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Connacht Tribune

Almost 60 households in county classed as homeless

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The annual cost to Galway County Council of dealing with homelessness is becoming “unsustainable”, according to the local authority’s moneyman.

Ger Mullarkey, head of finance, was forced into the admission at the latest Council meeting where it was revealed there are currently 57 households in the county who are categorised as homeless.

The figure of 57 homeless homeholds in County Galway includes some people who are sleeping rough but mostly those categorised as ‘hidden homeless’, who are sleeping on friends’ couches or on floors in the homes of their families.

Director of Housing, Michael Owens confirmed the figure as he outlined the Council’s Draft Framework Homeless Action Plan, June 2017.

The Council has allocated €595,000 to homelessness this year, and 90% of this will be recouped from central government, as has been the case since the Housing Act was instigated in 1988.

Michael Owens told the meeting that the nature and extent of homelessness is changing in the county – it used to be predominantly single males but now more and more families are becoming homeless.

The homeless crisis facing the city has major implications for the county, he said.

“The impacts of the recent economic downturn and the consequential housing supply shortage have resulted in a new homelessness dynamic, whereby households which traditionally would have been able to access accommodation in the private rented sector are presenting to homeless services . . . Due to the demands placed on the homeless services based in Galway City and the new dynamic of families with children presenting as homeless, the Council is no longer in a position to meet its responsibilities to homeless individuals and families by availing of services in the city.

“It is recognised that many households at risk of homelessness are able to resolve their accommodation crisis with assistance, information and advice. For some households who are experiencing crisis, however, their homelessness may be enduring and require the availability of temporary accommodation and the wrap-around assessment and support services. There is currently no temporary emergency accommodation or temporary supported accommodation in the County of Galway,” he said.

As a result, the Council has to work closely with all stakeholders, “to develop and localise a range of supports and services to prevent homelessness, whilst at the same time continuing to work hard to advance housing-led solutions that effectively end the experience of homelessness.”

Timmy Broderick (Ind) said the new plan was very detailed but “we can’t afford it”, adding the Council’s finances are “in freefall”.

He insisted the voluntary housing agencies, “need to step up to the mark”, in terms of funding. And Cllr Broderick slammed Government departments for not giving adequate resources to the local authority to tackle homelessness. He said homelessness was an issue that was being “piggybacked on”, and “every time it is, it’s the local authority budget that is affected”. He challenged the director of finances to confirm if the levels of funding – 10% of the total outlay on homelessness is paid by the County Council – are sustainable.

In response, Mr Mullarkey said: “It is 10% we have to provide. Is it sustainable? Probably not. No.”

Chief Executive of the Council, Kevin Kelly, and Mr Owens, both reminded the meeting that the local authority has a statutory obligation to provide housing.

Peter Feeney (FG) said the Council has a service to provide, and this new plan was putting in place the structures to facilitate the implementation of the plan.

Cllr Broderick didn’t want the plan to be adopted until there was a pledge of more money but Cllr Feeney said you cannot apply for more money, or expect to draw it down, without first having a plan in place.

“This is about putting a cogent plan together so that we can get the money,” he argued.

Cathaoirleach Eileen Mannion (FG) said because of the statutory obligation on the Council with regards housing, the local authority was going to have to pay 10% of the cost regardless.

“This plan isn’t going to cost us any more if we adopt it,” she stressed.

Michael Connolly (FF) said he has been 18 years on the County Council, and the problem of homelessness has only surfaced as an issue with constituents in the past two.

He said many of them were people who lost their jobs, have young families and cannot afford their mortgage repayments. “We have to have a strategy to deal with this,” said Cllr Connolly.

The draft plan was adopted, and it was agreed a separate motion regarding the starving of Galway County Council of funds be sent to the department.

