I’ve never been a believer in conspiracy theories. If something bad happens, or a series of unfortunate things go wrong, I have always found it hard to accept that such occurrences were anything other than an instance or a bout of bad luck.
I have always been at the other end of that extreme spectrum of blame, too willing to believe that everything is always the fault of the individual or group. But it is not that simple either, as I have begun to realise of late in relation to my home town of Ballinrobe.
For almost 20 years, the town on the shores of beautiful Lough Mask is the place I have been proud to call home. In terms of natural beauty and amenities, it has much to recommend it - Lough Carra in addition to the aforementioned Lough Mask, each noted for fishing; a beautifully-appointed 18-hole golf course; the only racecourse in the county - and regarded as one of the finest in the country - ; mountains and rolling hills all around, with vast hill-walking potential for people of all levels of ability; a splendid sports complex that has served the community and further afield for 20 years, and a church with famous Harry Clarke windows and impeccably-kept grounds as the town’s centre piece.
On the face of it, Ballinrobe has a lot going for it and should be prosperous. According to the preliminary Census 2006 figures, released in July, its population has jumped from 2,536 to 3,160 (a 24.6% increase) in the last four years, indicating that it is certainly an appealing place to live. But a burgeoning population has needs that must be met, in terms of infrastructure, facilities, safety and general quality of life.
When the cold facts are assessed, the only conclusion is that those needs are not being met, not sufficiently.
Ballinrobe needs a by-pass - or at the very least a relief road - in order to develop further. Just two months ago, a major hotel and leisure development was refused planning permission, principally on the grounds that the town’s road network could not cope with the traffic it would generate. Yet, as we are in the queue behind numerous major road projects that have yet to be completed in the county, such as the N26 and the N5, the reality is that Ballinrobe will not get the kind of road network it needs to function properly for another ten years. A whole decade. Patience is a true virtue, but no prospective hotel developer can wait that long.
That is the biggest problem, but by no means the only one. A campaign for a community nursing home in the town began over 30 years ago, and slow progress was made for many years. In the last five years, the town’s excellent Active Retirement Association has been the leading - and a most professional and compelling - voice in trying to bring it to fruition, but still no building work has begun, in spite of a site being selected (not the first choice of the campaigners by any means, but an acceptable one if it meant the home being built). It is a shocking indictment of our healthcare system when a town’s older people, people who have contributed so much to the fabric of their community, have to fight for the right to be cared for locally in their twilight years - and are ignored. Many of the good people of Ballinrobe who initiated the campaign over three decades ago have passed on since it began, without ever seeing a brick laid on the facility they coveted.
And there is much more than that too . . . ranging from what should be relatively minor matters, like the placing of pedestrian crossings in unsafe locations on the town’s streets, to much more far-reaching measures like the securing of industry for the town.
The townspeople - and perhaps the businesspeople particularly - have not always helped themselves when it came to progressing the town. Unity was not always in evidence among them. But now that is changing, now they are joining together and preparing to shout stop in a loud, unified voice. They shouldn’t have to take such action, but sometimes the inaction of others makes it necessary.