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BIM criticised for PR spend on Galway Bay fish farm

Dara Bradley

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Bórd Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), which has applied for a licence to facilitate a massive salmon farm in Galway Bay, says there’s nothing fishy about its expenditure of tens of thousands of Euros for communications advice.

The state agency has come under fire for hiring a private public relations company that sent heavy-handed letters to editors of three Irish newspapers in relation to articles about the controversial proposed salmon fish farm off Galway Bay.

Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages (GBASC) says it is “worrying” that BIM spent over €57,000 last year for advice from a Dublin-based PR company Keating & Associates, to complain to newspaper editors and “stifle debate”.

This was just one of a litany of payments to private consultants hired by BIM last year at a total cost of €685,242, according to documents released under Freedom of Information (FOI).

But BIM has defended its outlay on consultants, and says it, like other State agencies, hires outside expertise when the need arises.

It also defended its expenditure on communications, and said Keating and Associates had provided services to BIM to cover maternity leave last year.

Data released to GBASC through FOI, shows that some €143,239 was paid to Keating & Associates for “communications advice and communications support” from January, 2010 to April 1, 2015.

This, it said, included €98,500 to cover for maternity leave for a thirteen month period. Its payments to Keating & Associates involved almost €58,000 for a “communications service” in 2014.

During that period, BIM sent letters to the editors of three newspapers, including the Connacht Tribune, Irish Times and Irish Examiner.

GBASC accused BIM of trying to “stifle debate” by issuing strongly worded letters to editors of newspapers. “We believe these letters are an attempt by BIM to stifle debate on the Galway Bay and other proposed mega salmon farms,” the group said in a statement.

It added: “GBASC are astonished that BIM, with all their highly paid staff, some of whom are earning in excess of €100,000, couldn’t find someone within their ranks to give communications advice and write a small number of letters to the media at a cost to the taxpayer of €143,239 since 2010.”

The campaign group said it was “shocked to learn” through FOI that BIM spent a total of €685,000 on consultants last year, which includes communications advice and some other outside expertise to advance plans for the salmon farm.

“This seems to be an exorbitant sum to be paying to consultants when BIM claim to be the experts in this area. BIM seems to have access to a bottomless pit of money, and unquestioning support from the relevant Minister to push their mega salmon farm on an unwilling population,” it said.

The group pointed to a recommendation in the 2009 An Bórd Snip Nua report on areas that could be cutback, which in relation to BIM said it could be subsumed within the department and “formally abolished”.

“GBASC believe that the implementation of this recommendation is long overdue,” it added.

BIM in a statement defended its expenditure.

It confirmed it had authorized Keating and Associates to issue separate letters to the editors of three newspapers on its behalf, “in order to address the publication of inaccuracies regarding BIM and the Galway Bay application”.

Two of the publications, it said, issued clarifications.

The state agency, in a statement, added: “BIM engaged Keating & Associates in order to provide the communications support needed within BIM to manage the significant workload associated with the Galway Bay aquaculture licence application, its public consultation process and the intense media activity that surrounded same. The firm also supported the organisation while the internal Communications Manager was on maternity leave.

“Like many state organisations, BIM, on occasion, engages external consultants either to provide a professional capability not available internally or to provide additional support to internal resources.”

CITY TRIBUNE

Teenager caught with €20,000 worth of cannabis

Enda Cunningham

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A teenager was stopped and searched by Gardaí in Eyre Square on Monday evening, and found in possession of an estimated €20,000 worth of cannabis.

Members of the Galway Divisional Drugs Unit stopped the man, aged in his late teens, at around 6pm and searched him under the Misuse of Drugs Act. During the search the man was found in possession of a €20,000 of suspected cannabis herb. The drugs seized will be sent for forensic analysis.

He was arrested and detained at Garda Headquarters in Renmore and was released from custody this morning. A file is now being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Level 5 ‘lockdown’ restrictions from midnight Wednesday

Enda Cunningham

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The Government has decided that as of midnight on Wednesday, all of Ireland will be placed on Level ‘lockdown’ restrictions.

This action is based on current public health advice, the deteriorating situation with the disease across the country and the Government’s objectives to support families by keeping schools and childcare facilities open, maintaining non-Covid health services and protecting the vulnerable.

Level 5 restrictions will remain in place for a period of 6 weeks.

Given the difficulties that these restrictions place on individuals and families across the State, the risk of job losses and of poverty and homelessness, the Government has agreed that the moratorium on evictions be reinstated and that Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme be amended to reflect these challenges.

