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CITY TRIBUNE

Black Lives Matter protest on Salthill Prom turned nasty

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A 19-year-old student who took part in a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest on Salthill Prom last summer, became abusive and physically obstructed a Garda who was bringing a prisoner back to the Garda Station.

Richard Kamson, Sraith Fhada, Doughiska, now realises that members of An Garda Síochána are nothing like their counterparts in US law enforcement, his solicitor, Ronan Murphy, told Galway District Court this week.

Richard Kamson

Kamson, a promising athlete and PR student at GMIT pleaded guilty to obstructing Garda Declan Whelan in the execution of his duty, and to breaching the peace, by engaging in threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour at the Promenade on May 30 last year.

Sergeant Cathal Rodgers said a group of up to 40 teenagers had congregated at the Prom for a Black Lives Matter march when at around 6.30pm, Gardaí encountered some of them as they were escorting a prisoner back to the Garda Station on foot.

The teenagers starting shouting “police brutality” and “let the prisoner go”, before a group of them started pushing and shoving the Gardaí and shouting into their faces.

Garda Whelan’s hat and tie were pulled off him in the ensuing skirmish.

A number of youths blocked Garda Whelan’s path as he tried to make his way back to the Garda Station and one of them was Kamson, Sgt Rodgers explained.

He said the accused made full admissions to the charges against him when he gave a voluntary memo to Gardaí on October 20 last.

He confirmed the accused had no previous convictions.

Mr Murphy said his client and his parents were taking this matter very seriously before conceding Kamson’s actions on the day were “completely indefensible”.

Mr Murphy said this occurred against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement after what happened to George Floyd in Minnesota.

“He accepts the Gardaí are nothing like the police force in the US. They’re a more structured, civilised organisation, and he accepts that,” Mr Murphy said.

“This was very much out of character and occurred out of a misplaced sense of justice,” the solicitor added while handing, what he described as very glowing references – including one from Galway Harriers – into court which stated his client was a promising athlete.

Mr Murphy said his client would never appear before the court again. “He did something very silly and appreciates the seriousness of it now,” he added.

Judge Mary Fahy said it was very serious. She said the incident occurred during the first lockdown when people didn’t understand the rules and regulations and Gardaí had to patrol areas to prevent large congregations from forming.

She said she accepted people found it difficult back then, but they had a better understanding of the rules and regulations now.

“At that time, there were more questions than answers. That’s not the case now because of the ‘roadmaps’.  It’s more clear and people know where they are going and they feel they are moving forward,” she said.

The judge said Kamson’s behaviour could not be condoned or excused by the lockdown.

Sgt Rodgers said the obstruction of Garda Whelan was at the upper end on the scale of gravity and only ended because other Gardaí happened to be there.

Judge Fahy agreed the situation could have escalated and could have been very serious for Garda Whelan.

She told the accused there was absolutely no correlation between this incident and what happened to the unfortunate George Floyd in the US.

Mr Murphy said his client accepted the Gardaí were a “very well-run organisation” and he now realised Gardaí could have been injured.

The solicitor asked Judge Fahy to give his client a chance and adjourn the matter to a later date to await the findings of a Garda behaviour report.

He said his client had learnt a very sobering lesson and his parents had been very hard on him.

Judge Fahy suggested the parents, who both work, might like to make some restitution to society.

She adjourned sentence to September 1, to await the findings of a Garda behaviour report and said that if it was good, she might consider a contribution from the parents to a worthwhile cause, adding that she wanted their son to understand what he did was wrong and he will not do it again.

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway troop keeps the flag flying for scouting!

Stephen Corrigan

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Cubs from 14th Galway, Michael O’Gorman (10), Ziggy Touhy (10), Lily Lawless Casby (10), Sam Mangan (11), Mathew Kelly (12), Kyra O’Gorman (11) and Harry Fahy (10), making Smores on the campfire in Shantalla at their first outdoor meeting since restrictions have lifted.

“I have a child again.” That was the response of one parent to Chairman of the 14th Galway Scouts, Brendan O’Gorman, after their son returned from an outdoor adventure with the group last summer.

It was that response for Brendan that epitomised the impact lockdown was having on children – and the importance of the outdoors to restoring their wellbeing.

The 14th Galway group, which has boys and girls of all ages up to 18 involved, has become synonymous with the outdoors for that reason, as Brendan explains.

