Minster Mark H Durkan listens to why Greencastle assets are at risk

Minister Mark H Durkan pictured with GARG members and MP Margaret Ritchie

Minister Mark H Durkan pictured with GARG members and MP Margaret Ritchie

For the last three years the voluntary local residents group in Greencastle (GARG) has been driving a vital and ever-pressing campaign to protect the local picturesque hamlet from being irrevocably destroyed by a ferry proposal*. On Monday 18 August, Mark H Durkan, the Environment Minister opened his door to listen and engage with representatives from the Group. In attendance were GARG members, DoE officers, Minister Mark H Durkan and Margaret Ritchie MP.

Within a relaxed environment, GARG delivered, led by the Chair, Diarmuid Cahill, a presentation supported by slides and a video, sharing their concerns and issues with Mr Durkan. MLA Margaret Ritchie showed support for the Group by giving examples of issues that she, herself, has highlighted as detrimental to Greencastle and the surrounding area.

GARG initially explained that cross-border relations are a positive step forward and projects like this should be a worthwhile investment. However, it is the site of Greencastle, in particular, that was in question and not the development of a new link between the North and South.

During the presentation, various anomalies in the Applicant’s proposal were highlighted, such as:

  • Tourism being one of the benefits of the proposal. While in reality, Greencastle’s tourism will suffer. The construction of a 150m concrete pier will adversely affect the biodiversity and ecosystem of the sealife including shellfish, seals and terns. The increase in traffic of up to 1000 cars per day would deter walkers, cyclists and horseriders and the film crews (from “The Fall” and “Our Robot Overlords”) from visiting. The site of the concrete pier would fall in plain view between the castle and the beach, ruining the landscape aspect. Rory Thompson from GARG added that the Proposal “does not make any reference to protecting our endangered indigenous wildlife”.
  • The absence of independent surveys carried out on the Pier Road and surrounding roads leading to Newry and Kilkeel. The Pier Road is not constructed to accommodate a consistent high flow of two-way traffic and the laybys suggested by the Applicant as a solution, would only cause bottle necks of traffic of up to 40 cars. Roads leading towards Kilkeel and Newry have not been addressed even though the 1000 cars per day will use these in both directions and there are many narrow “pinch” points that cannot accommodate such an increase. The one proposed plan received for the Pier Road actually shows the omission of a ruin that houses a bat roost. Bats are a protected species and as such, their habitats are also protected.
  • The Applicant has indicated that they have engaged with the local residents and collaborated in the development of the Proposal. In fact, the Applicant has only met the residents twice (once in 2011 and again in 2013) with the residents for a meeting at the very start of this process and since then has only been in regular contact with those who will benefit financially from this project. A Greencastle farmer and committee member, who attended, Niall Cunningham, explained “I will be directly affected by the traffic flow because of moving my livestock across the potentially busy road on a daily basis. My farm leads out to the road and various large tractors and machinery need time and space to manoeuvre, which will face the traffic head on. My fields are also on either side of the narrow Pier Road and to date, the Applicant has not said one word to me about road widening or access or any potential impact this will have on my livelihood”.
  • The sustainability of the Project. The Proposal states that the ferry will be used throughout the year and will be self-sustaining. GARG highlighted that at the most, visitors/tourists would use the ferry for up to six weeks in the year. The cost and journey times were also discussed at the meeting and showed that there was no cost or time benefit for using the ferry against the road between Dundalk and Newcastle.
  • The Proposal for the North (ie Greencastle) does not make any reference to commercial vehicles and only refers to visitors/tourists as potential users of the ferry. In contrast, the Proposal that was recently passed in the South (at Greenore) has included commercial customers.
  • Lack of imagery for the Project. In such a grand project of this scale, the Applicants have crucially neglected to provide any form of sketch or doctored image to demonstrate the impact of its construction. GARG had developed its own for the purpose of the meeting, taking into account the dimensions proposed.
  • The choice of Greencastle was determined because of its proximity to Greenore. In fact, other locations along the north-side of Carlingford Lough are equidistant or indeed closer than the planned route between Greenore (around Green Island) and Greencastle.
GARG members pictured outside Stormont after they met with Minister Mark H Durkan

GARG members pictured outside Stormont after they met with Minister Mark H Durkan

After the presentation delivered by Mr Cahill, the Group’s Chair, Mr Durkan complemented the Group by saying that the “presentation was a very thorough and professional report of findings and I can see that you are very passionate about where you live”. The Minister then provided an update to residents on the status of the planning application, advising that all consultation responses had been received except one. Once the last one is received, it is expected that the application will proceed to the decision phase.

The meeting concluded with an invitation for Minister Durkan to visit Greencastle after being shown a video of its unspoilt, tranquil landscape, the iconic Norman castle and motte. In response, the Minister said he would indeed look forward to visiting the area.

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