Galway TD Noel Grealish has hit out at what he says are overly restrictive environmental regulations which are posing a threat to the safety of people travelling on the main road running through Connemara.
The ongoing hold-up of badly needed works on the N59 between Oughterard and Clifden was an example, he told a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in Leinster House last week.
Concerns over a possible threat to stocks of the threatened species, pearl mussel, have led to the National Parks and Wildlife Service refusing to give clearance to Galway County Council to proceed with the works.
But Deputy Grealish told the Oireachtas Committee meeting last week that there should be more leeway in the implementation of environmental rules.
“We all have a responsibility to protect the environment and we all play our role in that as a Oireachtas Members, but we have a responsibility also as Oireachtas Members to provide better roads for those who use them.
“A total of 187 people were killed on the roads last year. The number has already risen this year. We have a responsibility to ensure we put a proper road in place. We can put a man on the moon and bring him back but we cannot build a bit of a road between Oughterard and Clifden,” he said.
Deputy Grealish recalled that funding was secured some years ago for a pedestrian bridge in Oughterard so that the children from one end of the town could cross the Owenriff river to get to the schools on the other side.
“The National Parks and Wildlife Service objected on the grounds that the shadow from the bridge would affect the freshwater pearl mussel, and the funding had to be sent back. Then one has to stand up in front of a meeting and explain to parents who are trying to get their children to school safely that the fresh water pearl mussel is more important.”
He asked what kind of a signal did all these new rules and regulations send out about investment in Ireland.
“We are too strict in implementing these rules. There should be a little bit of leeway on this.”
Meanwhile, Galway County Councillor Thomas Welby has pointed out that a senior official with the National Parks and Wildlife Service was on record as saying that the road would actually be an improvement for the environment.
Cllr. Welby was a member of a cross party delegation from Galway County Council that previously made a presentation to the Oireachtas committee and he quoted the Regional Manager, Mr Pat Warner, who represented NPWS at the An Bord Pleanála hearing where he said:
"It is reasonable to conclude that once constructed the new road will be better for nature conservation than the present one.”
Mr Warner added that the documentation submitted to support the application was impressive and professional and that it was "clear that the developer takes these issues (environmental) seriously".
At the conclusion of the hearing, Mr Warner said that he had heard nothing that would make him modify his original position that there was “no reasonable probability of significant damage from the development”.
Cllr Welby said: “Why, if we are we going to finish up with a better environment for the pearl mussel and safer road for the humans, don't we proceed immediately”?