Northern Ireland

Battle lines over by-pass drawn

Villagers in Slane, County Meath, on the main Londonderry to Dublin road, have long campaigned for a bypass - 22 people have been killed there in the last 20 years.

But as BBC NI Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison now reports, heritage campaigners believe the planned bypass is too close to ancient monuments like Newgrange.

Slane, with its many hanging baskets, is a pretty place, especially when it's bathed in sunshine.

But the village, famous for rock concerts by the green grassy slopes of the Boyne, has a steep descent to the river and many a truck has had problems braking before its narrow bridge.

Villagers like Michele Power has her own reasons for wanting a by-pass.

In March of last year she and her toddler daughter had, in her words, a miraculous escape when a truck crashed.

Image caption Motorists encounter a steep hill, before crossing a narrow bridge

She said she and Trudy had just finished the school run when she heard a lot of bangs.

"I looked in my rear view mirror when I saw a truck coming up behind me pushing a load of cars in my direction.

"It was very scary and I really thought we were going to die," she added.

Motorists passing through the village see 22 white crosses nailed to a stone wall, a reminder about the number of people killed in traffic accidents in Slane over the last two decades.

Joanne Macken, a self-catering accommodation provider, believes a bypass is essential.

"The amount of traffic and lorries is just ruining the village and there have been so many deaths and accidents the sooner we get it the better," she said.

Peadar Hevey, whose house overlooks the bridge, said he has seen so many accidents there that as soon as he hears the familiar bang associated with a crash he just rings "999 before going to see the extent of the injuries. I've seen 95% of all the crashes there".

While there's an acceptance that the village on the main Dublin to Derry road needs to do something about its traffic problem some business people quietly mutter that now in these recessionary times is not the right moment for a bypass that would take away passing trade.

Image caption Some think a by-pass would disturb archaeological sites like Newgrange

Nonsense, said Brian McIvor, who runs his own training company.

"The 1,100 trucks that pass through Slane every day do not do business in Slane. So, that argument does not stack up," he said.

The Republic's National Roads Authority, the NRA, wants to build a dual carriage-way by-pass across the Boyne, not too far from Bru na Boinne, the World Heritage site that includes the ancient monuments of Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange.

For campaigners like Vincent Salafia that is just too much.

He says the bypass would "impact on at least 44 archaeological sites which are probably part of the complex itself".

"We also feel the consultation that is being done for the development should have been north-south because the road goes from north to south and the people of Northern Ireland should have a say about what happens to a world heritage site," he added.

Conor Brady, a villager, can see both sides of the argument because his wife suffered minor injuries in a road accident in Slane and he lectures in archaeology.

But he he said the proposed bypass "is outside the buffer zone".

"The buffer zone isn't officially part of the world heritage site," said Mr Brady.

"When they set up the site this buffer zone was set up to protect the heritage in terms of views and impact of development."

With no decision imminent on whether the Slane bypass will go ahead, the battle lines are now drawn.

Once again difficult issues like road safety and protecting heritage appear set on a collision course - it's a very modern Irish story.