Drop new Mayo national park name, demands TD

‘Change made without consultation’

Sligo News File

Mayo Sinn Fein TD Rose Conway-Walsh

A Sinn Fein Dail deputy has denounced a government department decision to change the name of the national park in West Mayo.

Speaking in the Dail, Rose Conway-Walsh told Minister of State James Browne who was standing in for Heritage Minister Darragh O’Brien that the name change has angered the people of Ballycroy “and its diaspora throughout the world.”

She said: “There are many things that need to be fixed in Ballycroy and County Mayo, including broadband, mobile phone coverage, roads, housing and health. However, one of the things that did not need to be fixed was the name of Ballycroy National Park, which has been changed to Wild Nephin National Park.”

Questioning who had made the decision and when it was made, nobody, she said, asked for it and nobody was consulted about it. “When we know that, I will expect that person to reverse or overturn the decision.”

The Minister said that in December 2017, the Department with responsibility for heritage announced the expansion of Ballycroy National Park to include the area known as Wild Nephin.“This expansion was the result of a long-standing collaborative project between Coillte and the NPWS of the Department. The addition of the Wild Nephin area and, separately, a private acquisition of 1,200 acres at Altnabrocky have expanded the total size of the park to more than 15,000 ha of the Nephin Beg mountain range. The expansion adds significantly to the overall biological diversity of the national park, which will be augmented further under park conservation management.

The acquisitions, he said, “also mean that some 65% of State-owned lands making up the park are outside the Ballycroy catchment area. Of the circa 15,000 ha making up the national park, 33% is in the parish of Ballycroy, 26% is in the parish of Kiltane, approximately 20% is in the parish of Burrishoole and 20% in the parish of Crossmolina. Included in this are the 4,200 ha leased from Coillte and the acquisition at Altnabrocky, neither of which is within the parish of Ballycroy.

He stated that name change “is intended to assist the integration of the original park and the newly acquired land fully into the Nephin Beg mountain range in the north Mayo landscape, to integrate with all the communities in the townlands in question and to provide a clearer indication of the location to tourists and reduce confusion, especially in terms of the Nephin wilderness area.”

Deputy Conway-Walsh said the Minister had not answered any of her questions. She and Deputy Dara Calleary  asked “who made the decision, when it was made and whether it is going to be overturned or reversed. Nobody has asked for this. If there is nobody capable, within the Department or politically, of marketing, advertising and branding Ballycroy National Park, and the name needs to be changed to Wild Nephin National Park when nobody asked for it, then its capacity needs to be looked at seriously.

“Why does this Government do these things to people? Why does it insult people, when national parks and wildlife and Government have enjoyed the co-operation of landowners and people around the national park? For many years, relationships have been built up but they have been destroyed.”

Dara Calleary, TD, Ballina

Deputy Calleary said Ballycroy National Park was established in 1998, and the visitor centre at Ballycroy was opened in 2009. “At establishment, it had 11,000 ha of some of the most rare and precious bogland in the world and that was to be at its heart. There was never any difficulty with the name Ballycroy National Park.” Ballycroy, he submitted, was “a centre and a community. It was the people of the area who campaigned for the visitor centre in the first instance. It was they who put their land up and who are the guarantors of the land we are supposed to be protecting.

“The national park was added to in 2017 with another 4,000 ha from a Coillte industrial process. That is now being used as the reason the name of the park needs to be changed to Wild Nephin National Park. We are also being told by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, that Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park is too long. I point out to the Minister of State that there is a national park in Scotland named Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Killarney National Park comprises 10,500 ha that extend way beyond Killarney but nobody is suggesting removing Killarney from its name.

“This decision speaks to more than just a name. Deputy Conway-Walsh referred to the lack of consultation. Nobody will take responsibility for this. The fact that a decision such as this can be made without any engagement with the community or public representatives speaks to a system that thinks it is not answerable to anybody. It speaks to a system that thinks it does not have to answer for decisions. That is happening across so many areas. As Deputy Conway-Walsh stated, the name of the national park is incredibly important to the people of Ballycroy and its diaspora, but this is also about the principle of how this was and is being done.

“There is a hope that we will go away and accept it. I know that Deputy Conway-Walsh and I will not do that. It was previously agreed that it would be known as the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park. Why was that changed and who changed it?”

When the extra land was added, it was identified for rewilding, he said. “Experts proved at that time that the direct participation of local communities would be essential to rewilding. With this decision, the NPWS is destroying participation by communities. It needs to be stopped now.”

The Minister said he had heard the Deputies’ questions and comments and would convey them to O’Brien.