25 September 1997 Edition

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More children injured in Poleglass

By Laura Friel
RUC and DOE opposition to the introduction of traffic calming measures in Belfast's Poleglass and Twinbrook estates has claimed another four victims.

"The RUC are blocking the introduction of humps and chicanes designed to reduce traffic speed," said Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Ferguson, "while the DOE is refusing to provide pedestrian crossings."

Last Friday, representatives from resident groups in Poleglass, Twinbrook and Lagmore, supported by local Sinn Féin councillors, met with Sindy Noble, DOE traffic calming officer responsible for the area. During a four hour meeting, the DOE rejected every proposal presented by the community. "Where residents requested the introduction of one hump at the entrance of Summerhill and Thornhill, the DOE argued they were only effective in a series; where we requested a series of humps along Glenbawn Avenue, they said that was blocked by the RUC," said Councillor. Ferguson. "While we were actually at the meeting, another DOE officer, John McGowen, told BBC radio the DOE was opposing pedestrian crossings because people wouldn't use them anyway."

Two weeks ago 9-year-old Sean Taggart was injured as he crossed the Bellsteel Road to school. Last week 8-year-old Sarah Jane O'Hare narrowly escaped death when a car travelling at speed skided to avoid her along Dunmurry Lane. Less than 24 hours later, 15-year-old Barry McGill was injured in a traffic accident outside Poleglass's St. Kieran's School. A cyclist was knocked to the ground in collision with a car on the Stewartstown Road.

To date there have been three children killed, one permanently maimed and many more injured in road traffic accidents in the Poleglass area. A residential area on the outskirts of West Belfast, Poleglass and Twinbrook house over 20,000 people. Poleglass has one of the highest percentages of children under five in the Six Counties. Local residents have been campaigning for basic road safety facilities for over four years.

Local community worker Tommy Ramsey said DOE Minister Lord Dubbs spoke briefly to residents during a recent picket of the DOE Headquaters. "We impressed upon him the urgent need to act swiftly," said Tommy, "Ironically, Lord Dubbs admitted to having addressed a school on the issue of road safety only an hour before." The minister said he sympathised with the residents' fear for their children's safety and he would do what he could to resolve the matter. "Sympathy is all very well," said Ferguson, "but regardless of the RUC's veto, the DOE have a statutory obligation to facilitate road safety measures in the Poleglass/Twinbrook area."

The DOE's offer to introduce more road markings has been described by local people as "derisory". "It appears that the DOE are still unwilling to offer this community little more than buckets of paint to address the life and death problem of road safety despite a recent spate of road traffic accidents involving local children," said Andree Murphy of the Greater Twinbrook and Poleglass Road Safety Campaign. Responding to the DOE claim that residents' 'all or nothing' intransigence was the real block to progress, Andree said. "The DOE are trying to marginalise this community's right to protect their children. The issue is too important to engage in this kind of point scoring by the DOE."

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