West Donegal roads put lives, jobs at risk: claims
By Carolyn farrar
A Bunbeg chemist said the treacherous state of west Donegal roads during the freeze is putting the lives of people seeking medical treatment at risk.
"Access routes have been an absolute nightmare," said chemist James Cassidy.
Local councillors also said they have heard from businesspeople whose trade is suffering during what should be one of the busiest retail and hospitality times of year.
Chemist James Cassidy said that he drives from Termon to Gaoth Dobhair on the Errigal Road and the N56, two stretches that the council dropped from its winter salting programme because of the drop in road salt the council has received from the National Roads Authority (NRA). The chemist said he travels in a 4x4 vehicle, and said he has had to give a push to numerous vehicles that were stuck. Vehicles have also been abandoned, he said.
"That access route is terribly important not just for pleasure and social reasons," he said, adding that Donegal Airport's emergency plan uses the Errigal Road to reach Letterkenny General Hospital.
The chemist referred to "the golden hour", the 60-minute period that health care professionals say is crucial when seeking medical attention for someone suffering a heart attack or other serious injury.
"The ‘golden hour' does not exist in west Donegal at the minute, because you can't get to the hospital in an hour," the chemist said. "God forbid somebody's pregnant and goes into labour. How do you get to hospital?
"These things are very serious and the NRA have left the county council in an impossible position," James said. "I don't blame the council employees. They're working morning, noon and night, but they're working with no tools and that's just not good enough."
He said NowDoc staff, the Coast Guard and volunteers are doing all they can to get supplies to people, and his chemist shop in Bunbeg has also delivered essential medications.
"NowDoc has been exceptional in getting supplies out," he said. "The people of Gaoth Dobhair and the Rosses are exceptional. We're all putting our shoulder to the wheel and doing what we can to ensure people are looked after. But the point is we're doing it on our own."
He added, "If anybody is stuck for essential medicine, contact us and we'll make sure they get sorted."
Dungloe-based Sinn Fin Cllr. Marie-Therese Gallagher said she heard varying reports from traders. Some said customers who in other years may have shopped out of town were staying local because of arctic weather and dangerous roads. Others said there were days when they did not open before noon because the trade wasn't there. She said some restaurants lost up to 70 per cent of bookings last weekend.
"It's a huge, huge issue," Cllr. Gallagher said, adding that beyond the impact on local businesses has been the impact on people who are snowbound. This would normally be a time of year when day centres would hold holiday celebrations, but weather has closed them, she said. Older residents may also be concerned about their ability to secure medicines and other supplies.
"To me this is a crisis," the councillor said. "It's a disaster. That's the saddest part -- people who are most vulnerable are suffering again.
"It comes down to communities looking after their own," she said. And while she credited local people for their community spirit, she said, "People are angry and they're right to be angry. I don't think I've ever been as angry in my life."
The councillor said she believed council crews were doing all they could with the salt that was available. "If the county council had salt or could get salt, they would spread it," she said. Cllr. Gallagher said that if the NRA was taking responsibility for distributing road salt to local authorities, "they have to be willing to take responsibility for the fear people are living with".
Gaoth Dobhair-based independent Cllr. Pdraig Doherty said he heard from local people who were not satisfied with the council's response, though they recognised the local offices were leaving sand on roads for local use.
"But they feel that the council hasn't made any great resources available for Gaoth Dobhair," he said. He said that when he sees the signs indicating that the N56 has not been salted from Termon to Gaoth Dobhair and the Errigal Road remains closed, "you would have to agree".
While the councillor said the local authority was making the best effort with the resources available, he said, "It's not satisfactory in this day and age that roads should be left in the condition they're in because of shortages that should not have happened in the first place."
The councillor said that on Tuesday he travelled down the stretch called "the line", from Gort a' Choirce to the Gaoth Dobhair Business Park.
"I tell you it was an extremely dangerous road," he said. The councillor said articulated lorries travelled in both directions on what he described as a narrow and slushy road. Leaving the roads in such poor condition could threaten the 500 jobs in the business park, he said. But that stretch of the N56 was one of the routes dropped from council's winter salting programme while salt stocks are low.
In a map published last week, the council marked in red the roughly 370 kilometres of primary and strategic routes that are being treated with salt. The remainder of the council's 1,200 kilometres of priority roads, which are treated with sand and grit, were marked in green. The N56 from Termon to Gaoth Dobhair is a "green route".
"I can't believe the lack of urgency that has been shown by Donegal County Council when it comes to west Donegal and the ‘green' area," Cllr. Doherty said. "And let me say that we must be ‘very green' indeed to accept it."