Connacht Tribune

Community fights back on hospital ‘downgrade by stealth’

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Raw emotion, sadness and some anger filled the air at Clifden Town Hall on Sky Road last Sunday afternoon as a shaken community gave honest, personal accounts of the impact the closure by stealth of Clifden District Hospital would have on the people of North Connemara.

The public meeting was hastily organised after fears emerged on Friday that the HSE may transfer respite services from Clifden to Merlin Park Hospital, 50-plus miles away in Galway City.

Families were told their loved ones in Clifden Hospital may have to move home, or go to Merlin Park the following Monday, due to ‘issues with staffing’.

An axe has hung over Clifden Hospital for some years, but this latest move stirred the community to fight back to retain services locally.

Galway County Councillor Eileen Mannion (FG), who organised the public meeting with Senator Sean Kyne, said 625 people signed the attendance sheets and an estimated 650 people attended.

“The community effort spreading the word was unbelievable; the turnout was unbelievable,” she said.

“It wasn’t just anger; it was raw emotion in the room. Sadness. Family members spoke about the calls they got on Friday. The feeling that their elderly person was being rejected; that they weren’t being respected.

“One man stood up, three years waiting for respite care for a family member, and then to be told after a few days in there that she’d have to be taken home or to Merlin Park.

“We’re 50 miles from Galway. If there’s no traffic you might get to the outskirts in an hour but with the traffic in Galway, you could be another hour to get to Merlin Park. Not everyone has transport either and they’ve to rely on buses.

“A young woman stood up at the meeting and said her dad was dying in Galway. And she had to go to Saint Vincent de Paul to get money to pay for a B&B so that the family would be close to him when the end came. People gave their personal stories, and it was just heart-breaking.”

(Photo by Carmel Lyden: Teresa Conneely from Roundstone addresses people at the public meeting in Clifden Town Hall).

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the Clifden Hospital story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Pilgrim took to his feet to realise dream!

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Clifden man Breandan O Scanaill, who is on a pilgrimage from his home town of Clifden to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, received a Mayoral welcome and a memorial crest when he arrived at the Asturian town of Navia last week.

Breandan, whose walk from his home outside Clifden to the reputed burial place of St James in Santiago, began in April, was walking through Navia in Spain when a local man came over to chat to him.

“He asked me about my journey and was interested in the fact that an Irish man had turned up in the town,” says Breandan, who had been admiring the Chapel of San Roque at the time.

The local man outlined the history of the building and the town to Breandan and they began chatting more generally about history and architecture – topics dear to the pilgrim’s heart.

Breandán’s new friend introduced himself as the Mayor of Navia, lgnacio Garcia Palacios, who invited the visitor from Clifden to visit the Town Hall.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Local Property Tax rate to stay unchanged despite Council chief’s plea

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Councillors have agreed to keep the Local Property Tax (LPT) rate unchanged – despite pleas from management that Galway County Council is predicted to spend at least €22 million more than it brings in for the next two years.

County Chief Executive Jim Cullen had recommended an increase of 15% on the LPT rate for 2023 and 2024 – amounting to €2.1m extra in the coffers annually – which would bolster its case when it came to pleading for a greater share of funding from central government.

In an estimation of income and expenditure for the Council, taking into account “unavoidable” expenditure and income changes set to hit, the Council would run a deficit of €9.04m in 2023 and 13.2m in 2024 – well over €22m unless there was a change in finances.

“I am hopeful of an uplift in baseline [funding] levels . . . we cannot continue to ignore the fact that other councils have raised LPT and their citizens enjoy a better standard of services that in Galway,” he stressed.

He told a meeting this week that €9m would be needed to maintain services next year at the same level as 2022. This was due to significant cost increases given that inflation is reaching 9.6% currently. Pensions, gratuities and payroll increases from the national pay agreement, increments and additional staff were all adding to bigger outgoings.

Without that extra funding, it will be necessary to reduce spending by that amount with a negative impact on service and staffing levels, he said.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the story, including the councillors’ discussions, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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