We owe the eco-warriors a debt

11th February 2000

SO the eco-warriors have been vanquished and the motorway will be built. I always thought that the warriors had a poor case anyway.

For a start the road was already there. Secondly, the volume of cars would have been roughly the same, except moving slower and therefore emitting more pollution.

Thirdly, the woods are not native Irish woodland. They were planted a hundred years ago by the local landowner. Fourthly, an insignificant number of trees were to be felled.

Lastly, Ireland is not overburdened with dual carriageways. Our national road system is very poor and there is a pressing case for a nationwide motorway system. In England and Germany where the anti-road movements started, the case has been proven that new motorways just mean new traffic.

In Ireland, we’re entitled to a skeleton motorway system before we get to talking about ‘additional’ roads.

So no, I wasn’t convinced of the eco-warriors case. But I was mightily impressed with their determination and idealism. I think their protest was badly needed and will have a lasting beneficial effect.

Despite what many people might imagine, engineers and local authority officials do care about what the public think – if only to keep the hassle factor down to a minimum. Even in the Glen-of-the-Downs, the present road proposal is completely different from the original.

The council wanted to take a sweep of land through the glen. Local activists forced a major rethink with far fewer trees involved and much less impact on the environment in the present plan. It was ironic that the council went to court to defend the revised plan.

So vigilance pays. The eco-warriors have lost the battle but they might just win the war.

The National Roads Authority is responsible for all the major roads in the country and will be in charge of all the new by-passes and motorways. They will not plan anything now without looking over their shoulders.

However, the eco-warriors are different from most over the other groups involved in anti-development protests. From the anti-port tunnel groups to the no-dump-here campaigns we see people who are concerned with their immediate environment. You might cynically add that they are mainly concerned about the value of their houses.

The eco-warriors had nothing to gain. They were inspired by idealism and their means were inventive and peaceful. They slept in the woods for two years in all sorts of weathers and, for all the propaganda, evidence of their presence will be gone in a couple of months.

And what thanks did they get for it? I’m baffled as to how a country where two thirds of people go to church every week to praise a man who got himself killed for his beliefs can leave the building and then snort with such derision at young people who are motivated by principle.

Compare this with the canonisation of Denis O’Brien who netted himself some £300 million last month. No flies on Denis; he wasn’t up any tree worrying about the eco-system. In fact, Denis spent his time putting up those nice masts we all admire so much.

We have become so self-absorbed and passive in this country that we will accept anything as long as it doesn’t affect us personally.

We are losing the ability to look out for one another. At least while the eco-warriors are around the powers-that-be will have something to think about.