“In the first lockdown last spring, we’d been doing as much as we could online. That was more so to keep the teenagers connected, but it doesn’t work for the younger ones. It’s really just not the same.

“Then, in the summer, when restrictions eased a bit, we got them all outdoors. We were able to bring our older groups on 10-day outdoor experiences and what we were noticing was they were exhausted after the first day of activities,” says Brendan.

As the days went on, he describes it as being like ‘a weight was lifted off their shoulders’.

“They seemed to find the whole living within so many rules very tiring. After the 10 days, they were running around like normal kids. Our normal experience is that they’re full of enthusiasm at the beginning and calm down as it goes on – but this flipped it on its head,” says Brendan.

As a result of Covid restrictions, a decision was taken by the group to focus its energy on the outdoors – investing in tents and returning to what the Scouts has always been about like camping, hiking and outdoor survival skills, he continues.

“By us being active last year, we have seen our numbers grow by 27%. We have had a queue of children and adults wanting to get involved. As time went on, the message was getting stronger that we were safe out in the parks.”

The children and teenagers already involved were going back to their friends, spreading the word and spurring more and more to join.

There was a noticeable improvement in the children’s sociability as the summer went on, says Brendan a welcome sight for parents and volunteers who had seen children go into their shell as they tried to cope with months trapped indoors.

“We operated all through the summer and as the evenings drew in from October, we started meeting on Sunday afternoons rather than weekday evenings. We would have kept going right through January and February, but for the restrictions that came in at Christmas.

Making their return as the latest batch of restrictions eased, small groups were able to meet at Shantalla Park where Brendan says they will continue to meet over the coming weeks and months.

“Last year, we only got to do away trips for the older groups, but this year we have plans for camps in July for all age groups. We’re staying a bit closer to home than we might normally, because there are a lot of new members who mightn’t be as comfortable to be away from home.

“We expect to expand further in September. It’s only week two back and we already have people contacting us wanting to join,” says Brendan.

The Scouts as an organisation has been hit, like many others, by Covid – losing volunteers who have had to step out because of health risks has been a particular challenge, says Brendan.

But 14th Galway has bucked the trend with growing numbers.

“The national organisation has a campaign going to increase awareness of what Scouts is about. In Galway, we have ourselves on the west side of the city, the 13th in Renmore and the Sea Scouts and as we’ve seen, it can be such an important outlet for young people,” says Brendan.

For more information on joining Galway 14th Scouts, visit 14thgalway.ie, or for other groups see scouts.ie.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Council asked to change speed sign mistakes

Dara Bradley

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Kevin Jennings with his son Kenny and daughter Ada at one of the incorrect speed signs on the Ballymoneen Road in Knocknacarra. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Officials in the Transport Department at City Hall have again been asked to replace incorrect speed limit signs on city roads.

Councillor Martina O’Connor (Green) has submitted a Notice of Motion for this week’s meeting of Galway City Council calling for wrong speed signs to be replaced.

Cycling campaigners have also reiterated their plea for correct signs to be put in place – to protect all road users.

It emerged last month that several roads within the city boundary that have speed limits of 50km/h, have speed signs on them suggesting they are in 80km/h zones.

Among the roads with incorrect 80km/h signs are: Upper Cappagh Road, Upper Ballymoneen Road, Rahoon Road, Letteragh Road, Rosshill Road, Dublin Road and the Oranmore Coast Road.

According to Galway Cycling Campaign, the incorrect signage has been on the roads for up to 12 years.

The Council has acknowledged the problem and signalled it will carry out an audit to identify how many signs are wrong.

Cllr O’Connor’s motion reads: “I request Galway City Council Transport Department replace incorrect speed limit signage. This was to be carried out with current rejected bylaws but now needs correction on its own merit for safety particularly of pedestrians and cyclists.”

The Council did not answer a series of specific questions put to it by this newspaper. Instead, it issued a statement on the matter, in which it indicated the incorrect signs would not be corrected until a review of speed bylaws is completed.

The Council said: “In the last two years, Galway City Council undertook (in accordance with national guidance) a review of speed limit bylaws.

“Following extensive public consultation these draft bylaws were presented to the elected members of Galway City Council in September 2020. These proposed Bylaws had included a reduction in the city centre area of speed limits to 30km/h and some increases in limits on outer major roads.

