From Castlebar - County Mayo -

Local Papers Commentary
Mayo News - 24 Sep 2003
By The Jaundiced Eye
27, Sep 2003 - 22:57

Devastating landslide leaves villagers counting the cost

It’s a scene we associate more with the Third World. Vital pieces of infrastructure brushed away in an instant. Houses and livelihoods threatened with destruction, thoughts immediately turning to the safety of family and friends. It probably appeared like just another autumn downpour in the vicinity of Pollathomas on Friday evening, time to resurrect the rain jacket and the umbrella after a few months of uncharacteristically dry weather. But the incessant nature of the deluge was eventually to have a devastating effect and only when darkness rose at 7a.m. on Saturday morning was the destruction clear for all to see. It is estimated that up to twenty separate landslides occurred on Dooncarton Mountain, isolating many families who had to cope for several hours without electricity or contact with the outside world. Local curate Fr. Sean Noone said the downpour which caused the destruction lasted in excess of two hours. […] "Although there was a freak set of circumstances at the weekend, the possibility of other landslides cannot be ruled out as global warming projections point to an increase in rainfall in this part of the world during the winter months of future years." Some environmental groups have maintained that overgrazing of mountainous areas also are a contributory factor to landslides, but Chairman of Mayo IFA, Mr. Michael Biggins, has moved to quell any such suggestion in relation to the weekend’s landslide. "I would dismiss those suggestions out of hand. Friday night’s incident was nothing more that a freak of nature and a huge number of sheep did not graze the hillside in question."

All the local papers give massive coverage to the Pollathomas landslide disaster and its consequences. The piece above from the Mayo News is typical of the coverage. It adds something more than the other two papers by going into the underlying reasons for the disaster in a bit more detail. Mr Biggins denies that sheep overgrazing has anything to do with it by playing down the number of sheep in the catchment. This subject has been hotly debated on the Castlebar bulletin board too. Overgrazing or the radar dome or simple act of God? Reading the contributions I suspect that the final record will show that 10,000 sheep in Pollathomas area, which is primarily steeply sloping upland bog, may have more than a little to do with priming the hillside for the landslides. Once the heavens opened like they did last Friday week the damaged peat was ripped away by the force and down onto the fields and houses below. IFA denial is to be expected of course when faced with the appalling vista that overstocking of their sheep at the top of the mountain caused the disaster. A very similar flood 18 years previously took away a bridge but no landslides occurred. That was in the days before the enormous headage payments pumped up the number of sheep on the mountains. An appalling vista too for the European agricultural policy which led to the overgrazing all over the West.

All the papers talk about a long dry spell. In fact the Met Eireann website says that September rainfall at Belmullet was exactly in line with the long term average September rainfall for the last 30 years. August was dry with a quarter of typical August rainfall but July had almost twice the average rainfall for July at Belmullet. The rainfall year to date is very close to the long term average.


Mayo County Council seeks a fine Finnish

Themes such as investing local government with greater power and rural planning were to the fore when Mayo County Council’s latest Study Tour took a delegation to Finland for four days. A 29-strong delegation representing Mayo County Council recently visited the Finnish municipality of Nurmijarvi, on the outskirts of Helsinki, to consider, contrast and compare the structures of local government in Scandinavia. The delegation was welcomed by the chairman of Nurmijarvi Council, Mr Jorma Niinisto, to Nurmijarvi Municipal Hall where an extensive and informative presentation on the mechanics of local government in the region was made. The council’s information officer, Mr Kari Lehtovirta, guided the manager of Mayo County Council, Des Mahon, and the chairman of Mayo County Council, Frank Chambers, along with the attending council officers and county councillors, through the in-depth presentation, introducing administrative director Mr Jukka Anttila and planning manager Mr Aarno Kononen who each made a presentation to the Irish delegation. Principle among the issues discussed were forms of local taxation, the attitudes of citizens towards their municipal representatives, the purchase cost of an average home in the region (e150,000-200,000), planning regulations, the implementation of amenities such as water supply, refuse collection, health care, child day-care services and educational facilities. On the above subjects, delegates learned how the municipality levies its own taxes, a system which works in tandem with a dual taxation system incorporating government and community taxation. Councillors were informed that up to 33% of planning applications in the Nurmijarvi region are turned down, and that the type of sewage deployed is one of the primary reasons for turning down applications. They also learned that an objection to a planning application in the municipality is lodged locally. Planning manager, Aarno Kononen, explained that a System of Land Use Plan had to be drawn up and approved by the regional council, and then subsequently confirmed by the Ministry for the Environment.

