in Africa

I am presently helping one of Ireland's great sporting heroes Alan Kerins develop further his organisation's Social Media elements to promote his work with schools & communities in Africa. It is an honour to be able to help such an visionary individual who brings hope to so many people in need in Zambia & who inspires so many others in Ireland to give their time, energies & funds for needy causes