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Red Hand – a regular miscellany from the North (September 2012)

Anton McCabe 


Now Theresa thing

So hello there Theresa Villiers who replaces Owen Paterson as Northern Ireland Secretary following David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle. Villiers is the second woman and has the poshest surname of any who have served since the first, Willie Whitelaw in 1972, in this least-coveted of ministries. She boasts law degrees from Bristol and Oxford and worked as a barrister and lecturer before being elected as an MEP for London in 1999.

Six years later in 2005 she was elected as MP for Chipping Barnet. She has been minister of state for transport where she dealt with railways and Heathrow. In a recent interview she expressed the hope that her appetite for work “will get her noticed, or maybe even win her a medal or two” It has.


Burying the A5

Almost a year after the public inquiry ended, the North’s Regional Development Minister announced work is to begin immediately on two parts of the North’s longest-ever road project, the A5 dual carriageway. The report of the inspectors from the public inquiry supported the project. Minister Danny Kennedy has announced two pieces are to be built; from Strabane to Newbuildings (Co Derry); and from Omagh to Ballygawley (Co Tyrone). Kennedy made the announcement on July 31st, in the depths of the holiday season.

Construction of the two parts will cost £310million (€390.7million). The Irish government is paying £50million (€63million) towards this, in 2014-5 and 2015-6. This is because the A5 dual carriageway is to connect with the N2 and link Dublin with Derry and Donegal

There is significant opposition to the project on environmental grounds. There is also a question about its long-term economic viability. In an answer to an Assembly question, Kennedy named the North’s 50 busiest stretches of road. No stretch of the current A5 made the list.

The N2 will link in to the A5 dual carriageway at Aughnacloy. According to the National Roads Authority, the average daily volume of vehicles on the N2 Monaghan – Aughnacloy is 15% down since 2007. This year to date, the volume of vehicles is down 5.5% on 2011.


Sinning from the same hymn-sheet

Sinn Féin is singing a very different tune on different sides of the Border. Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said Sean Quinn “has been treated disgracefully by the Irish Government… He is being punished for having the audacity to “buy the bank; and for being an ordinary man from Fermanagh who is hugely respected by his community”. she said.

In the faraway South, meanwhile, Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD accused Quinn of “questionable” business practice. “The Quinns have an obligation to abide by the law the same as any other citizen. They also have an obligation to work with (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) to repay what they owe”. Some journalists presented this as a ‘split’ in Sinn Féin. In fact, it was clearly choreographed.


Skipping the planning laws

Planning in Donegal continues to be a contradiction in terms. The latest case involves Letterkenny Skip Hire, where Letterkenny Town Council has instituted enforcement proceedings. The Council alleges the business’s failure to comply with planning permission could pollute Lough Swilly. It further states the business failed to pay £13,000 (€16,510) in development charges to the Council. Charges were levied as a condition of planning permission which the Council granted in 2001: enforcement proceedings were issued in February this year. Donegal County Council has issued waste-collection and waste-facility permits to the site even though, according to statute, such permits should only be issued to sites which are planning compliant.

It apparently takes giving two fingers to planning to become Donegal Emerging Business of the Year – won by Letterkenny Skip Hire last year.

Northern planning has a touch of the Donegals. Up to 50% of planning applications for quarrying over the past five years have been retrospective. Environment Minister Alex Attwood gave the information in an answer to an Assembly question from Steven Agnew of the Green Party. Another question revealed that there were 160 enforcement investigations, into breaches of planning regulations underway in the North Down Borough Council area alone.

Mean and ugly

The Republic, and Donegal in particular, has difficulty in working out why its tourist industry is in difficulty. In August, two neighbours of Red Hand’s, their daughter and son-in-law, and two grandchildren, had a meal in a Donegal hotel. The bill was €115: they only had sterling, and were charged £110 (€138).

For the past two months, sterling has been stable, at between €1.26 and €1.27.5. So Red Hand rang round some Donegal businesses. Rates were as poor as €1.10 at Jacksons Hotel, Ballybofey. In contrast, Kees’ supermarket in Laghey gave €1.25. Donegal tourism is approximately 80% dependent on the North. Then there’s Letterkenny, the ugliest town in Ireland. And they wonder why visitors stay away.