Placing the country at Level 5 Restrictions will have the following implications:

  • people are asked to stay at home. People should work from home unless providing an essential service for which their physical presence is required (see below for essential services)
  • people will be permitted to exercise within a radius of 5 km of their home
  • there will be a penalty for movement outside 5km of home, with exemptions to this for essential work and essential purposes
  • in line with current NPHET advice in respect of Level 5, schools, early learning and childcare services will continue to remain open and are deemed essential
  • in addition, in recognition of the impact on children and young people of restrictions, non-contact training can continue for school aged children, outdoors in pods of 15. All other training activities should be individual only, with some exemptions, see below
  • there should be no visits to other people’s homes or gardens
  • however, there will be the concept of an extended household (or support bubble) for defined categories of individuals to support those at risk of social isolation and/or mental ill-health (see notes to editors).
  • no social/family gatherings should take place, with the exemptions to this for weddings and funerals (see below).

It is possible to meet with one other household in an outdoor setting which is not a home or garden, such as a park, including for exercise

  • there should be no organised indoor or outdoor events.
  • essential retail and essential services will remain open (see below).
  • public transport will operate at 25% capacity for the purposes of allowing those providing essential services to get to work [School transport unaffected].
  • in line with current NPHET advice in respect of Level 5, professional, elite sports and inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and greyhound racing can continue behind closed doors.
  • bars, cafes, restaurants and wet pubs may provide take-away and delivery services only. Wet pubs in hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs may remain open, but only to support provision of essential services.
  • those aged over 70 and the medically vulnerable are advised to continue to exercise personal judgement. It is recommended that they stay at home as much as possible, limit engagement to a very small network for short periods of time, while remaining physically distanced. When taking exercise outdoors, it is important to maintain 2 metres distance from others and wash hands on returning home. It is recommended to shop during designated hours only, while wearing a face covering, and to avoid public transport.
  • religious services will be available online
  • museums, galleries and other cultural attractions will remain closed
  • libraries will be available for online services only.
  • outdoor playgrounds, play areas and parks will remain open with protective measures.
  • visits to Long Term Residential Care facilities are suspended with the exception of visits required for critical and compassionate circumstances

Essential purposes for travel (permitted outside 5k limit):

  • travel to and from work, where work involves providing an essential service (see below)
  • to attend medical appointments and collect medicines and other health products
  • for vital family reasons, such as providing care to children, elderly or vulnerable people, and in particular for those who live alone, as part of an extended household but excluding social family visits
  • to attend a wedding or funeral
  • for farming purposes i.e. food production and/or care of animals
  • to visit a grave

Exemptions for weddings (irrespective of venue): Up to 25 guests for wedding ceremony and reception.

Exemption for funerals: Up to 10 mourners.

Sports/Training/Matches

No training or matches should take place, with the exception of professional, elite sports and inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and greyhound racing, which are being permitted to continue behind closed doors.

Extended Household Concept

In order to support those who risk isolation, such as single adult households and those who have shared parenting or shared custody arrangements; those living alone who have mental health challenges, or those living with partner with dementia for example, it will be possible for those in such circumstances to nominate one other household with whom they can mix. This will allow for social support beyond the caring exemptions already available.

Amendments to PUP and EWSS

We know the move to Level 5 will have a significant impact on businesses – we know many people will temporarily lose their jobs on Thursday

As a result of the fact that businesses have to close we are making changes to the PUP and the EWSS

The new payment structure for the PUP is as follows, with the rate of €350 restored to those who were earning in excess of €400 per week:

Prior Weekly Earnings (Gross)PUP Payment
less than €200€203
€200 – €299.99€250
€300 – €399.99€300
more than €400€350

This change to payment rates will apply for payments issued from Tuesday 27th October (PUP is paid weekly on a Tuesday) in respect of all existing and new applicants.

The EWSS is also being amended to align with the amendment to PUP. This means here will be 5 payment rates/bands as follows:

  • 0 – €151 = €0
  • >€151 < €203 = €203
  • >€203 < €300 = €250
  • >€300 < €400 = €300
  • >€400< €1,462 = €350

The main aim of this scheme is to ensure where possible employees retain their link with their employer rather than become unemployed. This revised scheme will run to end January 2021.

Essential retail outlets:

Retailers with mixed retail offering which have discrete spaces for essential and non-essential retail should make arrangements for the separation of relevant areas.

