Moltaí an Údaráis Faoi Phleanáil

Is beag airde a thug Comhairleoirí Chontae Chonamara ar mholtaí Údarás na Gaeltachta maidir le cúrsaí pleanála. Ag labhairt ag Comhdháil a d'eagraigh Údarás na Gaeltachta, d'iarr Pádraig Ó hAoláin, Príomhfheidhmeannach an Údaráis, nach ndéanfaí aon athrú ar pholasaí reatha na Comhairle Contae maidir le coinníollacha teanga go dtí go mbeadh toradh le feiceáil ar an réimse moltaí a bhí á gcur chun chinn aige féin.

Bhí sé ag moladh go gcuirfeadh an tAire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta agus an tAire Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil grúpa oibre le chéile chun teacht ar thuiscint agus cur chuige comónta faoin nGaeilge sa chóras pleanála sna seacht gcontae ina bhfuil ceantar Gaeltachta iontu.

Mhol sé freisin go gcuirfí síneadh ama leis an bPlean Ceantair atá á ullmhú do Ghaeltacht na Gaillimhe go deireadh na bliana le go bhféadfaí céimeanna áirithe a ghlacadh lena chinntiú go dtiocfaí ar phlean foirfe a bheadh ina eiseamláir do na Gaeltachtaí eile.

Ag an gComhdháil féin bhí buairt na n-ionadaithe pobail a bhí i láthair faoi dhearcadh na gComhairleoirí Contae soiléir. Ardaíodh ceist i ndiaidh ceiste an ar son phobal Chonamara nó forbróirí a bhí na Comhairleoirí ag feidhmiú sa cheist áirithe seo?

In ainneoin na buartha seo ar fad agus achainí Uí Aoláin shocraigh Comhairleoirí Chontae Chonamara rith isteach sa Chomhairle agus mórathruithe a dhéanamh ar an dréachtphlean contae.

Is cinnte nach chun leas na teanga a rachaidh na athruithe seo agus ardaíonn sé an cheist arís faoi cé dhó a raibh na Comhairleoirí ag feidhmiú? Is cinnte go mbeidh a thuilleadh díospóireachta ar an gceist seo.

Lár Sráide Galway Advertiser 3/8/2006

A welcome back to our own people

The voice boomed loud from some inner sanctum. "Let no door stop a Connemara man here!" It's about 20 years ago - Judge Joseph Feeney, a senior judge in the Appeals Court of Boston. I was being checked out at the reception area but the Judge heard the talk and scythed his way through all of that. When would a Connemara man be given such recognition in a judge's office in Ireland, I wondered.

Joe Feeney spent his early childhood years in Lettermore in Connemara. Then he went to America with his family. It is many scores of years ago ‹ a time when it was an uphill battle for emigrants. Joe Feeney worked his way from the bottom to an honoured role in Massachussetts. Did he forget where he came from? You can bet your life he didn't. He continued his close connections with his own people. He would say to you that he did whatever he could for people from "home" in his life and in the legal profession.

I thought of that incident the other night in the Chamber of Galway County Council when the Director of Planning, Paul Ridge asked - "what connection would someone who left as a child have with the area?" Paul Ridge's question was put in the midst of debate about planning permission for returning emigrants as the Galway County Development Review meeting was in progress. Now, let's not get into misunderstandings - Paul Ridge is an able and decent man and he may have been seeing the issue from a different angle. Planning has many angles but I believe that Galway County councillors have taken a historic decision following on this debate.

Great era in this country
The County Development Plan contains the regulations about planning permission throughout the county. But the Council went further than placing a clause in the plan that would facilitate emigrants in getting planning permission for houses in their own local areas in the Galway countryside. The councillors went on to decide that the "immediate" families of emigrants should also be entitled to planning permission - subject to normal planning criteria ‹ in the areas from where their parents emigrated in County Galway. For example ‹ that means that the immediate family of Galway people ‹ sons and daughters who may have been born in Boston, or somewhere else abroad, now have a right to planning permission in the localities from where their parents emigrated. It appears this is the first time that such a decision has been taken in Ireland Šand it is a credit to Galway county councillors - especially to those of the councillors who voted for it.

