Check against delivery
Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be here today to officially open the Newport-Mulranny cycle and walkway.
But before I talk about the cycleway itself, I want to say a few words about Smarter Travel.
In early February last year, I launched the Government’s Smarter Travel Policy. It is a far-reaching document that sets out a path to achieving a sustainable transport system in Ireland.
One of the most important reasons for moving towards a more sustainable transport system in Ireland is that we have international commitments to greatly reduced Green House Gas emissions in the years to 2020.
The transport sector accounts for around 36% of energy related Green House Gas emissions, and so it is essential that emissions reductions be achieved in the sector.
However, emissions reduction is only one of the motivations behind Smarter Travel. There are many other benefits to progressing sustainable transport in Ireland – better civic spaces in villages towns and cities, reduced congestion, increased energy security, and a transport system that encourages and facilitates people to make healthier, more active, travel choices.
Smarter Travel is all about creating a new mindset in how we travel in Ireland and putting in place the measures that are necessary to achieve this. The car will remain a vital part of our transport system, but we must seek to ensure that people choose more sustainable modes whenever possible.
Along with walking, cycling is the most sustainable of transport choices. This was recognised in Smarter Travel, and following on from the Smarter Travel Policy, Ireland’s First National Cycle Policy Framework was published on 20th April 2009.
The vision of the Cycle Policy was simple but ambitious – “to create a culture of cycling in Ireland”. The target of the policy is to have 10% of all trips in 2020 by bicycle.
I believe that Newport-Mulranny route shows us exactly the type of project that will help us achieve this vision. The 18km route will not only attract people from all over Ireland to cycle it but it will also facilitate local people to take up cycling for both leisure and transport. It is by changing mindsets in this way that we will achieve the target of having 10% mode share for bicycle by 2020.
Not only is this route a perfect example of the type of project that will assist in creating a culture of cycling in Ireland, it also illustrates the cross Governmental approach that underlies the Smarter Travel policy. In addition to funding from my Department, both Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Community Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs contributed funding for this route.
This is a recognition that the route can achieve many things - encourage those who have not cycled in years to start cycling, provide a further attraction in the area for both Irish and international tourists, and provide business opportunities for the local community. Indeed, on the latter point, not only am I aware that a cycle hire shop has recently opened in Westport which employs three people. I also know that one of my Department’s Smarter Travel team took a recent short holiday here in this very hotel, and he heard many of the guests talking about this wonderful new route.
So the route is already making an impact!
Having complemented the approach of central Government in facilitating the delivery of this route, I have to note that the main reason for the success of this project is the enthusiasm for the project at a local level.
There is a group of extremely committed people working in Mayo County Council who have carried out superb work to ensure the success of this project. This team moved from a broad vision of a cycle route along the old rail-line to actual delivery of 18km of the route in less than a year. This involved so much more than a 9 to 5 day – and the team deserve huge praise for their commitment.
But without doubt, it is the local community themselves, and in particular land-owners along the route, who have contributed most to this project. Without the commitment and good will of local landowners, this project would not have progressed beyond a line on a map. This good will means that one of the best leisure amenities in our country is right on your door steps. It also means that many other people will get to experience the beautiful landscape of the area as they cycle the route.
I therefore want to personally thank the landowners for their vision, commitment, generosity and support in facilitating in the delivery of this route.
I am aware that there is potential to further develop this route from Mulranny on to Achill Sound and from Newport on to Westport, and I hope that the success of this 18km route will mean that the development of a 42km route is possible in the near future.
I believe that the Newport-Mulranny route offers a vision of the future. As people from all over Ireland make use of this route, I am sure it will act as a catalyst for other routes to be developed all across the country. Not only will this remove the barriers in peoples’ minds when it comes to cycling, it will greatly increase the attractiveness of Ireland as a tourism destination, and create jobs in local economies.
It is an example of the joined up public service which we so often speak of and an illustration of the benefits which it can deliver.
I would again like to thank everyone who has helped make this route a reality, and look forward to seeing huge numbers of cyclists out enjoying the route, and to seeing the benefits that this and similar projects can bring to us all.