  • outlets selling food or beverages on a takeaway basis, or newspapers, whether on a retail or wholesale basis and whether in a non-specialised or specialised outlet.
  • markets that, wholly or principally, offer food for sale.
  • outlets selling products necessary for the essential upkeep and functioning of places of residence and businesses, whether on a retail or wholesale basis.
  • pharmacies, chemists and retailers or wholesalers providing pharmaceuticals or pharmaceutical or dispensing services, whether on a retail or wholesale basis.
  • outlets selling health, medical or orthopaedic goods in a specialised outlet, whether on a retail or wholesale basis.
  • fuel service stations and heating fuel providers
  • outlets selling essential items for the health and welfare of animals (including animal feed and veterinary medicinal products, pet food, animal bedding and animal supplies), whether on a retail or wholesale basis.
  • laundries and drycleaners
  • banks, post offices and credit unions
  • outlets selling safety supplies (including work-wear apparel, footwear and personal protective equipment), whether on a retail or wholesale basis.
  • hardware outlets, builders’ merchants and outlets that provide, whether on a retail or wholesale basis –

– hardware products necessary for home and business maintenance or construction and development,

– sanitation and farm equipment, or

– supplies and tools essential for farming or agriculture purposes.

-outlets providing for the repair and maintenance of mechanically propelled vehicles or bicycles and any related facilities (including tyre sales and repairs).

  • the following outlets, insofar as they offer services on an emergency basis only:

-optician and optometrist outlets

-outlets providing hearing test services or selling hearing aids and appliances

-outlets selling office products and services for businesses or for relevant persons working from their respective places of residence, whether on a retail or wholesale basis

-outlets providing electrical, information and communications technology and telephone sales, repair and maintenance services for places of residence and businesses.

  • any other retail outlet that operates an online or other remote system of ordering goods for purposes of collection at the retail outlet
  • outlets selling food or beverages whether on a retail or wholesale basis and whether in a non-specialised or specialised outlet:

-insofar as they sell food or beverages on a takeaway basis or for consumption off the premises,

-insofar as they are staff canteens operating for the exclusive use of persons working in, or at, a particular premises, or

– hotels or similar accommodation services insofar as they sell food or beverages for consumption on the premises by residents of the service.

See the list of Essential Services HERE

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CITY TRIBUNE

‘Crass stupidity’ to allow Leisureland close

Stephen Corrigan

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The looming threat of closure for Leisureland after Christmas amounts to “crass stupidity” and requires an urgent commitment for funding from Government, according to a local TD.

Deputy Catherine Connolly told the Galway City Tribune she had raised the issue in the Dáil with the Minister of State for Local Government and he had expressed an openness to meeting with a delegation from City Hall in relation to the City Council-owned facility’s dire financial situation.

“It’s simply not acceptable that a public swimming pool would close when we have the Minister for Finance announcing a budget of €18 billion this week – that’s Monopoly money.

“We have €18 billion to dispense and the challenge is to do that in a way that ensures a basic level of services below which we cannot go, and that requires funding the local authority. The local authority is fundamental in any civilised society, as are the services it provides,” said the Independent Deputy.

Raising the issue in Leinster House, Deputy Connolly said that Leisureland was an excellent public facility that had been open since 1973 and had broke even for the last number of years, but had run into major funding shortfalls as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

“It is a fantastic swimming pool. I must declare a conflict of interest as I use it every weekend, It helps to keep me semi-sane and semi-fit.

“No public swimming pool makes money and few of them break even. This pool needed money due to Covid-19 and the difficulties experienced by every public swimming pool in the country. The management in the City Council said it was not in a position to give it money and that the swimming pool would have to close,” said Deputy Connolly, adding that the decision had been made and staff were informed.

Due to public pressure and resistance from local councillors, the decision was reversed and €207,000 in funding had been provided by the Council Executive.

“However, it pointed out that the money was coming out of next year’s budget, so it could not continue, and it would not be in a position to fund it.

“I do not expect miracles, but I expect commitment from the Minister and the Government that, regardless of what happens, we are not going to close public swimming pools or public libraries. They are essential services,” said Deputy Connolly.

She said €2.5 million in funding had been made available for “swimming pools with public access” in the private sector as part of the Government’s July Stimulus package, but nothing for publicly-owned facilities.

“It is very ironic if we are going to keep private swimming pools open once they have some limited access to the public, while we close down the public swimming pools,” she added.

Responding, Minister Peter Burke said his Department was keeping spending and cash flow at local authorities under constant review and would continue to work with Galway City Council to address issues.

“My Department is engaging with representatives of the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the financial challenges facing local authorities as a direct consequence of the pandemic, in terms of additional costs incurred as part of the local government response and decline in local authority income streams.

“I will do my very best with regard to the Deputy’s ask. I would be willing to meet a delegation from the City Council in connection with this issue. However, there are going to be significant asks emanating from this crisis. We are doing our very best to make what we have go as far as it can. It presents a major challenge,” said Minister Burke.

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