Thursday, November 11, 1999

Inner Relief Road

Last week The Nationalist and Leinster Times under an eye-catching headline on page one “Time to Bite the Bullet” trumpeted the case for the Inner Relief Road for Athy. The author of the piece was not named but the claims made in the article (or was it an editorial ?) were familiar to everyone who has heard the official line on the Council’s long debated road plans. Publication came three days in advance of the public representatives’ crucial meeting thereby allowing the views expressed to go unchallenged before a decision on this important issue was made. Despite this I am moved to set the record straight even if events will have moved on before this appears in print.

The unnamed author called upon the Fianna Fail councillors who had canvassed on the basis of their opposition to the Inner Relief Road, to accept that the Inner Relief Road “is the best and indeed the only solution to the traffic problems in Athy”. Those same councillors were urged to admit to themselves and to the voters that “things have changed in relation to the road since June”. A similar point was made earlier in the article with the claim that “circumstances have changed since the election”.

I was, and am still, puzzled by the changes claimed to have taken place since the local elections in June of this year. What were those changes? What happened in the last 5 months to justify the seismic shift in political thinking which The Nationalist urged the Fianna Fail councillors to undertake? What changed circumstances have occurred which would encourage local politicians to do a political somersault in relation to the views canvassed by them such a short time ago ?

I must admit to being somewhat concerned by the claims in the article lest the ageing process has affected my cognitive powers to the extent that I fail to see changes in my own town since the local election. I read the article/editorial several times to see if I could somehow identify those elements which could be recognised as changed circumstances. Was it the “impressive presentation by Shaffrey, Architect earlier this month” ? Hardly, since Mr Shaffrey’s report was first unveiled last January and has been the subject of a number of presentations in the interim period. Surely then, this was not the catalyst for the change adverted to in The Nationalist article.

Was it perhaps, “the result of traffic surveys revealing that the majority of traffic running through the town is internally generated”? Obviously not since only one traffic study was carried out on a Friday and Saturday during September 1996 over 3 years ago. We must look elsewhere to identify the changes noted by The Nationalist since the local election.

Maybe the answer lies in the “confirmation of funding for the Inner Relief Road by Kildare County Council,
and The National Road Authority”. What confirmation was referred to here ? Is it the same confirmation offered by the Deputy County Manager over 2 years ago to the then Urban Council and subsequently repeated by him to a meeting of Athy Chamber of Commerce. Interestingly, the Deputy County Manager never produced any letter or document which supported his claim of finance being available for the road. He was asked on several occasions to do so but to no avail. Could this then be the basis for The Nationalist and Leinster Times glad handling of the Inner Relief Road issue. ?

I have read and re-read the article in vain for any grounds which could plausibly support the writer’s contention that “things have changed in relation to the road since last June”. I have failed to unearth anything other than the references to the Shaffrey report, the traffic study, and the confirmation of funding, all of which have been available, or touted as available, long before the June election.

The Nationalist and Leinster Times has made what may be a decisive intervention 3 days before the local council meets to decide the future of the town. What I ask myself lies behind this unwelcome and disingenuous intervention on an issue of such importance to the people of Athy. No one questions the newspaper’s right to do so but to fan the flames of controversy by extolling the virtues of an Inner Relief Road on reasoning which is incredulous, renders a disservice to its Athy readers.

On several occasions in the past I have written on the road plans for Athy and the Editor of The Nationalist has always printed my copy despite claims from some quarters that I was somehow or other not entitled to air my personal views in the newspaper. The claim was and is of course nonsensical especially as I have always sought to ensure that the grounds of my opposition to the Inner Relief Road were stated with clarity and precision. I have avoided making claims which could not be substantiated unlike the article/editorial in last week’s Nationalist and Leinster Times. The newspaper with which I have been associated as a contributor for over 7 years has made a serious, and I fear, damaging incursion, into the affairs of Athy by failing to give adequately critical consideration to the claims touted by the proponents of the Inner Relief Road. I am reminded of a previous occasion The Nationalist committed journalistic hari kiri when the then Editor condemned the critics of Adolf Hitler before claiming that “most of the howling about the treatment of German Jews is dishonest propaganda”.

A different Editor and a different time of course but somehow I cannot but feel that on this occasion the fine people of Athy have been treated with less than adequate thought and consideration by a newspaper which has signally failed to be responsible in its comments on a major local issue.

No comments: