Sunday Independent

TO fell or not to fell, that is the question. The O' Connell street trees, that is.

Victoria Mary Clarke

Two years ago, the Sunday Independent launched a 'Save the Trees' campaign to stop the remaining ten mature trees at the north end ofO' Connell Street in Dublin from joining their compatriot trees at the other end. They were executed in order to facilitate work on the Luas and on the Spire.

The campaign provoked an enormous and highly emotional response from the Irish public. Marian Finucane broadcast live from O' Connell Street, where she conducted a poll which came out overwhelmingly in favour of saving the trees.

Bono - who is seldom seen without shades - said we would miss the shade of the old trees. A whole host of campaigners urged members of the public to take their clothes off, paint themselves blue and chain themselves to the trees. Luckily, this was unnecessary, as the trees were granted a stay of execution.

Imagine my surprise, when I opened the paper and discovered that the ten mature trees which I thought we had saved are due to be axed as part of the continuing regeneration of O'Connell Street.

I immediately contacted the City Manager's office and asked to be put through to Paul Maloney, the council's central area manager, the man in charge of plans for the new O'Connell Street. He was in a meeting, I was told.

In any case, it would not be possible to make an appointment with him on this number as my query was in relation to O' Connell Street, a matter that he would deal with on another number.

If I rang the other number, would I be able to make an appointment to speak to him? No, I was told, because they wouldn't handle his diary at that other number.

I wanted to find out why phase two of the plan involved the removal of the trees when the council had already voted to save them.

More importantly, I wanted to know what could be done to save the trees. After many, many hours going back and forth between different officials, on different numbers, I understood one thing very clearly - we may be living in a democracy, but it is only the tenacious ones who get through the red tape.

If our city councillors want to cut down trees, they will, no matter what you feel about it. You may think they depend on your vote, and therefore care what you think. But as the case of the O'Connell Street trees proves, this is not how things work in reality.

For one thing, two years have elapsed since the public outcry. And it is easy to get excited about issues, but it is not easy to sustain that level ofexcitement.

Of those in favour of saving the trees, only a small percentage took the time to write to the Government. Of those that did, very few will have been literate enough to make an impression.

Many of those who were highly emotional two years ago will have now found other crusades. I called Marian Finucane to see if she was still concerned. Her producer rang me back to say they hadn't made up their minds yet about their position.People lose interest.

Many people will have seen the work that has been carried out for phase one of theO' Connell street plan, and will be impressed enough to have modified their views.

Paul Maloney points out that the new plan incorporates the planting of 73 trees, a factor which must be taken into consideration.

Possibly the public don't know what's good for them until they see it, just like mummy was right when she said we should brush our teeth.

But if, after two years, you still want to see the old trees saved, what do you do? Should you write letters, chain yourself to trees, or what? Saving the trees is not that simple. Members of the public are asked to fill in a comment form at the Civic Offices ( also available on the internet at www.dublincity.ie). But public consultation is not a public referendum, it is merely an opportunity to air your views.

So who has the final say? The answer is that it will be an executive decision, Hugh Fahey from the Lord Mayor's office told me. That means it is ultimately John Fitzgerald, the city manager, who willdecide. He is answerable only to the Department of theEnvironment.

If you want to know who to call, the only person who can really save the O'Connell Street trees is Martin Cullen.

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