The community who held a peaceful protest last Saturday to restore access to the Great Arch at Fanad has been left in a state of shock and anger. The Gardai at Milford stand accused of creating ‘An Arch of Fear’ with their heavy duty presence at the small community walk over a blocked off turnstile, according to John McAteer in this week’s Tir Chonaill Tribune.
The Garda operation is now the subject of questions to the Minister for Justice and as their Press Office palms off all complaints and queries with a ‘no comment’ line, the issue will be raised in the Oireachtas in an attempt to extract details about who created an alert where none existed.
And as three Garda vehicles converged on this small community last Saturday on one of Ireland’s last outposts in the EU, their actions rekindled the notorious Mobile Phone Riots in the nearby village of Kerrykeel close to twenty years ago.
In that debacle in December 1998 the late Deputy Harry Blaney was unceremoniously thrown to the ground by a Garda Sergeant while Ian McGarvey and a number of others were dragged by the scruff of their necks along the pavement and into a Paddy Wagon.
In the end the presence of around seventy members of the Force were told to go home since no mobile mast was to be erected on the mast at Kerrykeel Garda Station.
Rather worryingly there has never been any investigation into the Garda actions or behaviour during the course of two protests over the phone mast row in Kerrykeel.
That dispute came after Esat was awarded the country’s mobile phone license using every Garda mast in the land without any recourse to the concerns of community living in close proximity – many of them suffering from cancer.
In such small communities, memories linger on and people believe and often with good reason that officialdom works to silence their voices and they point to a varied number of experiences in recent years.
The small Pollaid community believes the presence of such a Garda operation was an attempt to criminalise them and ‘put them back in their boxes’ and they have turned to political sources in an effort to get answers as to why they were treated in this manner.
Senator Padraig MacLochlainn and Cllr. Ian McGarvey were in attendance on Saturday with apologies from Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, Leas Cheann Comhairle and Cllr. Aidy Glackin.
Meanwhile a legal notice warning that entry to the Great Arch turnstile is prohibited remains in place. A number of no parking and private property have not been removed.
And to underline the lack of access a group of German visitors who’d been wandering around local roads on Wednesday morning were eventually directed towards the Great Arch.
We found them reading the red letter legal sign warning “Unauthorised Entry Is Prohibited”. And despite assurances they turned away fearing any threat of prosecution.
This situation presents a highly negative impression for visitors who’ve been left with very little access to Fanad’s renowned marine sites as walking routes and rights of access have virtually been put out of bounds to the public in recent years.
The presence of three Garda vehicles and at least six officers has led to accusations that this was an attempt by Garda authorities to criminalize a law abiding townland in a remote area of Fanad whose complaints have been either ignored or rejected out of hand.
Adding to the policing farce was the arrival of a second patrol car and two Gardai from Dungloe. The round trip was in the region of 150 kilometres and a time of two and a half hours. And adding to the comedy was the fact that not one officer needed to put a foot outside of their vehicles during the afternoon.
Apart from the Garda activity the main concern in the area relates to the best promotion possible for the Lighthouse where one million Euros has been spent to make it a signature point on the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Great Arch in Pollaid is a vital link in that chain of tourism promotion in Fanad and any attempt to close it down will have a very detrimental impact on visitors numbers at the three accommodation units at the Lighthouse where the next main attraction was the walk over the sea cliffs to Pollaid.
The Garda operation was compounded by the arrival of a patrol car all the way from Dungloe with two officers on board. They joined another car from Milford as a third vehicle searched local roads seeking access to the Arch.
As a consequence of the Garda actions, Senator Padraig MacLochlainn and Cllr. Ian McGarvey who were present for the walk have lodged a series of complaints with Garda authorities; the Minister for Justice, Donegal County Council and others.
Meanwhile, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, Leas Cheann Comhairle who was unavailable on Saturday has offered his good offices to pursue a solution and hopes to engage in dialogue with interested parties as soon as possible.
Speaking from Leinster House on Wednesday afternoon he told the Tribune: “I am available as Leas Cheann Comhairle to assist in any way possible in which I can help to secure an outcome to the satisfaction of all concerned.”
Members of the Pollaid community have also registered complaints: not only about the strength of the Garda presence but also seeking an investigation into why their traditional right of access was closed down without notice.
Meanwhile the boulders have been removed; replaced and removed again. However a legal notice of trespass and a number of other signs warning about private property, no parking and barbed wire remained in place earlier in the week.
Both Cllr. McGarvey and Senator MacLochlainn have also expressed their shock with the large Garda presence which they described as not needed, unwarranted and an insult to the community who deserve a clear apology and a full explanation about whom or what triggered this fake alert.
