Glenties group concerned with lack of progress

The Glenties Community Action Group has been gearing up for this weekend’s Busking Festival, the village’s first.

The Glenties Community Action Group has been gearing up for this weekend’s Busking Festival, the village’s first.

The action group is a busy one. As well as organising Glenties festivals and special events, they also work to promote Glenties and to serve as a voice of the people, said group chairperson, publican Carmel Doherty.

As part of that work, in the coming days the group are also planning to post a video to You Tube showing what group members say is sewage spewing from a pipe into the Stracastle River, a tributary of the salmon-rich Owenea. The Glenties Anglers Association received media attention in 2007 when they posted a video to You Tube showing the same thing.

“It’s five years on, but five years previous and it still would have looked the same,” said local man John Boyle, who is involved with the anglers association. The anglers’ video reported that when the system was built in the 1938, there were about 40 flush toilets in Glenties. By 2007, the association estimated there were more than 800. The action group estimates that about 1,500 people live in the larger Glenties area today.

Members of the action group met last week with Pearse Doherty, Sinn Féin TD for Donegal South West, and his party colleague, Cllr. Marie-Therese Gallagher, to express their concerns about the village’s proposed sewerage treatment plant; about the delay in replacing the Mullantyboyle Bridge, which collapsed in 2010 and left Glenties without a ring road; and about reports that the Garda Commissioner was considering a proposal to remove the Garda district headquarters from Glenties. Deputy Doherty brought the local concerns to the media last week.

Donegal County Council said the long-awaited sewerage treatment plant for Glenties is on schedule to go to construction in early 2013. But when you remind Carmel, John and Glyn Hughes of the action group’s environment subcommittee of this, they look at you with the indulgent smile of an adult who hates to dash a child’s dream.

“I could nearly stake my life that this is not going to happen in January or February of next year,” Carmel said.

Group members feel Glenties has been here before. The treatment plant has been in planning stages for many years, one of the west Donegal sewerage works that has been discussed and debated for decades.

“It just seems when we get closer and closer to a deal, something else comes up,” John said. Changes in European Union regulations and department decisions have resulted in several delays.

Group members said the sewage problem threatens the river, which is a strong draw for fishermen from around Ireland and abroad, as well as other tourism initiatives. They recalled a day last summer when a group of tourists held handkerchiefs against their faces as they walked on the main street because of the odour. The smell is there often, though not all the time. Locals are so accustomed to it that, “it’s a wild thing to say, but you just take it for granted,” John said. Carmel twice closed the family pub, Keeney’s, to air out a build-up of methane gas.

The treatment plant “is not a luxury,” Cllr. Gallagher said, adding that she was very hopeful that the Glenties and Dungloe treatment schemes will advance together and on schedule.

“If it doesn’t go ahead there are serious questions to be answered for the council and the department,” she said.

The Mullantyboyle Bridge collapsed during the Glenties Harvest Festival in September 2010, after a lorry too heavy for the near-century-old stone bridge was diverted from the main road through the village. The village has been without a ring road since then. Farmers with land on either side of the fallen bridge must travel the main road through the village to go from one side to another. But if the main road, the N56, were blocked in the village for some reason, the only way from one end of Glenties to the other for all traffic, including emergency vehicles, would be through Ardara and Narin, a journey of about 30 kilometres.

The protected fresh-water mussel has also been found in waters near the bridge and in the Stracastle, complicating both projects. The council this year is spending about €100,000 on an environmental impact study for the Mullantyboyle replacement.

The council had designed a replacement bridge, but European directive mandates that the bridge must hold 40 tons, far more than the local roads leading up to the bridge would hold, action group members said. “The roads are not built to carry that, but there is no way around it,” Cllr. Gallagher admitted.

Cllr. Gallagher and other councillors in the Glenties Electoral Area have all said replacing the Mullantyboyle is a priority, and the council schedule calls for the bridge to go to tender and construction next year, subject to funding availability. However, Cllr. Gallagher acknowledged that government cuts in capital funding for local authorities and cuts in European Union co-funding means that councillors cannot guarantee the project.

“Today or next week I cannot say to the people of Glenties that the money will be there to fund it,” she said.

Deputy Doherty raised the issue of the Glenties Garda district headquarters at last week’s meeting of the Donegal Joint Policing Committee. A Garda inspector at the meeting said he could not comment on the claims, but the deputy said he had been able to confirm through a number of sources that the Garda commissioner was considering the option.

Action group members said the loss of the headquarters would affect not only area policing, but the local economy. Cllr. Gallagher agreed.

“If you take a job out of a town, you’re taking 50,000 a year out,” she said. “If you take 20 jobs out of it -- multiply that over a year. It’s a huge blow.” Cllr. Gallagher and Deputy Doherty will continue to raise the issues the people of Glenties raised with them at the local and government level.

Glenties is a close-knit village; everyone knows everyone, action group members said. They are proud of their village, a five-time Tidy Towns winner. They credited Glenties community pride and spirit with supporting the festivals and other events that draw visitors, such as this weekend’s busking festival.

And on behalf of their village, action group members said they will also keep an eye on the projects, to make sure the council meets the deadlines needed to advance them on schedule.

“We’re just so sceptical, and you can’t blame us,” John said.