An Taisce has welcomed the recommendation of an expert group on local government reform, which has backed controversial proposals to merge Galway City and County Councils into one entity.
The Galway branch of the association said one amalgamated local authority should result in a more streamlined delivery of services, and efficiencies in local government.
The city and county “would benefit substantially” from unification, it said.
Derrick Hambleton, chairman of An Taisce Galway Association, acknowledged one Galway Council with 57 councillors (18 city councillors and 39 county councillors) would be “unwieldy”. And he said that tensions between the priorities of the city versus the county would have to be teased out.
But, he said, An Taisce was fully supportive of the broad idea to amalgamate Galway’s two councils.
“It is on balance felt by our members that an orderly reconstruction of the county and city, into becoming one cohesive administrative unit would allow for a more balanced and effective management that would favour a much-needed, stronger regeneration of the economic development, spatial planning, environmental wellbeing, sustainable as well as social development of the whole western region, now and into the future,” said Mr Hambleton.
Resistance to the plans has come from elected members of both authorities but An Taisce said a merger would bring long-term benefits.
“We are of course very well aware that such a transition might be difficult for some to achieve and that there is some opposition to such radical proposals being enacted. Much of this opposition is coming from councillors that might fear becoming small fish in a much larger pond, incapable of separating their role as legislators, at a local level, from their farm-gate representation style of local politics! Members of An Taisce are, on the other hand, fully convinced that with a well-planned transition period, amalgamation could be successfully achieved and represent a common good,” he said.
He said An Taisce members have always believed in developing the West coast as a counter-balance to Dublin “and that in rural Ireland the maintenance, development and regeneration of our rural towns and villages should be held to remain paramount, if rural areas are to be encouraged to renew themselves, and are to prosper.”
Mr Hambleton added: “Over recent years, a situation has developed where in many areas of our regional development, there has been contrived an, unhealthy, political competition between the city and county councillors over where new industrial, business and housing developments are to be located. Similarly, it is also to be seen in the construction of new roads and motorways.
“Particularly, as can be seen with the historic yet controversial development of a bypass in Galway City which is, paradoxically, being directed by a team of engineers led by the County Council. Yet the majority of this proposed new road will run through the city itself.
“With a single administration in place, it should be possible for all future strategic economic development to be put where it would do the most good, and in ensuring the balance of social, environmental and competitive advancement for the whole city and of the county, as a single unit.”
The Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Galway published last week endorsed a 2015 report by a Galway Local Government Committee, which unanimously recommended the establishment of a new unified Galway authority rather than boundary alteration or retention of the status quo.
The recommendation for amalgamation of the local authorities “no later than 2021” requires ministerial and Oireachtas backing.
Junior Minister for Local Government, John Paul Phelan said he would bring the proposals to government in the coming days.
Salthill funfair enjoying busy tourist season
The operators of Curry’s Funpark in Salthill are reporting a busy tourist season, despite a delayed opening and ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.
While it is nowhere near the busiest season since the amusement company took over the fun fair site in Leisureland in 2014, they are delighted at how the shorter season has been going under difficult circumstances.
With a separate entrance and exit in place and customers expected to queue apart from each other, numbers have been reduced in the park. But opening hours have extended from 11am to 11pm to allow the public to avail of longer hours to enjoy the rides, explains owner Owen Curry.
“There’s a good turnout of people and a great response from our customers at being open. This year adults in their 20s are really coming in the late evenings, whereas before we would have been quiet in those last few hours.
“There’s nothing like getting out in a bit of fresh air and do something together. Without a doubt there are a lot more Irish people this year and an awful lot of them are people who haven’t ever been to Salthill which is surprising.”
After initially bringing in the equipment in February to prepare for a St Patrick’s Day opening, at one stage it looked like it would all have to be removed when lockdown was introduced, with Owen running the business from his home in Derry.
Were it not for the great support he got from the business group The Village Salthill, the park may never have opened on July 1, he says.
The opening happened after a two-day inspection, all staff undergoing courses and a lot of work implementing all the guidelines set out in a 90-page document for the operation of amusement parks.
“All our other events have been cancelled – we’d normally have equipment travelling around the country to festivals and events. We were delighted with the support and help from other businesses in Salthill. They helped with advertising and getting the word out there.”
While the park is weather dependent, he enthuses that Salthill is at least blessed to have Leisureland, the Aquarium and plenty of cafes and restaurants alongside the famous beaches and Prom.
“The staycation is definitely working for Salthill – despite the weather,” Owen remarks.
Still lit in the signature Big Wheel is the blue heart in honour of those working at the frontline during the pandemic.
“It was originally meant to be a digital screen for advertising and when we couldn’t open we decided to light a blue heart as a thank you to the front line workers until the Covid finished – we didn’t think it would be still be there but that’s the world we’re in.”
