Tuam car park causes ‘chaos’ in historical heart
Campaigners for right of way accused of jeopardising jobs
Restore Our Palace Road Group members (from front) Leo Moran Tom Niland, Cllr Shaun Cunniffe, Connie Goss, Steve Lane, Eleanor Joyce and Andy Newman beside the car park at O’Toole’s SupeValu in Tuam. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.
Leo Moran never quite thought of himself as a latter-day Woody Guthrie. Musician with the Saw Doctors and, lately, the Cabin Collective, he has sung about the pain of emigration and lost love, small town blues and the Rossport Five, but says he has never really regarded himself as “political”.
Now, however, he finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being held responsible for “closing a town down”, due to his support for a campaign to save a right of way.
That right of way was along the Palace Road in Tuam, a route which linked the north to the south of the Co Galway town via the centre.
“People kissed each
other for the first time there . . . you’d be asked if you would walk down the Palace,” Moran explains.
In January 2012, residents, including Moran, found that centuries-old garden walls, mature trees and the Palace Road itself had been replaced by a car park attached to the SuperValu store owned by businessman Joe O’Toole. One of the trees was said to be 200 years old.
No planning permission had been applied for and no notice had been given of an extinction of a public right of way.
“We’d seen the hoardings up, but we’d never questioned it as we thought it was all part of the inner relief road works,” Moran and fellow supporters of the Restore Our Palace Road group explain.
Two years earlier, in April 2010, An Bord Pleanála had granted permission with 27 conditions to O’Toole and his wife Helen, who died recently, for a new shopping centre in the town. The O’Tooles had been in business in Tuam for over 40 years, and this was a flagship project, lodged just before the economic downturn hit. It was put on hold, however, until conditions picked up again.
Some eight years prior to that, in 2002-2003, Galway County Council had begun exploring routes for an inner relief road for Tuam. The final route ran across lands owned by O’Toole and by the Presentation secondary school, but the council had no money to proceed. Recognising that the relief road was essential for his shopping centre development, O’Toole made an agreement with the local authority to fund it.
He supplied and acquired about 95 per cent of the land required, including tennis and basketball courts owned by the school, and sponsored design costs. The school was offered new sports facilities, and O’Toole’s cash input for the road was just over €1 million.
Coffey Construction, which had been engaged by Galway County Council for work on a main drainage scheme, was also awarded the contract for the relief road. The “big dig”, as the Tuam works became known, caused considerable disruption, but the project was completed in December 2011.
A month later, the unauthorised car park appeared, but consultants for O’Toole
say this was a separate private contract with Coffey Construction and the aim was to build it while the company was on hand, and apply for retention afterwards.
Campaign against extinction
The Restore Our Palace Road campaign was formed, with 500 people attending a protest and 197 submissions sent to Galway County Council opposing any right of way extinction.