CLARE COUNTY Council has spent €750,000 acquiring a parcel of land for the upgrading of a railway project. The two acres of land and house are owned by John O'Connell (84), father of the Mayor of Clare, Cllr Patricia McCarthy (Ind). However, Cllr McCarthy absented herself from the decision.
The purchase of the former station house at Sixmilebridge is part of the upgrading of the rail line to coincide with the first stage of the Western Rail Corridor project between Ennis and Galway, opening next year.
The council made the move after John O'Connell's property was rezoned last year by members of the council in the South Clare Economic Plan to facilitate a car park for rail customers.
Ms McCarthy said yesterday that she absented herself from all meetings relating to the rezoning. "I also abstained from any debate on the upgrade of the railway as it could have been misconstrued and leave it open to others to score points. I found it hard staying silent on the upgrading as I come from a railway family.
"I probably went overboard in relation to the ethics of the matter but I didn't want my role as councillor compromised in any way."
Mr O'Connell served as station master in Sixmilebridge from 1959 until the rail line was closed in the 1970s, having previously worked on the West Clare Railway line.Cllr McCarthy said the proposed purchase is subject to contract which has yet to be signed.
At a recent special policy group meeting at the council, county engineer Tom Carey suggested that the purchase might have been made through the mechanism of funds secured through the National Development Plan rather than directly by the council.
However, Cllr Brian Meaney (Green Party) welcomed the purchase. "It is a brilliant move and any criticism of the council purchase is small-minded.
"It is a great initiative and I hope that the council will repeat the move in other areas and this must be a boost to those in Crusheen who are looking for the station to be reopened there. I believe that this investment will result in badly needed revenue for the council."
Mr Meaney said that the provision of the station at Sixmilebridge will increase the numbers on the Ennis-Limerick rail line and the numbers going on to Galway.
Figures released by Iarnród Éireann show that 200,000 journeys were made on the Ennis-Limerick line last year - an increase of 39 per cent on the 144,000 journeys recorded on the line in its first full year of operation in 2004. The 200,000 journeys recorded on the line last year represented an increase of 20,000 on the 180,000 journeys recorded in 2006. The 2006 figure was in turn an increase on the 166,000 journeys in 2005.
Sixmilebridge will serve as one of seven stations along the Limerick-Galway rail line and the other six are Ennis, Gort, Ardrahan, Craughwell, Oranmore and Athenry.