Study to be carried out on location of proposed airstrip


Controversial plans to build an airstrip on Roundstone Bog in Connemara have taken a new twist, with a decision by the Minister of State for the Gaeltacht and the Islands to commission an independent study on the location. The Minister, Mr Eamon O Cuiv, also intends to commission a management plan for Roundstone Bog. The 25 square-mile blanket bog, encompassing about 100 small lakes between Roundstone, Ballyconneely, Clifden and Ballynahinch, is of major ecological importance and has world heritage status.

The Minister of State has committed himself to improving transport for islanders, and is in favour of building an airstrip to service residents of Inishturk, Inishbofin and Clare Island.

The independent study, which will be undertaken on behalf of Duchas, the Heritage Service, will examine possible sites within a 10-mile radius of Clifden, and will also examine the question of ownership. Currently, business interests in Clifden are associated with the proposed venture.

The backers, including Mr Paul Hughes of the Abbeyglen Hotel, were behind the original proposal eight years ago to build an airport at Ardagh in the north-west corner of Roundstone Bog. The plan aroused much opposition, both nationally and internationally, due to the fragile nature of the landscape.

That planning application was turned down by Galway County Council when the Office of Public Works designated the location as an Area of Scientific Interest. Although the Supreme and High Courts found that the OPW had acted unconstitutionally, the developers abandoned the idea.

The new initiative involves a proposed land swap, whereby the Ardagh site would be surrendered to Duchas in return for "degraded" bogland to the south at Derrygimlagh. Whereas Ardagh is within a proposed Special Area of Conservation, Derrygimlagh is not - but is still part of the Roundstone Bog complex.

The proposal, made earlier this year, has attracted criticism from environmentalists, including cartographer and author Mr Tim Robinson of the Save Roundstone Bog Campaign, schoolteacher Mr Leo Hallissey, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Earthwatch, VOICE, Plantlife, the Conservation Council in London and wildlife experts including Prof David Bellamy, Eamon de Buitlear and Prof Victor Westhoff.

Mr O Cuiv's move is aimed at reaching a compromise which will not pose a threat to the environment, while also meeting the needs of islanders, and Clifden-based services for the islands.

The management plan for Roundstone Bog would be the first of its type. And if an alternative site can be found for the airstrip, it may quell environmental fears.