MASS PROTEST AT GOVERNMENT'S FERMOY WEIR PROPOSAL
Over 100 people marched from Fermoy Rowing Club to the Town Hall ahead of last Tuesday’s meeting of the Fermoy Town Council in protest at government proposals to remove the local weir on the River Blackwater, writes Joe Leogue.
The protest came together following an intensive campaign against the directive that saw thousands of flyers handed out to the people of Fermoy.
Fermoy Rowing Club believe that plans by the Department of Communications, Energy and National Resources to remove the weir in Fermoy, in line with European Union directives, will see a significant drop in the water levels of the River Blackwater, thus rendering rowing impossible.
The department’s proposals were presented at a seminar to the public in The Grand Hotel on Wednesday night, where Fermoy Rowing Club also held an alternative seminar outlining the impact they believe the weir will have.
“We will be clarifying what they are proposing and explaining to people what is going to happen,” Fermoy Rowing Club secretary Donal O’Keeffe said this week.
“We have spent months trying to negotiate with these people and have spent a fortune we don’t have on it.”
“How are we supposed to make it to the Olympics?” one young rower asked on the steps of Town Hall last Tuesday night, prompting a reminder of the quality of athletes Fermoy Rowing Club has produced in the past, including Kilworth rower, 3 time Olympian and world championship gold medal winner Gearoid Towey.
Loreto Secondary School student Hillary Shinnick, who has rowed with the club for over three years now, told The Avondhu that she was ‘very concerned’ at the developments, adding that it would be ‘a disgrace’ if the weir were to go.
Club PRO Jim Hackett echoed her sentiments. Describing the directive as coming ‘out of the blue’ two years ago, Mr Hackett said the club were very happy with the turnout and explained the club’s position.
“Our first regatta was held in ’39 and since 1962 the Fermoy regatta has been held every year but this will finish the regatta. The day of the regatta you would have 40 boats there, it would be too dangerous should the weir go, the run off of water would be too fast and we would have to shorten the course. If you shorten the course you will get no clubs to travel to Fermoy,” he said.
“The club is there for 125 years next year, it takes a lot to keep the club going through the years and next thing you know, all of a sudden it could be gone,” he added. Mr O’Keeffe believes the time for compromise has passed.
“Promises made in Fermoy are forgotten in Dublin,” he said of the rowing Club’s ongoing discussions with the department on the matter.
“At this point we feel there have been too many breaches of trust. Furthermore this issue does not belong to the Rowing Club, the weir and river belong to the people of the town, as Mayor Tadhg O’Donovan has said it is a matter for the entire community. We cannot in good conscience, and are not qualified, to negotiate with the Government on this matter on behalf of the town.”
Inside the Town Hall, local Fermoy councillors discussed the protest raging outside. Cllr John Murphy, who is president of the rowing club, described the proposals as an ‘abomination of a plan,’ adding the aesthetic implications the removal of the weir could have on Fermoy.
Having been inundated with calls and lobbied heavily on the issue Cllr Aileen Pyne was concerned at the implication that the nine town councillors have a decisive input on the proposal, but town manager Tom Stritch confirmed that a Ministerial Order can be imposed on the town, with any litigation against the order by the town council resulting in ‘horrendous’ expenses for Fermoy.
Cllr Murphy clarified that there is no blame for the current situation being attributed to the local council, while Cllr Michael Hanley said fishermen are enjoying a high yield of fish without the removal of the weir since the ban on drift net fishing in Youghal, a sentiment supported by Cllr Tim Carey.
“There is no way we can support a disfigurement of the weir as we know it,” Cllr Hanley said. Cllr Seamus Coleman suggested that the Council allow the Ministerial Order to be imposed, suggesting that the Minister responsible would have to justify his decision to the town of Fermoy. Mayor of Fermoy Tadhg O’Donovan questioned the input local TDs have had on the matter.
“This is an issue that should be raised at Dail level because it is at government level that this is being pushed,” the Mayor told members of the council, “This is a fight that must be fought by the entire community.”
Speaking to The Avondhu, Cork East TD Sean Sherlock said he remains unconvinced by the proposal.
"I think the minister needs to visit Fermoy to hear the concerns of the town. I am not convinced that proposals to include the weir work with the flood works is the right way to go and I fear strongly that the local amenity of the rowing club will be undermined by the proposals. I have written to the minister and have asked him to meet with the community on the matter,” Deputy Sherlock said.
Thursday 20th November 5:48pm