Walkway plan for kids with autism

Cork County Council officials are looking at the possibility of creating a special walkway for children with autism, which is believed would be the first of its type in the country.

Cllr Christopher O'Sullivan: "I thought it was worth pursuing."

It would entail closing a section of public road once a week to ensure that there is no noise from passing traffic, which could upset the children.

Officials said they were very supportive of the suggestion made by Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan to set up the walkway in woodland at Castlefreke, near Clonakilty.

Mr O’Sullivan said a group of parents had approached him with the idea.

They have pinpointed a section of laneway which runs between two lodges near Castlefreke Castle for the project.

I thought it was worth pursuing. It’s a very peaceful area, but traffic volumes are quite heavy and engine noises would be disturbing for the children,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

He said they were asking to close the nearby road for just two or three hours every Sunday and would provide their own stewards to police it.

“We could create a template for other areas. It’s an opportunity for us to think outside the box and do something positive,” he told a meeting of the West Cork municipal district council.

He also pointed out that SuperValu in Clonakilty has introduced a special sensory evening for parents who have children with autism and it has been “a tremendous success”.

Cllr John O’Sullivan seconded his motion.

I’m sure ways can be found to achieve an outcome. It’s well worth looking at. We need a roundtable meeting with all parties. We’ve no idea the stress some families are under and this would really help them,” he said.

Council officials said they would look into road closure legislation and see if they could accommodate the wishes of the parents’ group, who are considering setting themselves up as a registered charity.

Meanwhile, councillors are writing to Coillte, which owns a lot of forestry in the area, amid fears that the right of way to some of the 10km of walkways within it could be extinguished if the company sells off portions of the land.

Cllrs Christopher O’Sullivan and John O’Sullivan both said they had heard that Coillte had received “two approaches” to sell off parcels of the land. Mr John O’Sullivan said he understood these approaches “were currently being evaluated” by Coillte.

It has emerged that Minister Jim Daly has also written to Coillte seeking assurances that any sale of land would not impact on walking trails used by the public in the area.

He said he had been “inundated” with calls from people who were concerned about the potential sale of land and the loss of the amenity.

“It is very important that we ensure that these walkways won’t be closed off to the public,”said Mr Daly.

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