30 November 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills.”
Seasoned Fine Gael member of Clones Town Council Peter Mulligan had perhaps the famous words uttered by US President John F Kennedy in the 1960s in mind when he made the audacious proposal on Tuesday that his local authority extend an invitation to JFK’s current successor Barack Obama to visit their town when he attends the G8 summit planned for Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh next year.
Scoffers will contend that there is more prospect of the Clones Council mounting their own moon landing than there is President Obama being seen in the Diamond or Fermanagh Street.
They are probably right, but maybe they are missing an important point.
We’ll be lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the US President or any of the other world leaders participating in the summit through the dense security blanket that will envelop them during their time in neighbouring Fermanagh.
But the heads of state will be accompanied by heavy-hitting entourages of senior officials and advisers with significant policy influence, a delegation of whom could surely be inveigled away to participate in a fact-finding tour of the Irish border region if the relevant local authorities here and in the North came together to organise it.
There is in Colr Mulligan’s proposal the germ of a very good idea, one that we would commend to the Clones Erne East cross-Border partnership body in particular to examine and further in the months ahead.
Clones itself deserves to be a prominent fixture on the itinerary of any tour for the G8 officials – it is emblematic of communities the world over which have historically had to contend with the particular problems of border proximity and peripherality.
The town has experienced a sundering from its natural hinterland because of partition, and has taken the front line brunt of the economic and political turbulence that partition has been heir to.
The lessons it has learned along the way, the fortitude and innovation it has had to develop, and the role it has come to play in the developing reconciliation with our neighbours that gives vital impetus to the ongoing peace-building work on our island makes the Clones story one that the G8’s research groups and policy framers could beneficially investigate.
Colr Mulligan is certainly on to something – if Clones Town Council and their Co Fermanagh counterparts pursue a pragmatically adapted form of his proposal with vigour, they might not hit the moon but they could very beneficially reach out to some of the G8’s lesser but nonetheless influential stars.

The increased environmental consciousness that now permeates Irish society rests somewhat uneasily alongside our increasingly slavish devotion to the motorcar.
The two- and even three-car household is a depressing commonplace – less a symbol of affluence and status these days than a necessity dictated by the tyrannies of the workplace, the school and the ever-expanding network of social and human contacts we strive to maintain.
The amputation of a limb would be easier to cope with for many than the sacrifice of a car, even though it would be readily admitted that a great deal of financial pressure and ambient stress would vanish along with the motor.
There are compelling health and environmental arguments for reducing the number of vehicles on Irish roads, and lessening the time we spend behind the wheel of the remainder but, like smoking, the car habit once acquired can be hellishly difficult to break even in full appreciation of the knowledge of the harm it is doing to ourselves and others.
In Monaghan Town, help for the car-addicted is coming on stream.
The recent Town Council meeting was given an outline of a new walking and cycling strategy to be implemented as part of the Active Travel Town initiative.
This will see the development over time of a network of walking and cycling routes, complementary to the 4km ‘Greenway’ that will come into being as part of the redevelopment of the Ulster Canal, and which will certainly improve the facilities currently at the disposal of townspeople who walk, jog or cycle as a fitness or leisure pursuit.
Key to the strategy is reducing the number of short-distance car journeys that people habitually take by offering them safe and quality alternatives to make the trip by foot or bike.
There are certain natural advantages to successfully implementing this form of plan in Monaghan, where the topography is mainly level and key destinations are within reasonable walking or cycling distance of its compactly distributed population.
But a significant behavioural change will have to be effected to make the plan succeed – to encourage people to forego their cars for shorter trips, and to conciliate the somewhat adversarial relationship that exists between motorists on the one hand and walkers and cyclists on the other.
Driver attitudes to pedestrians and cyclists are often poor – examples of impatience and intolerance can be seen daily on local roads.
But those who walk or cycle in the proximity of traffic without the proper visibility garb or safety consciousness are also at fault – as are those cyclists who use public footpaths as their highway with selfish disregard for the law and the safety of unsuspecting pedestrians.
Unless the etiquette of the road is more willingly embraced by all users than it is at the present time in Monaghan, the new strategy will only be grudgingly tolerated by car users and less than enthusiastically availed of by those who walk or cycle.
And that would be a great pity – this is an excellent plan with an apparently secure source of ongoing funding possessing the potential to positively and lastingly enhance the urban environment of the town.
Hopefully, it will attract enthusiastic community ‘buy in’ – and a ‘greening of the roads’ will result from which all users will benefit.

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