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Connacht Tribune

Burren knows no borders!

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At a time when it seems like some of the worst days of recession are behind us and the economy shows signs of improving, it’s easy to forget that weathering the storm took a lot of hard work and determination from the country’s smaller towns.

The communities in the Burren Lowlands has been a shining light in exemplifying what is possible when local people come together to promote and develop their own area.

Back in 2014, the Burren Lowlands was set up to develop the region – taking Gort as the central market town, while also developing the hinterlands of South Galway and North Clare.

Project Manager, Teresa Butler, says that for hundreds of years, Gort was the central market town for the area – and as a result, they decided that if the town, as well as all the surrounding towns and villages were developed, everyone would stand to benefit.

“We want to develop the town based on the concept of developing the region – if the hinterland is looked after, then you can have a good, functioning market town.

“A small local group started off by organising a community meeting and they managed to fill a room with about 200 people – it was at that stage I joined them,” says Teresa.

It takes a lot of work to initiate a campaign for rural development, as any community activist will tell you – but to attract 200 people out to a meeting is no mean feat.

But there was a desire for change in the area – Gort and the surrounding areas had been hit hard by recession, as Teresa explains.

“There was a hunger for it at the time – things had really gone down and there was no sign of a turning point.

“There has been a real lift around the place because it has awakened people – it is a model in terms of grass roots rural and sustainable development.”

The Burren Lowlands takes in 14 districts including Kilcolgan, Ballinderreen, Kilchreest, Labane, Peterswell, Kinvarra and Ardrahan – as well as parts of North Clare.

Teresa says that one of their first major wins was to successfully have the region recognised as a Rural Economic Development Zone – enabling them to seek funding.

“There was a huge amount of volunteer time put. The tourist office came out of that initial meeting.”

One of their main focus points was to attract some of the attention that the Wild Atlantic Way had been getting – something that has been enormously beneficial to local businesses.

“We had a pilot scheme to develop a loop off the Wild Atlantic Way – that is to ensure that the infrastructure is there, that there are signs and that the tourist office was open.

“Since then, that has developed into not one, but two loops for the Wild Atlantic Way which will be launched soon.”

Teresa says that while managed, a lot of what the project has achieved has been partially organic – with every person involved bringing their own set of skills and experiences with them.

“We try to take a holistic approach because people come and they find their own interests in it – they might come through a meeting or they might have an idea and approach us.

“The Burren Lowlands has become a focal point – people know they are not working in isolation.”

See full feature in this week’s Community Matters pages of the Connacht Tribune. If you would like your area to feature in a future Community Matters,  you can email stephen.corrigan@ctribune.ie

Connacht Tribune

Fuel for thought as we try and energise our wheels

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Country Living with Francis Farragher

A good few years back . . . well probably even decades . . . I remember asking quite a knowledgeable motoring correspondent, long gone to his eternal reward, about the pros and cons of staying with petrol or switching to diesel. By the time his reply had finished, nearly 20 minutes had elapsed, and I was avalanched with so much data that I was no wiser at the end of the conversation than I was at the start.

I thought of that a few weeks before Christmas when I happened to tune in to a programme on Channel 4 – Dispatches – which examined the practicalities of owning and driving an electric car across the roads of the United Kingdom.

There is a wish amongst all of us to pursue a more environmentally friendly way of life. At this stage, we all probably know someone who has purchased a fully electric car and certainly many more who have dipped their toes into the waters of the hybrid models.

Anyway, the main theme of the Dispatches programme was that after 10-years of investment by the UK authorities in the infrastructure needed to support electric cars, quite a shocking number of charging points were either out of action or were not working to their full efficiency.

Nearly 10% of the ‘rapid chargers’ sampled across the UK were found not to be working properly, while 30 new ultra-rapid charges were also found to be dysfunctional to varying degrees. Some of the charging points had been out of action for six years and a percentage of those were unrepairable as their technology base was now obsolete.

Apart from their significant extra cost – even if one qualifies for the maximum €5,000 Government grant – the great fear I would have with the electric cars is that I’d find myself marooned in a corner of Kerry or Antrim, out of ‘juice’, and unable to access a charging point.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Covid boosts college coffers

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NUI Galway

NUI Galway reported an operating surplus of almost €19 million during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic when its campus was closed for months.

The healthy finances reported by NUIG has prompted its student body to call for it to waive repeat exams’ fees and student levies, and to invest in mental health services.

Consolidated financial statements for NUIG for the year ended September 30 2020 show the university reported an operating surplus of €18.9 million. This was up by €16 million on the surplus generated in 2019.

The financial statement said that while Covid-19 was ‘extremely challenging’, the ‘extraordinary dedication and work ethic of its staff have mitigated against the financial impact’ of the year.

The report said a surplus of €18.9 million was a ‘commendable performance’ given that 95%  of staff and students withdrew from campus in March 2020 to study and work remotely in line with Government regulations.

It noted that core income fell by a net €4 million compared with the previous year.

“Drops in research income of €9m and a Covid-related decline in commercial and student accommodation income of some €5m were offset by increased fee income of €4m, a €3m increase in the fair value of investments, and other increases of €3m relating to Government grants and other income,” the report said.

It said that the increase in Government grants includes Covid Support grant funding from the Higher Education Authority to cover additional specific Covid-19 related costs of €2.2m.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Farm buildings can be used as business hubs in rural areas

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Cllr. Declan Geraghty (Ind)

RURAL farm buildings should be utilised for small business enterprises which would supplement the income of landowners as well as creating some local employment in the process.

This was the view of the vast majority of Galway councillors who passed a motion that buildings directly relating to farming be considered for other purposes that would be financially advantageous to the owners.

The matter came up for discussion at a meeting of the Galway County Development Plan when it was suggested that the farming community needed to be allowed develop small business opportunities.

A motion from Cllr. Declan Geraghty (Ind) – deviating slightly from Galway County Council policy – proposed that they be allowed carry out businesses such as the servicing and repair of machinery, land reclamation, drainage works, and agricultural contracting was carried.

The motion added that this be allowed where it is financially advantageous to locate in a given area and where it would not have an adverse impact on the environment.

The Williamstown councillor said that it could result in hundreds of small business enterprises being developed out of farm buildings.

“At the moment they cannot get planning permission for such enterprises given that they are located in a rural area,” he argued.

He was supported by Cllr. Pete Roche (FG) who went further by saying that even the establishment of pet farms or animal farms that could be opened up to the public were also options that could be considered.

“There are farm families at the moment who cannot earn a decent living out of agriculture alone and would relish the opportunity to diversify,” he added.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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