Tuesday, 31 July 2012

With one mighty boundary, our hero is free…

The chief acknowledges his subjects at the coss-Border rally in Ballyconnell.
The exhortation that all ‘Border people’ should come out in support of bankrupt billionaire Seán Quinn and his family is just as troubling as the troupe of widely known GAA stalwarts who lined up to pay homage to the ‘Mighty Quinn’ at Sunday’s rally in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan.
Their projection of an alternative constituency of rural solidarity based on shared values of 'home and hearth', almost disguises the incredibly slick public relations campaign now underway.
That the campaign is centred on the periphery of both jurisdictions – while one of the main players is using its convenient escape route to avoid jail for ‘contempt of court’  – is almost sheer genius.
Yet there is nothing spontaneous or innocent about the scale and potential of this PR campaign.
Some of the people, all of the time.
Seán Quinn fastidiously avoided his ‘enemy’ until everything was in place. His carefully chosen first foray into  the media campaign was with the local Northern Sound radio and the local papers in Fermanagh and Cavan. Next his ‘fugitive’ nephew was featured at a couple of local football matches – in the company of his former GAA president dad – and then came the rally which appears to be the first of a snowball sequence.
So even after all the highly troubling and detailed exposure by BBC’s Jim Fitzpatrick of the Quinns’ sophisticated criminal manipulation of assets through dubious channels in Russia; clear and proven breaches of specific court orders; and unequivocal findings by respected judges that this was blatant contempt of the law to cheat Irish taxpayers on an unprecedented scale, the Empire has struck back.  
The bandwagon struck up on Sunday and the ‘Border people’ and all those who share their honest, down-to-earth family values are expected to clamber aboard.
Sure, isn't he one of our own!
Suddenly a high-roller casino capitalist – who wagered his entire ‘empire’ (and all its subjects) in a golden Gordon Gekko moment of quintessential greed – is pleading the poor mouth.
Suddenly the man who failed to achieve bankruptcy on his own terms in Belfast High Court is now the victim of bankruptcy, hounded by the Irish courts, the ‘Dublin media’ and, most of all, Anglo-Irish Bank.
Suddenly the family which has siphoned off hundreds of millions worth of assets in breach of court orders, is facing ‘debtors’ prison’ or ‘walking the roads’ after summary eviction.
Where will it end? The novel notion that the true Irish values of honesty, decency and family solidarity maintain a lonely residence on the border between Fermanagh and Cavan is a powerful incentive for those who refuse to acknowledge the facts.
They line up to hail their chief, backed by an array of  GAA leaders who, quite frankly, should be ashamed of the message they are conveying.
Meanwhile, the notion that there is even such a constituency as the ‘Border people’ is news to us at the Frontier Post, where we maintain a vigil on a vast array of communities and districts which did not benefit from the Quinn Group, even in the ‘good times’.
One thing for sure if this campaign succeeds though is that we’ll all be picking up the tab while the Quinns laugh all the way to Belize.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Right to the heart of a Maiden City

Cross the river to avoid constraints.
As a fairly regular commuter to Derry, I have a strong interest in the proposed upgrading to a dual carriageway of the A5 road from Aughnacloy to Newbuildings. Despite more than 2,000 objections, a public inquiry has now1 given the go-ahead  for the work which already has a budget of £330 million.
However, at the risk of prolonging the tailbacks and road hazards, I want to raise yet another objection. It is based on empirical research and, while it might seem impertinent, I think it should be on the table before the bulldozers move in. This is not least because it might stand a better chance of winning back the €400 million that the Dublin government allocated to the project before backing out of the deal.
Agreeing a cross-border road to Derry City.
So here is my concern: the planning has focused on the wrong road entirely, well, the wrong route from Victoria Bridge to the Maiden City.
For those familiar with the North-West Passage, this is the part which snakes its way for about 20 miles through (or around after the roadworks) Sion Mills, Strabane, Ballymagorry, Cloghcor, Bready and Magheramason (all in Co. Tyrone) before drawing up to the traffic lights in Newbuildings, Co. Derry, and the final Prehen stretch into the city which is excluded from the work.
Roads Service in Northern Ireland has wrestled with this part of the route which hugs the east bank of the River Foyle. All along, the answer to their problem was over on the west bank; i.e. in the other jurisdiction.
By entering Co. Donegal, the route could:
• Avoid major centres of settlement;
• Extend right into the heart of Derry City;
• Link with the dual carriageway (plus under-deck) Craigavon Bridge;
• Better serve Letterkenny and all north and west Donegal;
• Provide a road that can readily justify Dublin government funding.
Such a road would depart the current A5 route just north of Victoria Bridge, following the general line of Bells Park Road to cross the Border and the River Finn between Clady and Strabane. (The Finn is barely wider than a normal two-lane road at this point.)
With upper and lower decks, Craigavon bridge
offers three lanes each way to connect entire city.
It would then sweep west of Lifford towards Letterkenny before resuming its course to Derry up the Laggan Valley side of the Foyle past Porthall, St Johnston and Carrigans. There it would cross the border into Co. Derry, following the Balloughry Road to join up with the Letterkenny Road, before making its grand final  sweep along the scenic and unimpeded passage down past the Brandywell (GAA and soccer venues) to Craigavon Bridge.
This route would be no longer than the current proposal and it would better serve the entire north-west region in both jurisdictions. Apart from achieving the overall objectives listed above, it would:
• Allay the deep objections of Protestant landowners north of Strabane;
• Allow Derry city nationalists to drive to Dublin through Donegal;
• Provide a real and more direct road link connecting Dublin and Letterkenny;
• Preserve the core integrity of the Foyle; and
• Stake a Dublin government claim to the Maiden City itself.
Now even in these straitened times, that must be worth at least €400 million.

1 A5 Road Upgrade 'To Get Go-ahead' After Public Inquiry,  by Kevin Magee, BBC, 11 July 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-18789327