The funpark’s season is likely be extended into the Autumn.
Galway Pride Festival makes the move online
For the first time in its three decades of breaking taboos, Galway Pride will not be holding a parade.
Instead, organisers have switched to a full schedule of almost exclusively online events.
There will be just three events out of more than two dozen where people can gather for Galway Pride week, which begins today (Monday).
There will be the traditional flag-raising event in Eyre Square at midday to mark the launch with a number of speakers and those attending will be asked to social distance and wear masks.
On Wednesday evening, they will host the annual vigil in Eyre Square, while on Sunday morning, a new event will see the community on their bikes for a coffee and cake session in collaboration with the Galway Cycling Campaign.
Last year for the festival’s 30th anniversary, an estimated 2,000 people marched through the city in the parade – a cornerstone of the celebration – with thousands more lining the streets to watch.
Event chairperson Scott Green said that having even a limited number of chances to meet and come together in person safely is really important for the community.
“Undoubtedly isolation is difficult for us all and sometimes it can be taken for granted that your home is a safe and welcoming place. For too many members of our community that safety is not guaranteed.”
“The safety of our community is paramount and so for those who cannot join us in person we will bring our passion and vibrancy to you digitally until it is safe for us all to meet again.
“This will not be a stereotypical Pride but it will still have the same heart and soul put into its organisation,” Scott said.
The Community Awards 2020 will honour those who have been important role models, ran campaigns and helped out in community groups
Several panels will also take place across Pride with topics on anti-racism, mental health, workplace well-being, activism, and trans and non-binary voices.
On the entertainment side, there will be music nights, ‘movie watchalongs’, and a rainbow cake tutorial.
Scott says like many organisations, Galway Pride has had to “learn on our feet” to put together a suitable schedule.
“We had imagined a very different Pride before Covid-19 but we have gone ahead with a mostly virtually calendar of events to deliver another Pride Week because we know how important it is for our community.”
The theme for Pride 2020 is ‘Ní Neart Go Cur Le Chéile’ or ‘strength through unity’.
“It’s a sign of the times in many ways. Never before have we all had to stick together by making choices and sacrifices not just to keep ourselves safe, but to keep others safe. It’s why this year we have dedicated our ‘virtual grand marshal’ role to all healthcare care workers, for exemplifying these selfless principles.
“There are those that are increasingly trying to target the most vulnerable of our community and increasing incidents where a seedy underbelly in our society attack our community members with the utmost of bile. The LGBT+ community stands completely united, and united we will continue to progress as a society.”
All events can be accessed through the Galway Pride Festival Facebook page.
(Photo: Last year’s Galway Pride Parade).
One year wait for hearing of criminal trials in Galway
It takes up to one year for criminal trials to be heard in Galway Circuit Court, according to new figures from the Courts Service.
According to the service’s newly-published annual report for 2019, in the Galway courts area, it took an average of 9-12 months for criminal trials to go to hearing, which is unchanged from the 2018 figures.
The shortest waiting times in the country were in Carlow and Tralee, where cases are heard at the next sitting of the court, while the longest wait was in Monaghan at 18-24 months.
The wait for sentence hearings (from the trial date where a guilty plea was entered) in Galway was 3-6 months, unchanged from the previous year.
Appeals are heard following a 3-6 month wait, which is an increase from two months recorded in 2017 and 2018.
The report shows that civil cases – both trials and appeals – and Family Law cases (contested, non-contested and appeals) are generally heard at the next sitting of the Circuit Court.
Civil trials in Dundalk can take between 12-18 months to be heard, while contested and appealed Family Law cases can take 6-12 months.
Meanwhile, in district courts in Galway, domestic violence barring order and protection order applications take four weeks to be heard – the previous year, such cases were held at the next sitting of the court.
However, urgent applications relating to domestic violence in Galway are heard on the next day the district court sits.
Criminal summonses in Galway District Court can take 16 weeks to be heard (the previous year it was a 12-15 weeks wait), while charge sheets are heard at the next sitting of the court, the same as the previous year.
Summonses in Carlow can take 20-28 weeks to be heard, while in Tralee, the wait is 8-12 weeks.
In Family Law sittings in Galway, applications for maintenance or guardianship take between 4-8 weeks to be heard, compared to 6-8 weeks the previous year.
Last year, civil cases took 16 weeks to reach the District Court here, compared to an 8-12 week wait the previous year.
That compares to 12-16 weeks in Portlaoise and Letterkenny and four weeks in Roscommon and Waterford.
In the High Court, waiting times for civil and family cases stood at two months, unchanged from the previous year and the shortest in the country. The longest wait was recorded in Limerick at 25 months.