Farmers remove blockades as a deal is hammered out
It's been a tumultuous week on the construction of the Enniscorthy bypass as a dispute between the IFA and the contractors in charge of the project, BAM Dragados, waged on. At its peak, the protest saw blockades erected across the new road at three separate locations, with the goal of seeing work grind to a halt on the motorway altogether. However, on Thursday afternoon, the farmers announced that discussions were ongoing and there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel, leading them to unblock the roads.
This latest bout of action follows on from a blockade at the BAM site offices in Scarawalsh in July and the farmers say that, despite receiving assurances at that stage, there has been no further action from the contractor in relation to a list of some 35 to 40 issues that have arisen for members operating along the length of the bypass, mostly concerning drainage, land access and fencing. This time around the farmers began protesting at the lands of Henry Deacon, just outside Camolin, and things escalated on Tuesday of last week as a second blockade was erected. A degree of secrecy surrounded the location of the second blockade and the press was only informed that it was at Oulart Ard, Monageer, after it had been mounted.
Tensions were running high at the scene as the farmers present vowed that this time, they were digging their heels in until there was a definitive resolution. On either side of the road trucks and 4x4s were forced to turn around as tractors and trailers blocked what is a main artery for ongoing work on the new road. IFA South Leinster Regional Chairman Tom Shortt was one of those manning the barricade and as sandwiches and supplies arrived, the farmers stated that they were willing to stay for as long as it took.
'Farmers are very entrenched on the issue,' Mr Shortt said at the scene. 'This has been going on for too long and we will continue our action until changes are made. The biggest change needed is a change of senior management.'
Mr Shortt pointed out that work on the new road from the New Ross side, being carried out by BAM Cork, was progressing very well and any issues with farmers and landowners were being ironed out as they went along. However, he said that was not the case with the Enniscorthy section of the road, being done by BAM Naas who he accused of 'refusing to engage'. Eventually representatives from BAM arrived at the barricade and heated discussions ensued. They were unwilling to make any statement on the action and asked everyone not directly associated with the protest to leave.
With no resolution in sight, the farmers stepped up their action and erected a third blockade across the new road on Wednesday, this time just off Scarawalsh. At this stage, senior representatives from BAM expressed a willingness to engage and looked to arrange talks with IFA officials. While they asked the farmers to remove their blockades ahead of the meeting, they were reluctant to do this, but removed the one at Scarawalsh as a gesture of good will.
Tense talks followed between both parties and on Thursday morning, a deal was signed and the IFA agreed to remove their blockades. At it's most basic level, it is reported that the deal will provide for greater engagement between farmers and the contractors going forward and work will be carried out to alleviate some of the issues which have dragged on over the last number of months.
'Communication will be greatly improved from this point on,' said IFA County Chairman James Kehoe. 'We will meet regularly with the contractor for progress reports and updates. The ball is firmly in their court now. They have to carry out this work. I'd be cautiously positive that things can now progress.'