I got those lonesome, homesick A5 blues…

In the wake of bombs like those in Boston earlier this week, people say all sorts of things. Remember the Omagh bomb?  British and American politicians hurried to the town to join in the general sense of outrage and to assure local people of their support in rebuilding. Nothing would redress the terrible loss of life but  everything possible in material and emotional terms would be done to restore the town. Simpleton that I was, I believed their reassurances. 
It didn’t happen. Talk to business people in Omagh and you’ll find that no flood of American or British money came in to transform the stricken town. Walk down the main street today and while you don’t get a sense of deprivation, you’re a long way from the hum and bounce of a town that’s thriving. And now this week, the decision to build the A5, running from Derry past Omagh to Aughnacloy has been put on hold because, we’re told,  the Department of Regional Development screwed up in assessing the road’s impact on the environment. The road will now be built in two years’ time. Maybe. MAYBE.
It is indeed a big maybe, a MASSIVE maybe. For a number of reasons.
  1. It’s  west of the Bann. That’s the place where a lot nationalists/republicans live,  a place that’s got a touch of the political desert for unionism. Few or no votes to be won there by unionist parties. So why would any unionist Minister bust a gut in the interests of people opposed to his/her party’s political thinking? 
  2. Danny Kennedy of the UUP is in charge of the scheme and Sammy Wilson is the Finance Minister. Sammy is on record as being agin the scheme – not against building roads, but just not there. Kennedy was on TV on Monday night and sounded as pumped up  about the project as a balloon that’s had an argument with a bull-dozer. Best not look to Danny as an A5 saviour.
  3. Several dozen farmers along the route, most of them unionist, are opposed to the A5 scheme. Tens of thousands of business and non-business people in the area, most of them nationalist/republican,  are very much in favour of the scheme, which would provide a much-needed injection to employment and business. But do you think the superior numbers will mean anything? That the will of tens of thousands is bound to win the day?   Uh-uh. We’re talking power here, not a head-count of population. 
  4. The southern government originally promised £400 million towards the building of the A5. A couple of years ago it announced that, um, it’d done some sums and they’d now be giving something under £50 million. Considerably under. It’s kind of like the thing about urging people from the south to be ‘patriotic’ by shopping  in the south rather than the north. Of course the Dublin government recognises that all of us  on this island are Irish, it’s just that some are more Irish than others.  Count yourselves lucky to get a quarter of what we promised. 
Maybe at this point you’re half-thinking “Well, tough on the Omagh ones, and the Derry ones too, but we’re not going to be spending much time driving on those roads anyway”. Or maybe you’re thinking “Since those sodding southerners have gone back on their promise, of course it won’t get built, but that’s life”.  I don’t blame you if you’re thinking along those lines. But here’s the question: do you think the decision to build or not to build will be made on environmental or financial grounds? I think not. They’ll be factors, of course. But in the end it’ll come down to a political decision. So if I were a businessman in Omagh, or someone who longed for a Derry-Dublin road that’d match the Belfast-Dublin road,  I’d be opening a big box of chocolates before settling down to press Play on  my favourite escapist  movie. Because in my gut I’d know that once more, west of the Bann is at the end of the line.

10 Responses to I got those lonesome, homesick A5 blues…

  1. Anonymous April 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Correct me if I'm wrong but my understanding is that your party of choice(Sinn Fein) is one of the dominant parties in the Executive and that the majority of M L A's in West Tyrone are from that party.In the circumstances,what effective power can the Shinners exert in a situation like this.I seem to recall that the “villain ” Danny Kennedy was helpful in accelerating the upgrade of the railway line to Derry.I suppose its always easier to blame those pesky unionists!

  2. giordanobruno April 19, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    Perhaps if Conor Murphy, the previous Regional Development Minister had ensured the proper Environmental Impact Assessments were carried out back in 2010 things might have been different.
    Or was he in league with all those unionist farmers?

  3. Anonymous April 20, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    You really believed those politician's “promises” and assurances after the Omagh bomb?I thought you were a bit more sceptical and cynical than that!Do you believe everything that Gerry Adams says?

  4. Anonymous April 20, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    More tenuous and highly strained reasoning from Mr Tribal himself, Jude Collins.

    The previous poster beat me to it about Conor Murphys numerous deficiencies as Minister.

    Still, must blame the Prods, must blame the Prods. Warped.

  5. Anonymous April 21, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    What relevance has the opponents political stance got to do with it? It's not a nationalist road, it's a road for all who live in this area. There are many unionists in favour of the road too and to stereotype in the way you have done does not accurately reflect the situation and is irresponsible journalism.

    Try talking to your neighbours instead of talking about them.

  6. Anonymous April 21, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    The reason the line between Belfast and Derry was *upgraded, wasn't because of Danny Kennedy. It was because the people of Derry stood together and demanded the railway line was kept.

    *It wasn't a proper upgrade. Still a single line, on a route that needs and deserves a double line.

  7. Anonymous April 21, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Please, this was just an excuse the DRD and Unionists were waiting for. This could have been sorted out with minimum fuss. If it was in the East, do you honestly think it wouldn't have been amended?

    Catch yourself on.

  8. Anonymous April 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    There's some truth in the above comment in that there was a dedicated campaign by a grouping of Derry people.However Danny Kennedy was the Minister in charge and reacted positively to the case put forward by that group.One might ask what the previous Minister had done to advance the upgrade.

  9. giordanobruno April 21, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Of course people are playing politics here, on both sides. That is par for the course.
    Unfortunately both Sinn Fein and DUP are happy to ride roughshod over environmental concerns in the name of the overriding cause.
    Why were the proper assessments not done at the time? Was no-one aware of the habitats directive? If not why not?

  10. Anonymous April 24, 2013 at 12:12 am #

    The Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out in considerable detail – http://www.a5wtc.com/Environmental_Statement.aspx; the judge's decision related to an Appropriate Assessment for the Foyle & tributaries Special Area of Conservation, which he decided should have been carried out, despite the fact that (as allowed by the Habitats Regulations) a screening exercise was carried out which determined that the Appropriate Assessment wasn't required as there would be minimal impact on the SAC – http://www.a5wtc.com/Public_Inquiry_Deposit_Documents.aspx (see Environmental Reports – Habitats Regulations Screening Reports). Part 5 of the decision ( http://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/Judicial%20Decisions/PublishedByYear/Documents/2013/%5B2013%5D%20NIQB%2030/j_j_STE8771Final2.htm paragraph 115) states that because the judge had found against the Department he had no discretion in relation to quashing the Drd Minister's decision. This wasn't a case of any Minister or the Department making a mistake or missing something – all the environmental experts (the consultants and the Environment Agency) had advised that an Appropriate Assesment wasn't required – why would engineers or politicians with no knowledge of environmental legislation over-ride this advice?