Painter wages war on pot-holes: Alan Murdoch goes on the road with the safety campaigner of Cavan, who has a colourful way of highlighting danger

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THE YELLOW HOLES of Cavan may sound like a country and western lament, but in the neighbourhoods of Bailieboro and Cootehill they are the stuff of angry political debate.

The county's pot-holes have prompted Martin Hannigan to take the law into his own hands. Every weekend he spends night-time hours painting around the craters in glaring yellow. Particularly deep chasms get giant arrows, or the words 'STOP' and 'DANGER'.

His efforts are aimed at embarrassing the authorities into action, and do indeed tend to be followed by filling-in jobs by council workmen. When the fancy takes him, he leaves a sign announcing: 'Pot-holes courtesy of Cavan County Council.'

Hauliers say pot-holes add to costs in vehicle repairs and slower deliveries. Mr Hannigan has a collection of hubcaps dislodged from cars, trucks and milk lorries after hitting the holes, which also rip tyres and destroy exhausts.

Police officers privately praise the doughty campaigner's highlighting of potential hazards. People buy him paint and write grateful letters to the local paper, The Anglo-Celt.

Mr Hannigan, by day a stainless steel polisher, has a boiler suit emblazoned with the words 'Pot-hole Terror'. He is losing patience, and is now withholding his car tax until he discovers where a recent 20 per cent rise is going. 'It isn't being spent here,' he insists.

He has gone on hunger strike for better roads, once for 48 hours and last September for 13 hours at the place where a pot-hole-related crash almost killed a motorist.

Undertakers have even had to arrange road repairs before their hearse can collect a person's remains, Mr Hannigan says. 'They make you wait till you're dead round here before you get your road fixed.'

The Irish environment minister, Michael Smith, recently raised funding for Cavan's main roads by 19.7 per cent, but there was no new funding for secondary roads.

Brian Johnson, of Cavan County Council, said councils had been starved of funds for years for these routes, 60 per cent of which needed attention. Increased EC structural funds should soon be made available, however.

Mr Hannigan says there was a devious move to silence him. After he was accused of 'tarnishing the name of the county', the local employment office wrote saying it had a post that 'may be suitable for you'. It was for a council labourer.

Though previously out of work, Mr Hannigan told them he was now working. But only by day . . .

(Photograph omitted)