Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Topical Issue Debate

Greenways Funding

4:35 pm

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for bringing this very important issue to my attention. Indeed, I have had more questions on this particular issue in the last two days than I have had on anything else. Greenways are all the rage.

As the Deputy said, I was recently in County Westmeath and met with him, my colleague, Deputy Kevin Moran, councillors and officials from Westmeath County Council. I was taken by their commitment to developing greenways in County Westmeath and was impressed by the significant work carried out to date on both the old rail trail from Mullingar to Athlone and the greenway from Mullingar to Abbeyshrule in County Longford. Both projects were funded by my Department as was the original section of this greenway from the Meath border to Mullingar alongside the Royal Canal. To date, I understand that Westmeath County Council has been provided with funding of €8.7 million for greenway development in the county. This shows the commitment of both Westmeath and my Department to the development of these wonderful amenities. Indeed, Westmeath is the centre of much of the greenway network that we have in this country. From the county border with County Meath to Abbeyshrule in Longford and Athlone, there is a grand total of just over 80 km of greenways in County Westmeath.

With regard to County Longford, I understand that the county council has done some very good work to date with no funding from other sources to achieve planning permission for its own cycle network in the county. It also provided the entire funding to extend the greenway from the county border with Westmeath into the village of Abbeyshrule. This is an example to other local authorities of what can be achieved through a bottom-up approach to the development of greenway projects. With the prospect of the Center Parcs facility opening near Ballymahon in a few years, the future for tourism in County Longford is looking very positive.

As part of my Department's plans for the Galway to Dublin greenway, we hope to continue the greenway from Garrycastle to the marina in Athlone and westwards across the Shannon to Galway. I understand that Westmeath County Council has planning in place for this section and is shortly to submit an application for planning for a new bridge across the Shannon from the marina. I understand that the proposed extension from Garrycastle to White Gates provides links to a number of schools and colleges in Athlone and would therefore provide the opportunity to assist in increasing the numbers cycling to school and college. This is a hugely important benefit to those living in Athlone and the surrounding area and would also be of benefit to the younger generation in educating them and encouraging them in the use of more sustainable forms of transport.

The experience of the great western greenway in County Mayo has shown that there is a definite appetite for this type of route, which provides not only a different view of the country in terms of the tourism experience, but also a safe and secure route for cyclists of all levels of ability and confidence.

The cross-cutting benefits of cycling are multifaceted and range from tourism and health, both physical and mental, to rural development and urban regeneration. Anyone who has seen the transformation of Newport on the great western greenway will have seen this first hand, not to mention the contribution to a reduction in carbon emissions and a decrease in congestion in our towns and cities. I was pleased to see that the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Dublin City Council's publication of the canal cordon count for 2015 showed another increase in the numbers cycling into Dublin city centre during rush hour. We need to continue increasing the numbers cycling, and greenways provide an easy introduction to cycling for some and a reintroduction for others who may have cycled when younger.


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