From Castlebar - County Mayo -

Local Papers Commentary
From the Connaught Telegraph 28 July 2004
By The Jaundiced Eye
1, Aug 2004 - 19:59

Many are waiting to fish the Castlebar River again

I’M SURE there will be many others, as well as myself, who are pleased to learn of plans to develop the Castlebar River. What a fine addition a riverside walk would be to the town. Such facilities are already very popular in other places. Look at Ballinrobe’s Bowers Walk, for instance. Almost every evening there is a stream of human traffic along the River Robe, as people make the most of the evenings to get a bit of exercise in pleasant surroundings. To develop the town river will be no simple task. Not only will such be an enormous physical undertaking, but there is an educational work needed as well. How can the dumping of rubbish be halted? What about the constant pollution that currently takes place on a daily basis? Such things could be tackled, but success would be dependent on the willingness of a minority to accept that their behaviour must change for the betterment of the entire community. It would be fine if the river held fish as it did in the past, and really, there is no reason why it should not. It was only a few years ago that anglers were travelling considerable distances to come and catch trout here. Few come now, and of those that do still make the effort I suspect that the greater majority go away disappointed.

The plans look good – a boardwalk for Castlebar. It’s on the Right Bank not the Left Bank - but no matter we have a boardwalk. Now can we have a café on the boardwalk - mmm! I can smell the strong coffee wafting along the river? As far as I can see though, the new walk plan still doesn’t include that bridge across the lake at the Lough Lannagh village end of the walk. At that point in your walk you will apparently still have to turn round and retrace your steps - instead of being able to continue by stepping across a bridge and walking back down along the north shore of the lake. The addition of a new footbridge at Marsh House is welcome though and it will link the ‘cantilevered boardwalk’ to the existing path through the Town Council gardens bringing you up to Molloy’s Bridge.

People will have gathered by now that, jaundiced and all as I am, I like fishing. Fishing - "an organised way of doing nothing." And I do like to do nothing. The Connaught’s nature columnist, Lewis, is correct when he says that people have got to stop throwing rubbish in the river. I’ve never fished the Castlebar River itself. I don’t think that even if I were to catch a fish there I could bring myself to eat it. Eat a fish that has spent its life swimming through supermarket trolleys, ducking beneath the oil slicks washing off our supermarket car parks and dodging the Bulmer’s cans being fecked in off the bridges of our fair town.

But there is no reason why the river should not be a pristine – a clear-water-revival – river with schools of trout and salmon in it. It’s up to us to end our oil slicky, beer-can-throwing and trolley-dumping ways.

Higgins appointed to two key EU Committees

MEP for the North West, Senator Jim Higgins will have major input into Regional Development and Transport after being nominated to two key committees by the European Parliament. A unanimous vote saw Senator Higgins appointed to the Regional Development Committee and the Committee on Transport and Tourism. Afterwards he said he was extremely pleased to have secured a nomination to two committees, which are of critical relevance to this Constituency. He said: "This will enable me to work directly towards improving Regional Development and Transport issues for the North West. "I will raise the fact that €640 million of regional development monies, which was intended for the Border Midlands and Western region, has been channelled by the Government through the National Development Plan into infrastructure in other parts of the country."

This item goes well with an outburst from TD Cowley's reported the previous week in favour of one-off houses all over Mayo. While it’s probably a faint hope - I nonetheless hope that Jim Higgin’s EU committees can do something about sane regional development, transport.

I also hope they can help to save tourism from our local politicians’ apparent predilection for destroying everything that a tourist might actually want to come see here in Mayo. Our local politicians seem hell-bent on compromising our future as a tourist destination. They also seem hell-bent on encouraging us to live in every more isolated houses with enormous energy and infrastructure overheads.  They appear to be against any kind of large community settlement pattern – ‘urbanisation’ such as cities, towns or even villages. Of course a lot of them seem to have a vested interest in selling one-off houses.

But one-off houses as I said in my little rant last week will become unsaleable as fuel prices increase. At the same time they will also become far too expensive to live in and commute to work to town to the more economically viable areas of 'critical mass' as the National Spatial Strategy called them before it was torn up by one Charles McCreevy. One-off houses are fine when they are on a farm and you are a farmer growing food and your work is right there where you live.