“The proposed bylaws were rejected by the elected members. The Transport Strategic Policy Committee of Galway City Council has charged staff in the Transport Department with the task of further reviewing these draft bylaws. When completed there will follow an audit and review of signage across the city.”

Chair of Galway Cycling Campaign, Kevin Jennings, said that the Council was trying to shift the blame to councillors, when it was the executive that has the powers to change the signs to the correct speeds.

Mr Jennings said: “The issue of the speed limits review in autumn 2020 has nothing to do with the issue of the current incorrect signage on our roads. The Council’s statement blamed our councillors. The councillors are not responsible for the erection and maintenance of road signage; the Council is.

“The default limit in the entire Galway City administrative region, a built-up area, is 50km/h unless a special speed limit bylaw applies.

“Signs on at least seven roads say the speed limit is 80km/h. This is erroneous signage. The Council is responsible for the speed limit signs.”

Cllr O’Connor’s motion piles pressure on the Council to rectify the incorrect signs, and it is on the agenda for today’s (Monday) meeting.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Rice cookers removed from Direct Provision Centre rooms

Dara Bradley

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An official inspection of the Direct Provision centre in Salthill found cooking appliances in several bedrooms of the accommodation for asylum seekers.

The annual inspection of the Eglinton in Salthill, by the International Protection Procurement Services, on behalf of the State, highlighted some issues for Maplestar Ltd, the operator of the accommodation, to resolve.

The inspection took place in November 2020, and the report was released by the Department of Justice to Galway City Tribune last week.

The hotel can accommodate 210 at capacity; on the day of the inspection there were 143 people living there, including families and single women.

No visitors were allowed at the centre during Covid-19, according to the report.

Meals are provided at the centre, but the report highlighted that a number of residents used their own cooking facilities in their bedrooms, which was against house rules.

During the inspection rice cookers were found in five bedrooms. In a letter of response to the inspector, management at the Eglinton outlined that it had rectified a number of issues, including removing rice cookers from bedrooms.

One resident “was informed of the dangers of cooking in the room and cooker was removed by management”, according to the response.

The report notes that meals prepared by a chef employed by the centre are served three times a day. Lunches for schoolchildren are also provided and there is access to snacks outside of the centre’s breakfast, lunch and dinner hours.

Some other mostly cosmetic issues in relation to rooms were mentioned by the inspector, and were subsequently dealt with, according to management.

A previous annual inspection report in 2019 had also highlighted that cooking facilities were being used in some of the bedrooms in the hotel.

“I can understand that even if you did have communal cooking facilities why you would be tempted to use other things in your own space. It’s very sad. I actually get shivers even thinking about it because people can be in Direct Provision for long periods of time,” said Galway-based senator, Pauline O’Reilly.

“Particularly for families, but also for single people, you have to have some element of privacy. When you look at human rights, people do have an entitlement. So even in the best-case scenario in these communal settings with a communal kitchen that’s not what families should have to survive. It could be a case that you’re not getting on with other people, all kinds of social issues arise when you’re living with people for a long period of time.”

She said that abolishing Direct Provision was a top priority of the Green Party in Government, and had brought forward a white paper on it. She wants “own-door accommodation”

“The timeline to get this done over the lifetime of the Government will be a challenge. Obviously, that’s the commitment and that’s one of the key things for us,” said Senator O’Reilly.

“We have to be careful in any conversation around this not to be pitting people against each other. I don’t think that is the reality. Actually, the numbers in Direct Provision are relatively low in the overall population. And so, it should be achievable [to end DP] in terms of housing.

“The whole purpose of the plan is that people who can afford to pay, will pay for their housing. It’s not a case of everybody gets something for free. It’s a case-by-case basis just like it is with anyone else in the population.

“Whether you pay or not will depend on your means. You could be coming from areas of conflict where people have very high skill levels but they’re fleeing conflict or disaster zones,” she added.

The Department of Justice confirmed that phasing out of Direct Provision had commenced.

“Emergency accommodation is being phased out. This accommodation is not suitable for long-term use, and comes with a high degree of congregation. Single people who do not know each other can end up sharing rooms. Good progress has been made in terms of closing emergency accommodation this year and moving residents into accommodation with better standards,” it said.

The Department also pointed to a number of other short-term improvements.

Asylum seekers can now open Irish bank accounts, which was not the case up until this year.

A spokesperson said that secondary school students living in DP no longer have to pay international fees when applying for post-leaving cert and third level courses; they pay the same rates as Irish students.

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