Another really topical one which is also echoed strongly on the Castlebar BB where some contributors are thinking about running for office themselves in order to oust some of the existing councillors. While we all love to poke fun at Councillors off on junkets to foreign lands, in this case I would love to have been there when the auctioneering and land-owning half of the council realised that other countries have planning controls and that the system works. Imagine daycare facilities being funded out of local revenues? Imagine local authorities raising their own taxes? Imagine all the houses in villages and small compact communities with actual real live tracts of countryside separating them? Wow! I wonder did they see any of those ‘ticky tacky’ Spanish hacienda jobs up there on top of the hill? But it's unlikely that Finnish politicians and planners include Spanish haciendas in their list of acceptable vernacular Finnish architectural styles?


Editorial - One-off rural housing

THE Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, almost certainly had one eye on next year’s local elections when he announced something of a change of attitude by Government to the development of one-off housing in rural Ireland. Environment Minister Martin Cullen was quick to endorse his views, saying there was a need for one-off housing in rural areas if certain conditions are met. Their comments were sweet music to most of the party’s county councillors across the land who have been grappling with this issue for many years, very often in conflict with the planning departments of their own authorities. But Mr. Ahern’s views will have sent shivers down the spines of bodies like the Irish Planning Institute and An Taisce who have now come to regard themselves as the protectors of good planning throughout the country.

This topic is to put it mildly topical at the moment. Someone really has to prepare the conflict of interest list. The list that reveals the councillors interest in auctioneering, land-ownership/farming, plant hire and building/developing. We know Bertie's words were particularly sweet music to this elite group. So for the local election campaign next year – big red letters for the obvious conflict of interest candidates, whether incumbent or new aspirants.

Together these occupations - in auctioneering, land-ownership/farming, plant hire and building/developing - account for only a very minute percentage of Irish society. In County Council Land, however, for some strange reason these professions comprise the majority!

This week we’ve had a real live ‘drunken politician’ mowing down a pedestrian, another caught for tax evasion (the silly idiot didn’t even claim the amnesty). Then Liam Lawlor cited to the DPP for perjury and obstruction by Judge Mahon in even more direct language than Justice Flood used if that is possible. He still stands to make a cool 2.5M euros from a rezoning decision unless the CAB can get him. He would have profited even more if his own house had been accepted within the Adamstown development. And then there’s Frank Dunlop paying out to the Dublin County Councillors for their votes on rezoning decisions. The Liffey Valley disaster. And it’s not just in Dublin of course. Judge Mahon is beginning to roll his enquiries across the country into wider County Council Land. He is now calling in some Athlone councillors regarding the Golden Island development in Athlone. Of course a few high profile Mayo cases are awaited with intense interest these parts. While the Mayo News complains about the length of the tribunals remember many of them are actually in profit and earning many for us the taxpayers. When the Mahon/Flood planning enquiry is finished there will be a large surplus generated by the investigations – especially if subsequent CAB gains are included.

In this respect also there’s an interesting development on the Castlebar BB. I’m not sure whether it’s a one-off development or not, but it’s a cheeky demand from existing ribbon dwellers for safety features like 30-mile limits and footpaths and cycle paths. They’re even asking for combined sewage treatment, (‘as opposed to dumping sewage into a hole in the ground’), no slurry smells, broadband and lots more. Next they’ll be looking for daycare facilities like Finland? That might send a shiver down the spines of the councils who allowed these houses to be built in the first place. What if the 2nd and 3rd generation owners find living in one-off houses not all it was cracked up to be and want to go for a walk without being ‘smacked’ by a car as the unfortunate woman run over by the Dublin FF TD put it?

What if they have a constitutional right to be able to go for a walk in safety just as much as someone living in the centre of a town or city?  Stranger things have happened - we don't smoke in cinemas or aircraft anymore. We can't hide money in offshore accounts. We have to drive at 60mph. We lose our licence for drinking and driving over the limit. Ireland is a different place in comparison with what it was 30 years ago so why not proper sewage treatment and footpaths for ribbon dwellers?

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