The Cowley plan, such as it is, is to build houses anywhere and everywhere in rural Mayo. The statement that got me going was in the previous week’s Connaught where he actually said "more CO2 is produced by idle cars caught in traffic jams or going at ass and cart pace than by rural cars." What a load of cobblers! It’s patent nonsense. One of the big drawbacks of living in the isolated one-off house even today when petrol is still only a euro per litre - is the major cost of putting petrol in the car to get to work - if you live in a rural one-off house and commute to a town to work you use a lot more petrol – and more petrol means you produce more greenhouse gases.

This reminded me of the debate I used to have with a friend of mine during the 1970s when fuel was both scarce and also very pricey. We were putting one pound’s worth of petrol in the tank at a time – and even back then a quid wouldn’t take you very far. The burning question was "Should you turn off your engine at the traffic lights to save petrol?" Do you use more fuel idling or by stopping the engine and then restarting it? We could never decide. Remember this was before anyone ever thought about greenhouse gases – it was just a response to the rocketing price of oil at the time and the cost of putting petrol in the tank.

I hadn’t thought about this question in a long time – until Dr Cowley’s stupid remark last week got me thinking about fuel costs and greenhouse gases. The Internet is a wonderful thing though, and my good friend Dr Google can find the answer to any question. So I looked it up on the web yesterday and Dr. G (as opposed to Dr. J) pointed me to an Australian greenhouse gas website for the answer – if you are going to let your engine idle for more than one minute you use less fuel than it takes to restart the engine. We should have a countdown at lights telling us how many seconds to green!

The rural urban debate is never simple. In Cowley’s case the fact that there is a lot more people living in cities of course is irrelevant. At face value traffic jams involving a million cars do use more fuel than perhaps the 100,000 cars not in the jam who are still driving at 60mph coming from the one-off houses but assuredly also heading towards those very same traffic jams like the one that crawls between Moneen and Spencer Street here in town every weekday morning. But make no mistake about it if you drive from say Mulranny or Ballycroy to Ballina or Castlebar or Westport every day to work you will produce a hell of a lot more CO2 than a typical urban commuter. Burning more fuel means producing more CO2. Much more than someone living in Swords or Foxrock – even if they chose to drive to Dublin’s centre every day rather than taking the bus or train, which is available as an option to them if they want to reduce their fuel consumption even further. So even allowing for reduced fuel efficiency in traffic jams it’s weighted in favour of the short city distances. If the car in the city only manages 20 mpg, for example, and even if you get an excellent average 45 mpg on your commute from Mulranny – the sheer commuting distance will quickly overtake your higher fuel efficiency. So there’s a huge additional greenhouse gas burden commuting from that rural one-off house. For even a relatively short 15-mile commute to work in Castlebar, which lots of people do without thinking about it, you will end up using three times the fuel that the average urban dweller will use.

And of course that excess is before you even begin talking about the additional fuel for shopping, going to church, the pub in the evening, etc. There are also the additional energy costs of collecting your refuse and recycling, the additional energy losses associated with the extra distance of distributing your electricity and your water supply to a remote area. Mayo people undertake on average something like 17 car trips per week according to the recent transport study of Mayo – which Dr Google also introduced me to. The Internet really is a wonderful source of information on any topic you care to imagine. Those living in typical rural one-off houses will undoubtedly undertake much more journeys than this average number when compared with towns and villages where you can walk to the shops, Mass or pub.

Last court in Foxford

Historic Foxford courthouse, where Michael Davitt represented farmers in Land League cases, is to be closed and the court business transferred to Ballina. The decision to close Foxford has been made by the Courts Service Board under rationalisation measures. In recent years, Killala, Crossmolina, Kilkelly and Balla courthouses have all closed and the court business moved to Ballina, Ballyhaunis and Castlebar respectively.

I guess the juxtaposition of this item against the last shows that increased centralisation to urban areas is rapidly proceeding. Foxford is a reasonable sized town but it’s obviously not big enough to warrant all that extra mileage and discommoding of court staff who move from court to court. I enjoyed watching last year’s TG4 documentary on Judge Garavan’s court on the Aran Islands – another court that is threatened. I enjoyed it mainly because it was fascinating to see Judge Garavan in action - and what a nice man he seems to be - but also it was fascinating because you just knew watching it that the Aran Island court is a piece of history in the making. It too will eventually be moved to Galway City and that hot bed of criminal activity, the Aran Islands, will have to ship or fly their prisoners to Galway for their court hearings!

© Copyright 2004 by Castlebar - County Mayo -