Builders are erecting transparent fencing in a €5m project to rehabilitate Eyre Square, which has fallen into decline in recent years.
Within the next 18 months, 76 trees will be cut down and replaced, one street adjoining the square will be completely pedestrianised and the rusted Galway Hooker sculpture will be moved.
The Green Party has strongly opposed the felling of the trees, claiming the 20-year-old trees being moved are unlikely to flourish.
Local election candidate Niall Ó Brolcháin said the city council had rejected an alternative redevelopment plan by Chelsea flower show winner Mary Reynolds to retain all the trees.
“This fight over the trees has been going on for five years and it is going to be an election issue for a lot of people. There’s massive support for keeping the trees - we got 3,400 signatures during a 24-hour vigil last year,” said Mr Ó Brolcháin.
The Green Party has ruled out a High Court challenge to the tree cutting and admitted that a high profile “tree-chaining” exercise would be futile.
Mr Ó Brolcháin said the redevelopment work, due to be completed in August 2005, would be a “complete disaster” for traffic in the city.
Eyre Square was originally bequeathed to the people of the city in 1710 by Mayor Edward Eyre. The iron railings which surrounded the square were removed for the visit of John F Kennedy in 1963 and the square was renamed “Kennedy Memorial Park” two years later.
Under the plan, the statute of the local writer Padraic O’Connaire, which was beheaded by vandals several years ago, will be replaced by a bronze equivalent. The historic Browne’s Doorway monument will be left untouched and a plaza area will be created as one of three new levels in the park.
City manager John Tierney said there would be 70% more pedestrian space and 20% more green space, as well as more trees.
“We are retaining the 25 trees which provide the bulk of coverage in the square. The 76 trees we are taking out are not thriving and we’ll be putting in 95 new trees to replace them,” he said.
Mr Tierney said traffic disruption was inevitable during construction but that alternative routes and Christmas and summer work stoppages were being arranged.