MINISTER FOR Transport and Tourism Leo Varadkar has been urged to intervene with the board of CIÉ to assert ownership of a disused railway line in Co Limerick, which is being developed as a walking and cycling route.
Great Southern Trail Ltd, the voluntary group spearheading the scheme, has expressed concern that CIÉ has taken no effective action against a local farmer whose slatted cattle shed they maintain encroaches on CIÉ’s property.
“I think it’s a scandal that CIÉ don’t protect their property”, said Liam O’Mahony, one of the group’s founders. “The farmer concerned has put gates on the old railway line and . . . incorporated 500m of it into his farmyard”.
The site is located at Coolybrown, near Ardagh, on an undeveloped section of the route between Rathkeale and Newcastle West. “If this is not dealt with, it will compromise our plans to transform the line into a public amenity”, he warned.
Mr O’Mahony said CIÉ’s “tardy” approach in dealing with the issue was “unfair” to Great Southern Trail volunteers who had invested so much effort over the past 20 years in developing 35km of the route, at an estimated cost of €1 million.
When farmer John Dowling sought planning permission for the slatted shed in 2007, a Limerick County Council planner indicated it was to be built on the southern side of the disused line, whereas most of his farm buildings were on the northern side.
The planner noted that it was council policy to “retain and protect the former Limerick-Tralee railway line from further development” and said the proposed slatted shed should be “relocated . . . adjacent to the existing cluster of farm buildings”.
Limerick West TD Niall Collins, now Fianna Fáil spokesman on the environment and local government, sent a letter to the council on Mr Dowling’s behalf urging that permission be granted; it was the only such representation made.
The council later approved the scheme as proposed. Only after the slatted shed was built did a concern arise over whether it encroached on CIÉ’s property – “yet we waited a year for them to get an engineer to walk it”, Mr O’Mahony said.
In a letter last March to the council’s director of planning, Tom Enright, Great Southern Trail Ltd pointed out that the slatted shed was built some four metres north of the approved location and that boundaries with the old railway line were removed.
The council said it issued a warning letter to Mr Dowling on May 10th last for non-compliance with the terms of his permission. He “informed the council that he would be making a planning application to resolve this matter but to date has not done so”. CIÉ said it was “very supportive” of the Great Southern Trail, and its preference was to achieve a resolution to the issue “which would be acceptable to all parties without recourse to the legal arena”.
Attempts to contact Mr Dowling were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan will participate in a walk on part of the Great Southern Trail from Newcastle West to Barnagh on August 28th.