The great western greenway debacle


ON THEIR BIKES Then Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring is pictured after the opening of the final section of The Great Western Greenway, linking Westport to Achill, by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny back in 2011. Deputy Ring has said he is ‘bitterly disappointed’ that money to further develop greenways in the county has had to be handed back by Mayo County Council. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Councillors and the public in general have been struggling to digest the news that Mayo County Council has to give money back to central government

Edwin McGreal

The Great Western Greenway from Westport to Achill has been an incredible success story. Since first opening in 2010, it has brought thousands upon thousands of tourists to the Westport, Newport, Mulranny and Achill areas.
Build largely along the route of the old Westport to Achill railway, which closed in the 1930s, the 42km Greenway has been a success for its off road safety and stunning views of some of the finest stretches of Mayo’s coast.
It was a project piloted by Mayo County Council who secured great buy-in from landowners along the route who freely allowed access to their lands for the greenway.
It was the first of its kind in Ireland and had local authorities come from all over to explore and purr at.
In recent years, there have been plans to expand it.
The plans include a greenway from Westport to Louisburgh, and out to Roonagh Pier, on the southern side of Clew Bay.
On the northern side, the Greenway has crossed over into Achill with plans to bring it to Bunacurry in the heart of the island and, eventually, south from Achill Sound to Cloughmore.
A Greenway running from Clougmore all the way to Westport and out to Roonagh Pier is key because it creates a full Clew Bay loop, by getting a ferry from Cloughmore onto Clare Island, cycling around its majestic hills and onwards to Roonagh.
It was trialled this summer, obviously with a lot of on road cycling but anyone who took the ferry to Clare Island and cycled around there could not but be impressed by its potential.
But now the project has hit a major snag.
As detailed in our lead story, various elements of the project are now in jeopardy because Mayo County Council have to return funding to the Department of Rural and Community Development.
The reason? The council drew down money based on certain projects on this loop being completed when they were not. Indeed some were not even started.
Over €1 million has been handed back and it seems the council have been fortunate not to lose €1 million more.
When he was Minister for Rural and Community Development, Westport-based TD Michael Ring allocated much of this funding.
He is bitterly disappointed with the development.
“We’re all our lives complaining about not getting money from Dublin and here we are when we get it and we’ve to give it back to them,” he told The Mayo News.
“I’m bitterly disappointed this money was not spent. I expect the new county manager to have negotiations with me, with the Department and with TII if needed to get this done.
“I want the projects to go ahead and they are going to go ahead.
“I am so disappointed. I provided so much when I was a minister for these projects.
“These are not local schemes for the areas in question alone … they are county schemes which will bring more people into Mayo and boost our tourism product. They will be great schemes for Achill and Louisburgh but for the county and country too. The plan is to connect into Connemara, in through Clifden. They are strategically placed projects,” he said.

Questions to answer
Westport Fine Gael councillor Peter Flynn is familiar with the route in question too. An avid cyclist, he went on the experimental Clew Bay route several times during the summer.  
“It was a great partnership set up this year between Fáilte Ireland, Mayo County Council, the bike hire companies and the ferry operators for the Clew Bay Bike Trail.
“It was a huge success and people could see how it would work but the greenways have to be finished the whole way around to make it safe and accessible.
“It is a unique product. Hopping on two ferries on your cycle, taking in the most gorgeous scenery around Clew Bay, Clare Island and Achill,” he said.
He, together with his council colleagues, have asked regularly for updates on the Westport to Louisburgh Greenway at local council meetings.
He is aghast at this news.
“It is shocking. The one thing that really annoys me is the false claim. It is one thing to miss a deadline because the work has not been finished but to say it was finished when it wasn’t and, in some cases wasn’t even started, is staggering.
“It is a real credibility issue now for Mayo County Council. Any claim they put in now will get twice the scrutiny any other county will get. Any 50/50 call between a Mayo project and one in Galway, Sligo or Roscommon will not go our way.
“We really do need to know how this could have happened.
“The bridge in Achill, as far as I know, has not even went to tender and we’ve drawn down €200,000 for a bridge that doesn’t exist.
“You drawn down based on your spend. You have to provide invoices, timesheets etc. This means documents would have been falsified.
“We approved an overdraft of €25 million because the reality is you have to pay out for the cost of projects when completed before you can drawn down the money. You spend the money and lodge the claim.
“So there has to be a paper trail, there has to be documents saying who was working on this project and if these projects were not finished, which we know they weren’t, then what projects were people working on instead. Where was the money being spent instead?
“I cannot understand this. If you had to pick the most visible Greenway in the country, Murrisk to Lecanvey would be it. It is practically on the main road. It is not like the Bangor Trail where you have to go looking for it. I cannot understand the stupidity of trying to deceive the department.
“If a private company or a sporting organisation did this, there would be criminal charges. That’s how serious it is,” he said.