According to RTE news a group of local residents and business people have vowed to take legal action up to, and including, a challenge in the European courts against a proposed upgrade of the Cork-Limerick road.
Talking to RTE Southern Editor Paschal Sheehy they said that it threatens many of their homes and livelihoods. The improvement of the road network between the two cities is a key element of the Government’s Ireland 2040 plan and is expected to cost over €1 billion. A number of potential routes are currently being considered by consultants and the project team, comprising engineers from Transport Infrastructure Ireland, Limerick City and County Council, Cork County Council and Cork City Council. One of those routes, the so-called navy route, runs close to the village of Whitechurch, north of Cork City, and involves the construction of 80km of new motorway running parallel to the existing N20 between Blarney and Limerick. An announcement on a preferred route is expected to be made in October. The scheme comes with a big price tag – over €1bn – and the project team acknowledges that, whatever option is selected, there will be “impacts” in terms of people’s homes and businesses being acquired by compulsory purchase order and farms being divided along the route. Among those whose home lies on the path of the navy route are Cormac and Margaret O’Keeffe, who live with their three children near Whitechurch in north Cork. In 1990, Mr O’Keeffe’s then family home was acquired by Compulsory Purchase Order and levelled to make way for an upgrade of the N20 road. Now, 31 years on, he is facing the prospect of his own family home being taken from him again by CPO. “It’s definitely a case of lightning has struck twice,” Mr O’Keeffe told RTÉ News. “Once in a lifetime is enough to be CPO-ed for anybody, so it’s not pretty.” His objection to the acquisition of properties through compulsory purchase is the lack of choice or options afforded to the land owners involved. “There is nothing democratic about CPOs,” he said. “You have unelected people come to your house and say: go, move, shift – and that’s basically it.” He describes as “soul destroying” the stress of waiting to know if his family home will be acquired through CPO for the second time. “There is no other word to describe it. It was soul destroying the first time; it’s soul destroying the second time.” His wife Margaret added: “It’s just cruelty, especially the second time around. I know it’s not [the second time] for me, but it is for my husband. It’s very stressful.” She appealed to the project team to re-consider their options and said she favours an up-grading of the existing N20. Deirdre Hosford is Chairwoman of the residents’ group in Whitechurch. It is opposed to the proposed navy route which, she said, will physically divide her community. The community is totally united in its determination to fight the navy route, she added. “It will have a huge impact on a lot of people because, obviously, their homes are going to be gone. “Our community is going to be divided into two. We already have the existing N20 and now this route for the proposed M20 will literally run parallel to it at a maximum level of one kilometre apart – it’s senseless.” Ms Hosford added: “We 100% believe connectivity between the cities needs to be improved, but we also believe there is a perfectly viable option currently on the table, which is the existing N20. “That road needs to be upgraded in any case … rather than a whole new motorway [being built], which will decimate our community forever.” “We have been told through many channels that it will happen, so we will object all the way to the European Court to this project, because we refuse to have our community ruined forever.” The project team tasked with delivering the N20 upgrade insists that it is necessary for economic and safety reasons. The team published an analysis of figures for accidents on the N20 between Cork and Limerick between 2016 and 2018 showing crashes on that route are four times more likely to be fatal than the national average. The figures also indicate that drivers involved in road crashes on the N20 are more likely to suffer personal injuries than on any other national road in the country. “The N20 has an appalling safety history,” said N/M20 Project Co-ordinator, Jari Howard. “In the last ten years there have been 24 fatal collisions on this stretch of road.” He insisted the road itself is not dangerous, but when roads reach or exceed their capacity, then they become dangerous and that has happened on parts of the existing N20. “When you go over the capacity of a road like that, conflicts become more apparent and so that becomes unsafe,” Mr Howard said. “The higher you go over capacity, the more safety risks there are.” “The N20 between Cork and Limerick is the missing piece of infrastructure,” Mr Howard said. “You can currently travel quickly from Limerick up to Tuam and Galway, but there is a missing link so it’s not realising its potential as a counter balance to the east coast and Dublin.” Mr Howard accepts that some people will lose their homes through the road upgrade, businesses will be affected and farms will be divided. “Whichever option we choose, there will be impacts,” he said. “The important thing is to talk to us: we have been through this a lot of times and we understand the issues and fears that people have. “Working together, we can come up with solutions that can mitigate that and minimise it, but there will be property acquired and farms impacted – we can’t deny that,” he said. The project team hopes to reveal its preferred option – which could involve a rail project – by October. After this, detailed plans will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála. An oral hearing will take place at some point in the future but, ultimately, the issue is likely to be decided in the courts.