Is Donegal getting back on Track?
A very interesting meeting which took place in the Abbey Hotel recently had as its objective the return of Railway to the county. Organised by Eddie Marshall of the Civic Group, a large number attended, including a cross-border Into the West party. Politicians in the audience included Pearse Doherty, Dinny McGinley, Seamus Rodgers, John Doherty (Independent), Frank Gallagher and Cllr John Boyle.
Brian Guckian, a Dublin based rail and integrated transport researcher gave a very informative presentation. Showing all the figures, maps and routes, Brian put forward a realistic possibility of this project coming to fruition, saying it would cost a fraction of the Transport 21 capital allotment. Mr Guckian revealed that over the past ten years the car population in the country had doubled, with related commuting stress on the roads - also that we are the third most oil dependent county in the E.U. With 99% of freight travelling by road, it was time we thought of more sustainable transport, Brian declared. He also said that one passenger train is equal to 360 cars. He referred to Donegal as the de-railed county of Ireland with 220 miles of track lost.
Mr Guckian proposed a new corridor linking Donegal Town to Ballyshannon in one direction - and to Ballybofey, Letterkenny and Derry in the other. This would complete an all Ireland loop and provide a huge impetus to tourism and freight.
Mr Guckian advised a community campaign should be established in town with a strong leadership and full county participation.
After the presentation Eddie thanked all the political candidates for coming and said he was disappointed that the government ministers didnt turn up.
Dinny McGinley was first to speak Kerry has six flights from Tralee to Dublin, six or seven trains from Tralee to Dublin and the county is similar in size and similar in population to our county - but we are the forgotten county. The Luas in Dublin cost one billion - but we are just left out of the loop.
John Doherty, the Independent candidate, claimed that the government is building roads that are sinking quicker that the Titanic they are dumping stones into bog.
Frank Gallagher said the Greens are calling for the Western Corridor to be opened but as far as Donegal is concerned, there is no political will - nobody cares what happens in this county as it so far removed from the corridors of power.
Seamus Rodgers was next. He said how disappointed he was there were no government spokesperson there - he felt that they must be running out of steam at this stage. He went on to say that when the people lifted the old railway line that they carried out an act of legal vandalism. Twenty lorries is equal to one load of freight. In 1943, I travelled by train to Dublin to see Cavan take on Roscommon. In 2007 I couldnt do that - we are going backwards.
Pearse Doherty echoed the sentiment of his political colleagues and felt that we had been shafted when it came to Transport 21 we didnt get our share. He said that the rail link was part of Sinn Feins election strategy.
Hugh ODonnell then spoke and said that Donegal was left out of Transport 21. The government said the money is ring-fenced and no change could happen - but when it came to the Luas it could be changed we are left like a body with no blood going to the brain.
Eamon McCann from In to the West group spoke and said that Derry will eventually close if they dont get action and if this happens, it would be bad for all.
A very positive meeting, with frustration and hope apparent in equal measure. Born in the 1960s, I never saw a train travel the rail network of Donegal. But if the enthusaism shown by Brian Guckin and other speakers prevails maybe, before I reach my golden years, I may yet ride a carriage out of the county on my way to the Smoke or down the West coast. Lets hope so!
Into the West group from Derry which attended the Railway Meeting in the Abbey Hotel
(OPINION) Cast Your Vote
So tomorrow is the big-one the day that comes around once every five years or so on which we can exercise our franchise and elect the candidates of our choice to form the grouping that will govern the country up till 2012. Weve all met the principal players at the doorstop, listened to their proposals, discussed their policies and now we must decide. It is widely felt that only one seat is up for grabs in the Donegal-South three seater. Only Minister Mary is presumed safe, leaving two seats to be filled from the three other principal candidates Pat the Cope, Dinny McGinley and Pearse Doherty. But nothing is certain when the citizen enters the privacy of the polling booth.
There is a lot of frustration in this constituency, most of it originating while the present coalition was in power. Many feel that, as a minister, Mary could have done a lot more for her native patch. They point to Kerry where John ODonoghue, the tourism Czar, has poured cash into a variety of projects, underpinning the Kingdoms claim to being the kingpin of the tourism industry. Or even, the goodies the generous doctor provided for Donegal NE during his tenure as Minister for fun and frolics - none of this largesse seems to have flowed into the south of the county during Marys reign. There is record unemployment, infrastructural access is poor and not featuring to any extent in government transport policy, the fishermen are unhappy - and the south-county is crying out for jobs and development.
But Mary is safe, the huge population this side of the Gweebarra gives her, as sole candidate in the area, a huge advantage, though the new territory along the Finn Valley to Lifford is an unknown quantity.
Mary has been a popular and good minister and, if we take her reign on a national rather than local basis, she fully deserves to be returned a clear favourite. The question is - how many first preferences will the Frosses minister claim this could be a key element in determining the Copes future.
An able and personable junior in the last administration, Pat was unlucky to be stuck in ministeries at a time when they were beset by problems, not all solvable at a national level. EU dictats ruled the fishing industry but the Cope was the man on the ground seen to implement them. With three candidates from the West vying for two seats, the Cope is vulnerable especially as his two opponents have a full constituency franchise open to them. If Mary manages to generate a surplus over quota, many of her no 2s may go to her running mate, which could take him close to the winning post - but if the percentage of transfers fall short then the Cope might be in trouble.
Dinny McGinley is a well liked and popular contender. When it was perceived, at convention time, that there was concerted movement towards Slowey, the Gweedore politician announced he would retire and not run in this election. However when polls indicated that the Ardara man hadnt a snowballs, McGinley was coerced into making a late comeback and take his place among the contenders. His decision to retire could be seen by punters as the man having had enough of national politics and question whether he has the energy or will to take on another term of long distance commuting and the stresses of government. But even with a young, energetic Sinn Fein candidate on his doorstep, McGinley should still be ok and come in after Mary.
And, last, but definitely not least, among the main contesters the newcomer Sinn Feins Pearse Doherty. The Republican partys golden boy, Pearse had the appearance of someone bound for the top from the first day he stepped into the political arena. A tall, good-looking, articulate engineering graduate - if you were to draw up a profile of an ideal candidate, Pearse would fit the mould perfectly. With the recent incredible events in the north clear in voters minds, the legitimisation of Sinn Fein is complete. In the writers mind, and here my opinion differs from that of this papers respected political pundit, Crossbencher - Pearse Doherty will take the third seat, disposing of the Cope in the process. Maybe it will be Dinny that suffers this indignity but, one way or another, I feel that Doherty will be elected.
Other candidates are Seamus Rogers of Labour, Independent John Doherty and OMaolchallán of the Greens.
So there it is from this political illiterate sticking my neck out I say Mary, Dinny, and Doherty - with Cope to lose out. But as I said, who knows when the citizen enter the booth, how he/she will vote. The main thing is to get out and exercise your franchise. There is no point later sitting around complaining about the people in power if you have done nothing to influence who is there. Head for your polling station on the day and cast your vote. We are privileged to live in a democracy that, for all its faults, still does its best for the citizen, Dont waste a right that many others around the world would love to have get out and cast your vote.