It is, in so many ways - despite the problems that will inevitably arise - a great period in the history of this country. Only last week, we learned from the Central Statistics Office that our population is now at its highest point since the terrible Famine times of the nineteenth century. Galway's population has gone up 10 per cent in the last four or five years. The curse of emigration and the haunting stories of the American Wake are now but a memory - but they should always be remembered as long as Ireland has a heart and a soul. What better practical way to do that than put the immediate families of our emigrants on the same footing as us at home in the planning regulations in County Galway? And isn't it an appropriate time to do it when Ireland is successful?

Long history and great contribution
Councillor Seán Ó Tuairisg, the Chairman of the Connemara councillors, spoke with fervour and conviction about emigration and the sacrifices made by our emigrants at the Council meeting where the County Plan was reviewed. He said it had to be remembered that a very high percentage of the population in areas in Connemara had emigrated - they had to go, he saidŠand every effort should be made in the planning process to give emigrants and/or their families a chance to come home. Councillors Connie Ní Fhátharta, Seosamh Ó Cuaig, and Séamus Walsh spoke equally strongly. Thomas Welby and Josie Conneely were also with them.

The emigrants who left the poorest areas carried with them a heavier responsibility - they remained a cornerstone of the their communities at home, sending money back regularily. Indeed, that connection to their communities passed forth to other generations. My mother in Connemara and her first cousin in South Boston - a woman who was born and reared in that city - wrote back and forth to each other all through their lives. At Christmas, her cousin in Boston would send some dollars, a vital part of the "American fund" that got us over the threshold until the next year. It was the same with thousands of other families. My mother and her cousin never saw each other in person, for neither of them ever crossed the Atlantic, east or west. Indeed, they never even spoke on the telephone - there certainly was no telephone here - but they "knew" each other all of their lives.

The fact that my mother's cousin in Boston never visited Ireland did not mean that she did not have a very real connection with her parents' community - and know a lot about it.

Mixed voices and views
Some councillors - particularily from east Galway - did not support the vote to give the sons and daughters of emigrants a chance to get planning permission in rural areas in County Galway. Maybe it's because the connection with emigrants may not be as strong as it is in Connemara. All the same, it should be noted that a number of East Galway councillors, particularily on the Fianna Fáil side, it has to be said, strongly supported the move to give the sons and daughter of emigrants away from home, a chance to build at home. They included Councillor Tom Reilly from Tuam who noted that we are welcoming people from many countries to Ireland nowadays and that we should be willing to welcome back our own emigrants and/or their families, even if these family members are living abroad. Councillor Pat Hynes (Independent) from Loughrea - a man whose cousin was a mayor of Boston - also spoke in favour of the Irish diaspora who were born abroad.

In the next couple of months we can expect details from the planning section of Galway County Council about how they intend putting these measures for the family members of emigrants into effect. It will be hoped that this will be a generous and broad interpretation of what has been decided by the councillors. On a cautionary note, Councillor Séamus Walsh, an engineer and the son of emigrants who have spent their lives in England, says he has concerns about the interpretation. "There may be a view in management that this benefit to emigrants' families will not be available in scenic areas and environmentally sensitive areas in the Aran Islands and Connemara (Class 4 and 5 areas)", he says. We'll have to wait and see.

How many of the sons and daughters of emigrants - who were born and reared abroad - will want to build a house in their parent's localities in rural County Galway? It may not be a big number - so this decision may be in part symbolic and in part practical, too. But the opening of the door to the "first generation" abroad is a tribute to the councillors in Co Galway who understand who we areŠand where we have come from.

View from the Hills Galway Advertiser 3/8/2006