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Connacht Tribune

Bridie’s a high flyer at 106!

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Galway already holds the world record for the longest living siblings – now the county could be home to the world’s oldest global traveller.

Bridie Daly marked her 106th birthday by travelling back from Boston to her native Loughrea this month.

Bridie, who is one of eight siblings in the Duggan family of Ballinakill, Moyglass, found it difficult to get a flight due to her age.

But that did nothing to deter Bridie, who has flown home regularly since emigrating to America in 1929.

Bridie organised another flight with a Scandinavian airline, which involved a marathon trip and several stops in some far-flung places.

She has returned to see her family in Galway every two years since the year 2000.

And apparently Bridie is already talking about a return on her 108th birthday.

“She’s absolutely unbelievable. She lives on her own, a family member comes to stay at night time but she will not allow in home help. She can walk perfectly up and down the 14 steps to her apartment without being linked, she only recently agreed to use a walking stick,” explained Mary.

“Since she’s been home, she’s visited two nursing homes, seen grand nieces and nephews at two schools and travelled to Cork to see her husband’s cousins. She’s constantly on the go.”

Her brother Henry continues to farm in Moyglass at age 90. Her brother Kevin, 85, who followed her out to Boston, takes her out on regular lunch outings.

After 88 years living on the other side of the Atlantic, there is still not the hint of a twang, reveals Mary.

When Bridie first emigrated at age 18, she worked in a local church as a cleaner and secretary. She married Bill Daly from Cork and the couple had six children. Tragedy struck when she lost her husband to cancer when the youngest was only four, leaving her to raise the family alone.

She lost a son in a car accident at age 25 and two other children to natural causes in recent years. She remains remarkably active.

“She’s is a mass-goer without fail and says her prayers a lot. She goes out to get her hair done every Friday. She goes to Irish events, you just couldn’t believe she’s 106.”

At a party to celebrate her latest milestone last Friday in Portumna, she revealed her secret to a long life is to stay positive.

“Never despair. Live in hope,” is how she explained it to the 60 relatives and former neighbours.

Some believe she could be Ireland’s oldest person following the death of fellow Galwaywoman, Sarah Clancy in late December at age 108.

Sarah, a native of Sruthán, Connemara, had also emigrated to Boston before returning to the homeplace in 1988. She too had lived at home before passing away in her sleep.

The baby of the remarkable Clarke family of Castlenancy, Mullagh turned 100 in January. Sheila Burns became the sixth sibling and seventh family member – her mother was knocked down by a car at 101 – to survive a century. The family are now in the Guinness Book of World Records for the family with the most siblings to reach the age of 100.

See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Joint move by Galway councils to Crown Square ruled out

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A senior Department of Housing official floated the idea of Galway County Council workers moving to Galway City Council’s newly-acquired Crown Square office building if a merger of the two local authorities was to proceed.

However, he was told the proposed merger of Galway’s two councils was not being pursued “at this stage”, and that it “should not be a consideration” when deliberating on the City Council’s application to the Department for a €45.5m loan approval to buy the offices in Mervue, on the eastern side of the city.

The discussion was contained in internal communications between officials in the Department of Housing and Local Government who were discussing Galway City Council’s loan sanction application. It was released to the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

Gary McGuinn, the Department’s Assistant Principal Officer for Local Government Governance and Elected Members – in a comprehensive memo about the Council’s loan application – raised the prospect of what would happen if a merger between the two councils proceeded.

“Over the years there have been merger proposals for Galway City Council and Galway County Council. These proposals ultimately never advanced but I believe that there has been incrementally closer coordination between both executives.

“Galway is now something of a holdout given that mergers have taken place in Limerick and Waterford, while the boundary issue was settled in Cork by extending it to encompass the city suburbs and outlying districts.

“Both Galway City Council and Galway County Council have office premises in Galway city centre. On a purely speculative note, one could ponder what would happen to the new City Hall building that they want to borrow to fund if there is an eventual merger?

“Possibly it would become the HQ for a ‘Galway Metropolitan District’ structure within a single ‘City and County’ type local authority. As there is no such proposal at this time though it’s probably not something that can be asked about or planned for,” Mr McGuinn said to his colleague, Tim Nuttall, an official in the Department’s Local Government Finance section.

His views were forwarded to another section within the Department of Housing last September, just before Minister Darragh O’Brien sanctioned the loan application last September.

In response, another civil servant in the Department of Housing, Áinle Ní Bhriain, said: “I can confirm there are no plans to pursue a merger of Galway City Council and Galway County Council, which was approved by Government in 2018, at this stage, and therefore should not be a consideration in relation to this loan.”

Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, confirmed two days before Christmas Eve last year, that the deal to buy the property from JJ Rhatigan was complete.