And as the name of the Gardai across the country has reached an all time low, it is clearly evident from last Saturday’s operation in Fanad that the Force is completely out of touch with local communities, said Senator MacLochlainnn.
He said that a number of key access routes closed down must be revisited by the Council and the relevant bodies and stakeholders.
“In Dunfanaghy the legendary McSwine’s Gun Loop at Hornhead and stretching for six miles remains closed: The Aghadachor closure has not been resolved: the Seven Arches near Portsalon must be revisited in an effort to find access there and the lack of parking spaces at Drumnacraig Beach has also got to be addressed,” he added.
In his correspondence to the Minister for Justice: Senator MacLochlainn said: “I wish to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is aware of public consternation in Co. Donegal at the decision of An Garda Síochána to deploy three Garda vehicles (two cars and a van) and numerous Garda personnel to the scene of a small and peaceful protest at the approach road to the Pollet Arch, Fanad, Co. Donegal last Saturday afternoon, 24th June 2017, attended by the local community and public representatives; further to ask the Minister if he will make a statement on the matter?”
Meanwhile Cllr. McGarvey says that closed rights of access such as those in Fanad and elsewhere is a contradiction in what the Wild Atlantic Way is all about.
“Community rights continue to be eroded with every passing year and it is the responsibility and us, as Cllrs. to take these issues on board. Otherwise our fragile tourism potential is doomed,” he stated.
It is reported that the landowners with lands leading to the Fanad Arch are resident in the USA.
During their recent visit the turnstile was immobilised with boulders, rock and debris as visitors to the Wild Atlantic Way signature point at Fanad Lighthouse were turned away.
Local talk of their forefathers using this ‘right of way’ as far back as a hundred years ago to gather carrageen moss and dulse at the Great Arch.
The Lighthouse has been promoting this walk over the past year without any problems arising apart from a missing Council sign at the entrance to the no through road.
This situation has led to chaos for visitors who are left to drive around virtually lost seeking directions.
One week ago a notice was posted on Facebook noting: “March to the Arch”
The community event was to establish their unhindered right of passage. On Saturday around fifty local neighbours and their friends walked down the pathway to the seashore without any other intent or purpose.
A Facebook petition added to the publicity and that is ongoing and a meeting is taking place on Friday night in conjunction with “Keep Ireland Open”.
Declan Dorrian of the organising group said: “The recent events have sparked outrage amongst locals and visitors alike. The Great Arch is a huge tourist attraction for many years with access never being a problem for the generations before us.”
Then as high noon approached in Pollaid the mysterious arrival of one local patrol car went without comment until two further Garda vehicles arrived…with nothing to do or no explanation for their presence.
Detailed queries on behalf of the community put to the Gardai by politicians and the Tribune have met with the standard: “An Garda Siochana does not comment on operational matters.”
Meanwhile Cllr. McGarvey has raised the issue by letter with the Council’s Chief Executive saying:
I am writing to you with regard to the closure of the turnstile at the Great Arch.
Relating to his personal experience there last Saturday.
Cllr. McGarvey said: “An organised visit to The Pollet Great Arch, met with obstruction of access to the site, by way of the turnstile blocked by stone and rubble. Trespass notices and no entry signs were evident everywhere and barbed wire on the padlocked gate prevented normal use of the usual access path.
“At the same time two groups of visitors were greeted with the presence of two Garda patrol cars, a Paddy Wagon and these people departed in a hurry. At a time when officialdom is promoting the Wild Atlantic Way, surely the denial of access to our most scenic marine locations is a contradiction of attempts and investment towards a sustainable future for remote places like Fanad.
“This turnstile was put there by Donegal County Council over forty years ago as was a signpost at the end of the road… that is now removed and I wish to know why it was not replaced.
“This has been a recognised access route since Famine Times and as such it is heavily promoted by the Management at Fanad Head Lighthouse as an attraction for the guests staying in their three apartments.
“It must be again pointed out that Fanad’s other great tourism attraction; ‘The Seven Arches’ has also been closed to the public in recent years. Again this was a recognised right of way until recent times.
“I have been asked to request a report on the position of access to the Pollet Great Arch from the Council. The local community can only see this kind of action as yet another denial of their basic rights and from a tourism point of view it is a disaster.
“These sites are of immense interest to visitors coming at a time when there has been very important investment €1 million investment at Fanad Lighthouse and these aforemented attractions are links in the Lighthouse project for the future.
“Council cones were used last week to block off parking access at the Pollaid site and the community wishes to know who authorized this kind decision
“I intend to raise this at Council level and I am aware there is enough legislation to allow it Council dealt with this by agreement or otherwise, as this Great Arch must be the only such attraction anywhere. I know all of us are aware of the development at Fanad Lighthouse who depend so much on these attractions,” Cllr. McGarvey concluded.Tags: