John Dolan: Catch 22 on the N22... This road to hell has long been paved with good intentions

John Dolan: Catch 22 on the N22... This road to hell has long been paved with good intentions
Work on the N22 bypass of Macroom, looking east from the Sullane River bridge east of the town. Picture: John Dolan, June 24 2020.

ONE of the funniest parody accounts on Twitter is entitled ‘Cork Events Centre’.

On a regular basis, under cover of anonymity, someone posts a comic comment alluding to the infamous turning of the sod on the site of the promised building in the city in February, 2016.

Recently, the wag tweeted: “On my way to City Hall to cheer on my 6th Lord Mayor since the sod turning. Who knows, maybe he’ll be the one to turn the second sod?”

Another tweet sarcastically opined: “Programme for government: Cork Event Centre to be started within the lifetime of this government, or later, it’s complicated.”

Or “The Cork Event Centre has had more ‘commitments’ than a Roddy Doyle book.”

You get the drift.

Well, if you’ve had a bellyful of the broken pledges that have surrounded the event centre sod-turning that took place almost four and a half years ago, wait till you hear about the shenanigans surrounding the N22...

The good folk of Macroom, Ballyvourney and other areas on the current clogged-up route to Killarney have been putting up with false dawns, pre-election promises and letdowns on this proposed route for the bones of 20 years.

Way back in April, 2007, I recall watching then Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny on the pre-General Election hustings in Macroom, where he solemnly told a group gathered there he would fast-track the proposed bypass of the town.

He lost that election — and four years later, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the new road — but any hope of it being built was dashed again when the economy tanked.

Ever since, through boom and bust, the plan for a proper road to transport traffic from Cork to Killarney has hit hurdle after hurdle.

As the economy recovered in recent years, the bypass was once again back on the agenda. Plans were drawn up, expensive surveys and preliminary work was done... could this finally be it?

Finally, eureka! The €280million N22 bypass was approved last October — yes, just before yet another election. Locals could be forgiven for their cynicism! Here we go again, we thought.

But this time, the promises appear to finally be bearing fruit.

In recent months, on my way into Macroom to shop during the Covid-19 lockdown, I have noticed a hive of activity on both sides of the bridge over the Sullane, on the east of the town.

This looks like much, much more than a sod-turning.

Dozens of workers and large earth-moving machinery are beavering away in specially-constructed site zones. You can even see the outline of what I assume is the planned new road.

It really does look like work is underway: The 22km stretch of highway from Coolcower, east of Macroom, to west of Baile Bhuirne and Baile Mhic Íre, is expected to be ready in three and a half years.

The bypass will transform Macroom from a place to avoid at rush-hour, where articulated lorries spew fumes as they crawl through the town, to a place where locals and tourists can relax and breathe in fresh air.

Work on the N22 bypass of Macroom, looking west from the Sullane River bridge east of the town. Picture: John Dolan, June 24 2020.
Work on the N22 bypass of Macroom, looking west from the Sullane River bridge east of the town. Picture: John Dolan, June 24 2020.

And yet... and yet... why am I still feeling uneasy?

Two reasons: The Green Party and the looming recession, brought on by Covid-19.

Last week, after the Programme for Government was published and the parties went off to sell it to their members, one Green TD threw a cat among the pigeons by suggesting the Cork to Limerick motorway “will not happen”.

The oft-promised project wasn’t part of the talks and the comment was quickly shot down — but it played into the hands of critics of the Greens, who fear they will scrap all road improvements in their quest for an impossible nirvana where everyone walks or cycles about their business, whistling among singing birds.

The fact the TD who made the throwaway remark, Ossian Smyth, is based in Dublin also played into a narrative that the Greens are at their core a city elite who care little for those outside the metropolis.

Indeed, Green party leader and fellow Dubliner Eamon Ryan was criticised during the recent general election campaign for suggesting the Cork-Limerick motorway would “make no sense”.

The latest outcry concerned me. For although the N22 bypass has not been mentioned in government talks — and concrete plans are in place for it to proceed — I fear it could still be stalled by the prevailing economic and political winds, assuming the Programme for Government won all-party approval last night.

It hugely over-promises and over-spends, at a time when the country will surely need to tighten its belt. This coalition will need to make tough decisions to save money, and the Greens may have road projects at the top of their list. Could the N22 bypass be shelved yet again?

God knows that would be a kick in the teeth for the people of Cork who have been waiting for it to happen since the turn of the millennium.

It seems like every other town in the country has had its bypass and reaped the benefit in terms of quality of life, except for Macroom.

The N22 scheme will assuredly save lives. The current road is the worst in the country from a road safety perspective, Cork County Council Director of Roads Padraig Barrett stated recently. He said there are more serious accidents on it than any other in Ireland.

The route is used by 14,000 vehicles daily, many carrying tourists heading to holiday homes in West Cork and Kerry. This figure is expected to increase to more than 20,000 by the time the bypass is complete.

If the Greens do call for the bypass to be put on ice, it would be bitterly ironic as it will actually provide vast environmental benefits, improving access to rural areas and boosting air quality in Macroom.

The old road could also be marked up as a prime cycling route once the bypass is opened.

I hope my fears about the N22 prove unfounded — but the Greens, like the road to hell, are worryingly full of ‘good’ intentions.

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