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Connacht Tribune

Aran air impasse remains unresolved ahead of deadline

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The State plans to acquire Na Minna Airport in Indreabhán to ensure long-term air connectivity from the mainland to and from the Aran Islands – but there was still no breakthrough this week in the impasse between Aer Arann and Roinn na Gaeltachta over the airline’s threat to withdraw its services to the islands as of December 6.

Islanders had expected a satisfactory outcome this week but the legal teams of both sides in the negotiations remain deadlocked.

The SOS Committee for the Aran Islands Air Service met with Minister Seán Kyne and his officials in Na Forbacha on Monday, and they are due to meet again early next week.

The airline, controlled by Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, will withdraw its four-years PSO contract that it signed two years ago unless there is a breakthrough in talks. An emergency service is being put in place, at the behest of islanders, that will result in flights operating out of Shannon Airport.

Minister Kyne, in a statement to the Connacht Tribune, said: “There is ongoing engagement between the legal team of Roinn na Gaeltachta and that of Aer Arann. The Roinn has expressed a wish to purchase Na Minna Airport and are happy to draw up the heads of an agreement to that effect. I understand that this is under consideration by the owners of Na Minne.

“My main concern is that there is a service to the main land for the Island communities. As it stands there is no available airport or air strip in Galway. Therefore, my officials have engaged with Shannon Airport with a view to that airport facilitating a service on a temporary basis from December 7 onwards. Consultants have been appointed to prepare contracts for such a temporary scheme. We continue to work to find a resolution to this issue and to ensure that there is a service for the islands.”

The plans to purchase Na Minna can also have a knock-on beneficial effect on two airstrips at Cleggan and Inishbofin which have lain idle since they were developed at a cost of €10 million eight years ago.

They have been the subject of controversy from the start – and even though they have yet to host flights, it is estimated that another million has been spent on their maintenance since then.

However, Galway West TD Eamon O Cuiv is now asking the Minister for Transport and the Minister for the Gaeltacht to fund an air service from Na Minna that would serve not only Inishbofin but also the Aran Islands and Cleggan airstrips. Deputy O Cuiv told The Connacht Tribune that improved transport to the islands was crucial to keep them alive.

The airstrip on ‘Bofin is used by the Sikorsky helicopter for emergencies – but not for the purpose for which they were intended.

However the airstrips cannot be brought into use until they boast terminal buildings and, while planning permission was granted for this purpose back in 2011, there has been no progress on these projects in the meantime.

It is estimated that it would take another €1 million to provide the airport terminals at the two locations which the Government is so far not willing to commit to.

A number of years ago, consultants were engaged to design the terminal buildings at both Cleggan and Inishbofin but they could not say when work would begin.

At the time, the Government said that the terminals would be ‘completed shortly’ but no work was undertaken. In fact the areas surrounding the two airstrips have become overgrown with weeds and ragwort.

It was also revealed that there were around 60 private small plane pilots across Ireland and Britain who would readily fly into Inishbofin if the airstrip was completed.

Connacht Tribune

Unauthorised developments in County Galway go unchecked for months

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The Planning Enforcement Section of Galway County Council is so understaffed that complaints of unauthorised developments are not being investigated for months, the Connacht Tribune has learned.

In one case, a complaint alleging a house was under construction in a picturesque and environmentally sensitive part of Conamara without planning permission was not investigated by the Council for at least six months.

And it can be revealed that there is a ‘large’ backlog of complaints of unauthorised developments in the county, which the Planning Enforcement Section at County Hall has blamed on staff shortages, according to correspondence obtained by the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

In response to repeated requests by a concerned member of the public to intervene and investigate an allegation of unauthorised development in an environmentally protected area of Conamara, the Council’s Planning Department indicated it was too stretched.

“Unfortunately, the planning enforcement section is experiencing a period of prolonged staff shortages and consequently there are a large number of files awaiting investigation/review,” it said.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Access Centre provides pathways to University of Galway for the disadvantaged

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Photo of Imelda Byrne

Great leaps have been made in recent years to make access to tertiary level education a realistic prospect for once marginalised groups in society.

With the deadline for CAO applications approaching next week, the Access Centre at the University of Galway is aiming to reach as many underrepresented groups as possible ahead of next academic term.

Head of the Access Centre, Imelda Byrne (pictured), said research has shown that those who once felt third level ‘wasn’t for them’ are increasing their presence at UG, and bringing a richness to the sector that had for a long time been missing.

In the five years up to 2021, there was a 100% increase in the number of students registering for the Disability Support Service at the university, while those coming from Further Education and Training courses in institutes like GTI had surged by 211% over four years.

“The message that we really need to get out there is that the CAO is not the only route into third level. There are a number of pathways,” says Imelda.

“There are loads of places set aside for students coming from a place of disadvantage,” she continues, whether it’s national schemes such as the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) for socio-economic disadvantage; or the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE); or the university’s own programme for mature students.

Those places are there to ensure those from all backgrounds get an opportunity to reach their education potential, tapping into hugely talented groups that once may have missed that opportunity.

“What we have seen is that when they get that opportunity, they do just as well if not better than other students,” continues Imelda.

For HEAR and DARE scheme applicants, and for those hoping to begin higher education as a mature student, next Wednesday’s CAO deadline is critically important.

But beyond the CAO applications, the Access Programme will open up in March to guide prospective students, whatever challenges they are facing, into third level.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway County Council ‘missing out on millions’ in derelict sites levies

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Photo of Cloonabinnia House

Galway County Council is missing out on millions of euro in untapped revenue due to a failure to compile a complete Derelict Sites Register.

That’s according to Galway East Sinn Féin representative, Louis O’Hara, who this week blasted the news that just three properties across the whole county are currently listed on the register.

As a result, Mr O’Hara said the Derelict Sites Levy was not being utilised effectively as countless crumbling properties remained unregistered – the levy amounts to 7% of the market value of the derelict property annually.

The former general election candidate said Galway County Council was ill-equipped to compile a proper list of derelict sites and called on Government to provide the necessary resources to tackle the scourge of dereliction across.

“There are still only three properties listed on Galway County Council’s Derelict Sites Register . . . anyone in Galway knows that this does not reflect the reality on the ground and more must be done to identify properties, and penalise owners who fail to maintain them,” said Mr O’Hara.

The situation was compounded by the fact that the Council failed to collect any of the levies due to them in 2021.

“This is deeply concerning when we know that dereliction is a blight on our communities. Derelict sites attract rats, anti-social behaviour and dumping, and are an eyesore in many of our local towns and villages.”

“The Derelict Sites Levy should be used as a tool by local authorities to raise revenue that can then be utilised to tackle dereliction, but they are not adequately resourced to identify and pursue these property owners,” said Mr O’Hara.

(Photo: The former Cloonabinnia House Hotel is on the Derelict Sites Register).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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