Training the soldiers of destiny
The soldiers of destiny will be lap-dancing their way across the pot-holed highways and by-ways of the country to join us in Covieland next week. The sea air will clean out the holiday cobwebs and kick-start the nation’s brains into concluding their ‘A lot done, more to do’ manifesto. The Fianna Fáil parliamentary members will gather to think, listen and act. The ‘think-ins’ have become a feature of political life. They help with the bonding process for party members, if nothing else.
The party was here in Westport before, in the bad old days of ‘opposition’. It is hard to imagine that Fianna Fáil was ever in opposition. Bertie Ahern was party leader then and declared that if, or when, the party was returned to power he would not appoint a Minister for the West. He insisted that the west would get its fair share like every other area of the country and that all ministers would do their part as is their duty. Ministers are appointed to ensure that everyone affected by their portfolio is treated in the same way.
During their stay in Westport it would be appropriate to ‘go native’ and find out what makes the locals tick. Perhaps the effects of the gross underspend in the BMW Region could be examined in some way. There is no way the Government can come next, nigh or near spending the almost €4 billion underspend by the end of the term of the National Development Plan in four months time. The underspend is spread across all aspects of the Plan but especially transport infrastructure. The roads still dip in salute to bad maintenance and poor construction. No sooner is a road improved than it is hacked up by State-sponsored companies whose remit is geared more towards profit rather than service.
The fiascos associated with the Corrib gas project could be examined from a statutory basis. How could any Government administration get it so wrong for so long in so many ways on such a major project? Why did it take the jailing of five men to wake up the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the obvious contradictions it presided over? What has changed to make the Minister review the terms for oil and gas companies, except that the incarceration of five men has catapulted the issue onto the front pages? And to think that many people in north Mayo, especially young mothers, went to their beds night after night crying heartfelt tears. They sobbed as they witnessed the slow strangulation of their local community by the powerful hands of state ineptitude and crassness.
It was all too easy to lay any mistake at the door of Enterprise Energy or Shell as the operators, but the Government would do well to remember that it was one of its own Departments that ‘let them at it’.
Hiding behind the arrogance of trans-national companies is no excuse for any state. This is not a third world country brought to its knees by a dangling dollar in exchange for the ‘right’ to plunder natural resources and ignore indigenous people.
Western Rail Corridor
One of the great mysteries of this present Government is its tardiness with the re-opening of the Western Rail Corridor. There is a commitment to open half the line by 2014. Wow! And yet the money is ring-fenced! Perish the thought, but what happens if another political party - or a combination of other political parties - happens to be in power by then? Are they duty-bound to carry out the wishes of a former administration? The answer is in the same ‘school’ as the answer to ‘Will we get a receipt for this?’
The fear among many of us in the west is that the Government will become involved in a smokescreen on the Western Rail Corridor. If the money is ring-fenced, then spend it and get on with it now. Clearing bushes off the line by a bibbed brigade, while necessary, is no substitute for suited ticket checkers.
The big flaw in Transport 21 – the Government’s long-term transport infrastructure plan – is its dependence on the ‘12th of Never’ date for the completion of the Western Rail Corridor. This patchwork approach to the project will only diminish rather than enhance its chance of being successful. The patchwork mentality is already too evident on our roads’ system. Too many projects remain unfinished and second-class.
Research by the West-on-Track group shows that the re-opening of the line is needed, based on sound economics when compared with other state-backed transport projects, and makes environmental sense. What more does the Government want? There is no point in re-opening the line from Ennis to Athenry and consigning the Mayo and Sligo sections of the line to the hind tit. The whole line is one single project. The re-opening can be phased but requires one commitment that it will be done as one project. Bringing the line to Athenry and on to Tuam is not the answer, it is fudge. If the Government is behind this project then it is time to get it moving. There is no place for cynicism from Government or Iarnród Éireann towards this project. ‘In due course’ replies to requests for definite answers are nothing more than an election ploy. A lot done, the Western Rail Corridor to do!
Already the freight question is being answered positively by Mayo businesses. There are plans to increase the service at present being provided by Norfolk Lines. Oh that there was anyone in CIE with an interest in developing the business rather than sitting back and forcing others to do so.
Timber is another successful freight product – from the west to Waterford, via Kildare. Use Iarnród Éireann and get there via the scenic route! What will happen when the Kildare line becomes so ‘commuterised’ that freight will be relegated? What sense is there in using Kildare when the Western Rail Corridor is an obvious route crying out for use? Twelve freight trains use the scenic route every week. Every freight train equates to 18 articulated trucks. Imagine what the WRC could achieve if more Mayo businesses could use it. Imagine the effects on the road infrastructure, the environment and people’s safety.
The Irish Times claimed recently that a report submitted to the working committee set up to examine the WRC stated that it was not viable. This report was rejected by the working group.
Just imagine if all those attending the Fianna Fáil party get-together could arrive by train! They could ‘go native’ and join locals on the annual Covie Walk, which, this year, starts at the Railway Museum in Westport station on Monday evening, September 4 at 7pm. The Railway Museum features the Achill line, the one that was closed because ‘progressive’ minds dictated it, as they did the Clifden line and the Western Rail Corridor. Westport of the welcomes, welcomes Fianna Fáil.