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Spot the slimy creatures – Healey Rae and the Kerry slug

Sometimes its hard to know who is slimier – the slugs or our officials.

Monday’s meeting of Kerry County Council was treated to a re-run of the ‘environmentalist and the snail’ story, with Council officials quipping about the ‘snail’s pace’ of the Macroom By Pass and a Healy Rae claiming the snail was ‘looking over the ditch’ and laughing at the traffic jams between Cork and Kerry.

A sort of boy with his thumb in a hole in a dyke – if we could just get rid of this damn snail the traffic could flow! Oh the relief.

Writing in the Irish Examiner, the indubitable Anne Lucey (who had attended the Monday Council meeting) duly reported ‘Because of a judicial review on behalf of the rare geomalacus maculosus in the High Court, the long-awaited Macroom to Ballyvourney relief road, approved by An Bord Pleanála, is proceeding at “a snail’s pace”.

It wasn’t true. The Judicial Review that is currently delaying the road has been taken by residents near Carrigaphooca Castle. The grounds are an error in law relating to the assessment of the impact and rights of way. It has nothing to do with the protected Kerry slug.

In fact the ‘snail’ issue – which is really a native woodland issue – should have been flagged at the route selection stage. But the first attempts to survey the Ballyvaughney area was curtailed by foot and mouth disease restriction, and the second by an IFA boycott of ‘Government Inspectors’ being allowed onto farms. No one bothered to try again.

A survey was finally triggered at the planning stage by environmentalists whistle blowing in Brussels. Concern was for the woodland – and its magical gorge, which is a must view from a lane running off the highway in the center of Ballyvaughney. The survey revealed that this area of the woodland, notwithstanding the development that had taken place, was as worthy of protection as the other side of the road, which was designated as an SAC under the Habitats Directive in the late 1990’s.

So – first the boundaries of the protected area were drawn too tightly – probably to allow for continued development. If the boundaries had been done on scientific grounds from the outset, the ‘snail’ issue would never have arisen, because the woodland and gorge where it lived would have been protected and the route would have avoided the area from the outset.

So just as the road selection process appeared to nearing completion, the route had to be moved and the snail protected. That was duly done – along with excoriation of the environmentalists and ridicule of an innocent spotted slug. The Kerry slug can be easily identified because it is the only slug that curls into a ball when poked. One can hardly blame it, given the angry Councillors roaming the countryside.

However, a land owner is entitled to review a decision that deprives him or her of the integrity of their property. The owners of land affected by the proposed road are doing so on the grounds that the National Roads Authority and the County Council failed in law to meet the requirements for assessing the impact on the landscape, historic remains, and Carrigaphooca Castle. The Castle is owned by the State and the Office of Public Works – the owners –  failed to even comment on the proposed road route. 

The objectors have leave to bring a Judicial Review and a stay on the road’s construction while our archaic legal system grinds away the years – and the €235 million once promised for the ‘by-pass’ looks more and more like a victim of the economic meltdown.

Ironically, neither the Kerry slug nor the Castle need have caused any delay to the Macroom By-Pass, which is at the heart of the intense local pressure to build this road. The Castle is 6 kilometres from Macroom and the snail more than twice that. The Macroom By-Pass is actually part of the planned Cork – Killarney dual carriageway. If the Council had settled for a By Pass it could have been build 10 years ago.

In fact the Appeals Board Inspector recommended against the road widening to the west – slug country – because the volume of traffic drops so drastically after Macroom. The NRA with typical braggadocio told the Oral Hearing that so much of the road west would need a climbing lane anyway that they might as well double the lot.

The road west is very bad, especially at Ballyvaugney, but so are many rural roads in Ireland. It is nothing like the hell that residents of Macroom are living through.

A hell that’s being blamed on the wrong slimey creatures.