Thursday, August 25, 2011

Government folly: Cycling the famine road.

It's been awhile since I've felt compelled in any genuine way to comment on Irish politics, but recently that urge has been getting stronger. With all that has been happening, most of which I have been actively ignoring so as to maintain some sort of stable mental health at this busy time in my life, it took an article on bicycle lanes in today's Irish Times [Thurs, 25th Aug 2011] to make me want to express myself. And so.

Ireland, as the picture above perfectly depicts, has ridiculous, unmaintained cycle lanes. Now, Ireland's "department of transport" would like to invest €4 million in creating more cycle lanes, just like this one above, on national roads in rural Ireland. Despite rational objections from cycling lobbies arguing that it will be a waste of money and is in some cases "wholly inadvisable" the department is planning to forge ahead with it's €4 million 'employment initiative'. To quote the man James Nix of PlanBetter, "...the whole exercise is counter-productive". However, The department said that the suggested postponement of the €4 million scheme is misguided. The department seem quite open about the fact that they don't actually aim to improve cycling facilities at all, but what the investment does reognise is "the overriding need for employment generation given the current economic situation and it is not solely for cycling projects".

Ever hear of a famine road? Well, they are very interesting artifacts indeed. Allow me to quote a passage about famine roads from the aptly titled, Paddy's Lament: 1846 - 1847. Prelude to Hatred by Thomas Gallagher:

Ireland possessed within herself, in her thousands of acres of wasteland, the means of her own regeneration. But the money appropriated by the English government to Ireland's public works (money paid in taxes by Ireland to the English treasury) was not used to reclaim this uncultivated land. Instead it was spent on labour that the law decreed had to be unproductive - that is, on the construction of bridges and piers having no purpose or necessity and on roads that began where there was no need for them and lead to nowhere in particular.

Famine roads and 'follies' were built here during the Irish potato famine as a form of 'poor relief', to provide employment for peasants and unemployed artisans (wiki: folly). As Delores Curran points out in 'Treading the Famine Road' (1995): "Famine roads have existed in unjust cultures throughout time. Promise the victims of injustice relief and redress by inventing useless roles and activities that sap rather than strengthen". Unfortunately, The Irish Department of Transport seem to lack the understanding as to why their idea of spending €4 million on what appears to be a modern day famine road is a bad idea.

This, the wonderful Wonderful Barn in Kildare, is known as a folly, however, according to wiki, a central hole through each of the floors supports the theory that it may have been used as a granary. It makes a good folly though. If I was going to waste my time and energy building something that was supposed to appear useful but be completely useless, I would definitely build a Wonderful Barn. There should be a 'build your own folly' Fás course. Really though, employment initiative? Give me a break.

Photo: mroovka

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