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CITY TRIBUNE

Anger over failure of Council to provide alternative accommodation

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Amidst a widespread and worsening housing crisis, a mother of three in Salthill has been served an eviction letter by the Galway City Council – with only two weeks’ notice and nowhere to go.

Kathleen Ward is at her wits’ end. “I can’t live in the streets with my children,” she says.

Kathleen’s family – including her youngest, born only a few months ago – is one of ten who have been evicted by the local authority from the Cúl Trá halting site. The City Council believes the site is dangerously overcrowded and has told the families to be out by June 5.

But thus far no alternative accommodation has been provided. Instead, the city has suggested they use emergency homeless services.

City management wants to prevent a tragedy similar to that at Carrickmines, Dublin in 2015, in which ten people died in a fire due to halting site overcrowding and other fire safety issues.

The Cúl Trá hardstand in Lower Salthill

Yet Galway City hasn’t built a permanent halting site since Cúl Trá in 1996 – more than twenty years ago, when Kathleen’s family first moved in. According to the local authority, there are now sixteen families on a site built for six.

The Council has a legal obligation to provide Traveller-specific accommodation for those who require it. And as far as Kathleen was aware, they were still negotiating a new halting site. The eviction letter was a terrible shock.

“They promised us a new halting site in Knocknacarra,” she says, “and I’d like to know where the money for it went.”

As a Traveller, Kathleen says she wouldn’t be comfortable living in a house. “I grew up in a caravan,” she explains. “This is our culture.”

She wants to raise her children in a nice, family-friendly location. But with no halting site to move to, she is afraid of what could happen.

“We can’t stay on the side of the road, because the guards will just keep moving us,” she says. Neither she nor her husband drives a car, so transport is also an issue.

Kathleen also doesn’t want to be moved to a temporary site, well aware that the last Travellers sent to a temporary site – at Carrowbrowne – have been there eight years and counting. And she says her cousin’s family has been living in a hotel in Oranmore for over two years.

On Monday, representatives from the Galway Traveller Movement walked out of a Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC) meeting.

Traveller representative Joanna Corcoran says: “We feel there is no alternative other than to withdraw from the committee as it is ineffective and it is not addressing the major Traveller accommodation crisis in Galway city.

“There is no political will to address Traveller accommodation and no accountability for eighteen years of failed targets. Within the LTACC and Galway City Council meetings there is a strong anti-Traveller discourse and the Traveller community’s voice is not valued.”

But Councillor Mike Cubbard says: “I understand their frustrations. But if you leave the room, you don’t have a chance at finding a solution.” Cllr Cubbard has also decided to step down from the LTACC.

The City risks losing €1 million in government funding to build Traveller-specific accommodation due to delays in choosing a suitable site.

But many councillors blame the City Executive for mismanaging Galway’s current halting sites.

“If you look at the budget, there is over half a million spent on maintenance of the halting sites . . . if they’re spending that amount of money, then you’d expect to eat your dinner off the floor,” said Councillor Colette Connolly before Monday’s meeting.

She believes that issues with current hardstands “have to be addressed, and they’ve never been addressed because of the failure of the Executive.”

The local authority has failed to deliver on many of its previous Traveller accommodation goals. Unmet targets include seven group housing units and two permanent halting sites, none of which were built. And out of 66 planned housing units, only 18 were completed.

The city government is finalising a mid-term review of its current four-year plan – one year before it is set to expire.

A spokesperson for the City Council says that “the timescale on the mid-term review has been overextended, and is past due,” adding that the Council is “committed to implementing the Traveller Accommodation programme” and “the health, safety, and welfare of the families is a main priority.”

The Galway Traveller Movement has said they will work with the Cúl Trá families to resist the evictions. A protest will take place at the site on June 5.

But Kathleen doesn’t want to move to emergency accommodation while waiting for the Council to fulfill its obligations. “They have no respect for Travellers,” she says. “I will stand my ground.”

CITY TRIBUNE

Covid could leave Galway City Council with €25m budget hole

Stephen Corrigan

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Shop STreet this week.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council is facing into a “potential crisis scenario” with a forecasted €25 million black hole in its budget, unless the Government comes good on a promise to plug the gap left by Covid-19.

That’s according to City Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath who told councillors this week that the commercial rates waiver introduced by Government and a drop in income from goods and services provided by the local authority could slash their forecast annual revenue by 25%.

Mr McGrath said the last Government, when it introduced the rates waiver for cash-strapped businesses in March, had committed to €260 million to be put aside to bolster local authority finances, but no detail of how that will be rolled out had been provided.

“We are hoping as part of the July stimulus package, the new Government will give us the detail we so desperately need,” he said.

“Our rates standing orders have been wiped out to the tune of 90%.”

Tourism was crucial to the economic success of Galway, he continued, with approximately 80% of city businesses reliant on tourists to stay afloat.

“We have the highest percentage dependency of any local authority on rates from the tourism and hospitality sector,” said Mr McGrath.

It was for that reason that the Executive was seeking councillors’ approval to free up €485,000 of the so-called ‘Marketing Sinking Fund’ to finance a raft of tourism initiatives aimed at boosting the local economy by attracting domestic tourists as Covid-related restrictions are eased, in what Mr McGrath referred to as “temporary internal borrowing”.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read it in full, and more on the tourism promotion plans, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Seafront prom and new train station planned for Murrough

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A vision of a new urban district on GMIT lands at Murrough – including a seafront promenade and new train station – has been submitted to Government for funding approval.

Galway City Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath has outlined a plan to ‘leverage’ land and resources of the third level institute to create a new East City Urban District.

Mr McGrath has included the plans in an application for funding under the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF).

The total value of the project would be €61 million, he said, which values the land at Murrough at about €14 million.

“We are seeking URDF investment to activate these sites as catalysts to boost population and economic output for the city and region,” Mr McGrath told city councillors.

He said that by leveraging the lands at GMIT, the Council was delivering on a target in the National Planning Framework 2040, which states there should be “special focus on capitalising on the potential of underutilised and publicly owned and centrally located sites”.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read it in full, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Plans to double size of Galway City student complex

Enda Cunningham

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A computer-generated image of how the new Cúirt na Coiribe would look.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The investment fund which owns the Cúirt na Coiribe student accommodation complex on the Headford Road is planning to more than double the number of bed spaces there to 920.

Exeter Property Group, one of the biggest property investment groups in the world, has applied to An Bord Pleanála for permission to demolish a two-storey building to the front of the development and to remove the existing fifth floor attic level from the next block.

The proposal involves extending upwards and outwards to create a total of 920 bed spaces in 868 bedrooms in a single building with nine linked blocks ranging from two to six storeys.

The project includes a gym/fitness studio in the basement, a games room, library/study spaces, café/restaurant and lounge spaces.

There will be 59 carparking spaces and 656 cycle spaces included. A total of 398 of the 405 existing bed spaces will be retained.

It is proposed that the existing bed spaces will retain their original planning permission which allows for short-stay lets throughout the year, and the additional 515 spaces would only be permitted to be used as short-stay lets during the summer months.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read it in full, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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