City Council workers are due to move to the new building by the end of this year.

In its loan application, the City Council said its College Road site, built 40 years ago, and refurbished and extended in the 2000s, had a number of “challenges”.

These included “limited capacity for additional headcount, lack of facilities within current infrastructure, building standard compliance and meeting our existing building climate targets for 2030”.

It pointed out to the Department that it leases two buildings in the city centre, to accommodate staff as well as City Hall, and buying Crown Square “will address the challenges outlined in the most efficient and cost-effective way and release our current City Hall, city centre site for regeneration”.

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Connacht Tribune

Hotel sector’s plea to retain lower VAT rate

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With overseas visitors down more than a quarter and increases of 300% in energy bills compared to before the pandemic, now is not the time to hike VAT rates for hospitality.

That is the plea from the chairperson of the Galway branch of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), John Ryan, who is urging the Government to keep the 9% VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sectors indefinitely.

The Government delayed the introduction of a 13.5% rate until March 1 at a cost of €250 million to help the sector get back on its feet after Covid.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohue referred to price gouging in hotels over the summer as one of the key reasons he was upping the rate.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin last week stated that it was no secret she had sought the retention of the 9% rate in negotiations for the 2023 Budget and “will continue to seek it”.

The lobby group for small to medium business, ISME, has called for the reduced VAT rate to be brought in for the entire services sector.

The owner of the Ardilaun Hotel in Taylor’s Hill said the average price of a hotel room was €167 last year. With 4,000 rooms in Dublin booked out to accommodate refugees, the price of the remaining stock was at a premium.

“You could find a couple of examples all over the country where people were charging unfair prices and were wrong. There were a few serious spikes – maybe 1% of overall accommodation stock in Dublin did that. If I was a customer I wouldn’t pay it,” Mr Ryan said.

“But they shouldn’t penalise the entire sector because of that 1%. The 9% is the right one. We would be the same as other countries where tourism is a key industry. If we went up to 13.5%, we’d be the second highest after Denmark.

“We couldn’t absorb that. We have already contracted our foreign business for 2024/25 – we’d have to go out and tell suppliers we are putting up rates. That’s just not on.”

With almost all key tourism markets experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, the last thing the industry can cope with is a tax jump.

Of 27 EU countries, the VAT rate on accommodation is 9% or lower in 16 countries.

Tourism supports 22,000 jobs throughout Galway, generating €910 million in tourism revenues annually for the local economy.

Last year the average room occupancy levels were 69% for the West, just 1% lower than national rates. Over the same period in 2019, however, room occupancy was at 78% nationally.

This is largely due to a shortfall in overseas visitors to Ireland, with numbers still down more than 25% last year compared to 2019.

A recent survey found that hotels and guesthouses were reporting reduced levels of forward bookings compared to the same time in 2019.

Some 57% report reduced bookings from Great Britain, 48% say bookings are down from Northern Ireland, while 37% record fewer bookings from the rest of Europe. US bookings are down 41%.

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Connacht Tribune

Irish Water representatives asked to explain frequent East Galway problems

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Irish Water will be urged to attend a full plenary meeting of Galway County Council to explain frequent problems with the public water supply in East Galway.

A motion calling on them to answer questions before councillors proposed by Cllr Shane Curley (FF) received unanimous support from across the chamber.

The motion comes amid prolonged unplanned outages across the county, with Loughrea Municipal District councillors repeatedly raising the difficulties affecting their area.

“What has been happening in recent months is verging on the ridiculous. Outages have been prolonged to the degree that they’re having a seriously negative impact on people’s lives,” he said.

“Other utility companies like Electric Skyline have come to council meetings in the past and presented to councillors about the work that they are doing. This is urgently needed for clarity to be given from Irish Water at this point.

‘We have had horrendous issues in towns like Loughrea and Gort, where people have been on prolonged bottled water notices. Manholes around Loughrea town have fallen into serious disrepair, causing trip hazards.

“Irish Water is funded by the taxpayer and the public deserve crystal clear information as to what has been happening across the county.”

A boil notice was in place in the Gort area for a month, including over the Christmas and New Year period.

The notice was originally issued due to issues at the Gort Water Treatment Plant, affecting the treatment and supply for 2,776 customers supplied by the Gort Public Water Supply Scheme.

Irish Water’s Eoin Hughes said several issues came together which resulted in the advice not to drink or use the water without boiling.

“Before the cold weather took hold there were numerous leaks on the network and these drained reservoirs to low levels across the scheme. Low reservoir levels were further compounded by unprecedented temperatures of -8°C which caused severe operational difficulties at the treatment plant, leading to the plant being shut down for unsustainable periods of time, further impacting supply continuity.”

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