Protest at Dargle River, 2004
When taxed with their lack of repair and maintenance on the Dargle River since the last major flood in 1986, some Bray Town councillors immediately respond with:-
“Look at what happened when we tried to carry out work on the river last year.”
The first, and most obvious, thing that has to be said about this is that they are blaming one protest, on one day, in one year, for 19 years of neglect.
Nobody can seriously defend this record, and so it is easier to point the finger at that one incident, than to account for all those years of neglect.
What happened on the Dargle River at the end of July 2004, though…?
Bray People Report
According to a report in the Bray People of 12th August, 2004, "there was uproar" as "Bray locals, residents and councillors from Sinn Fein and the Green Party tried to halt the work of a JCB digger and two tree surgeons on the Dargle River.
"People from the Dargle Restoration Project and councillors protested against the felling of trees and the amount of wildlife that was disrupted".
"According to Bray Town Council", the report added, "the work is part of the Barry report which was published soon after Hurricane Charlie, which caused extensive damage to the areas surrounding the river.
"But residents and other councillors are arguing that there had to be a better way of restoring the area, along with work to prevent future flooding", it concluded.
Dargle Restoration Project
We asked people who were there on the day to fill out that picture, a year later.
They phoned Bray Town councillors, and representatives of the Dargle Anglers, when they discovered that a JCB with a cutting arm was driving up and down the river, shredding trees and bushes along the bank. Two other workers, using chain saws, were also clearing the river banks. This was at a time when this protective growth was vital to the young of the Dargle's plentiful and diverse wildlife, then only a few months old.
One observer summed up the reaction:- "It was far too severe at that time. They came and started to take all the cover off the banks."
Representatives of the Dargle Anglers Club in turn contacted the Town Engineer, Peter Phelan, who gave them some guarantees as to how the work would be carried out.
The anglers had explained that, while they advocate flood prevention and protection as part of their club policy, they believe it needs to be combined with natural resource protection and conservation.
To this end, the anglers are still "trying to progress" a river management plan, according to committee member, Eamonn O'Toole.
The river bank is cleared by a what onlookers described as 'a JCB with a cutting arm' but which we have been informed is actually a 'Deutz Agrotron with a rear mounted Flail cutter'
Protecting our Wildlife
...And a supervised river management plan would, apparently, have prevented the protest that erupted that day in July in the People's Park.
Wild life experts generally agree that work on clearing river banks - where it is necessary because of the danger of flooding - needs to be carried out gradually.
"You have to give wildlife time to find alternative refuge", explains one wildlife conservationist.
Yet the river banks along the Dargle hadn't been cleared at all in the previous four years, despite the flood protection recommendations of the Barry Report.
This report actually laid out a river management plan, which has simply not been implemented. It included recommendations for the kind of planting that should take place along the river bank.
Cllr. John Brady of Sinn Fein, who also responded to local residents' calls, explains:-
"The work the council carried out was supposed to be part of the annual maintenance work, as per the Barry report. But leading up to that nobody on the Council could, or would, give - or even show me - a copy of the report.
"When I did manage to get the Barry report, although not from the Council, it said that the river channel should be kept clear, but it also said that a planting programme must be put in place to stabilize the river banks. They advised the use of willows and different grasses, but the council had nothing like that worked out."
Both Cllr. Brady and Green Party councillor, Deirdre deBurca, were concerned by the fact that they knew nothing about work being carried out on the river, and both contacted the Council. They were told that this work was part of 'routine maintenance' - even though the last time the routine had been performed turned out to be four years earlier.
Both say that the Acting Town Clerk at the time, David Forde, agreed that the work would stop for 24 hours, and Cllr. deBurca says she received the same assurance from the Town Engineer.
Both called on the Council to stop the work until they could meet with officials - which was the following day, as Cllr. deBurca was working in Dublin at the time.
Instead, the work resumed after lunch, so Cllr. Brady returned to the park, where he rejoined the Dargle Project representatives who were still there. They were then joined by Green Party councillor, Caroline Burrell, who had been contacted by Cllr. deBurca.
"Myself, Caroline and Liz tried to reason with the contractor without much success", recalls Cllr. Brady. "At that stage myself and Liz climbed down to the river bank and made our way to the JCB, through the river. We talked to the driver, who agreed to stop straight away. The driver asked myself and Liz to climb onto the JCB, and he would give us a lift up the river onto the bank. We did and we left the driver on good terms. Work came to a complete stop at that stage."
Discussion - at last
The following day, Cllrs. deBurca and Brady, and Dargle Project representative, Sandra Griffiths, had a meeting with the Town Clerk and Town Engineer.
"It was agreed that the bulk of the work had been carried out, and that the workmen should finish cleaning around the area", recalls Cllr. Brady, who points out that: "The timber they cut down had been either thrown into the river or left on the banks, and actually posed a serious risk as - if they jammed under the bridge or elsewhere - this could have caused a damming effect, having serious repercussions."
Cllr. deBurca recalls that the Town Engineer explained at that meeting that 28,000 euros had been set aside for these works in the previous year's budget by the previous council.
In January, 2004, Councillors David Grant, John Byrne, and a Labour coalition had all written to Coburg resident, Herbert Wright, claiming that they had supported an increase in funding in that year's Estimates for repair and maintenance on the river. Amounts ranged from '21,000 euro for resilting the Slang' plus 'a sum in the region of 20,000 for the cleaning, upkeep and maintenance of River Dargle', downwards, but all claimed to have supported an increase in expenditure.
If this kind of money has been allocated to maintenance and repair on the Dargle each year - from Bray Town Council alone - why is the river in such an appalling state of neglect?
Openess, transparency and accountability
...And we all need to understand what way the river is being managed... Openess, transparency, and accountability should not just be a mantra in local politics - it should be a reality.
Timber lying on