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Connacht Tribune

Bus strike may hit school runs from Monday

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Students could be left without a school bus service as early as next Monday as a result of industrial action at Bus Éireann.

That’s the stark warning from Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs Anne Rabbitte after it emerged that Bus Éireann has written to private operators working under the School Transport Scheme to advise them that payments due on Friday will now be delayed.

The School Transport Scheme supports transport to and from school for children who live in remote areas. The scheme is operated by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.

“Bus Éireann currently relies on a number of private operators right across the county to provide a bus service under the School Transport Scheme. I have previously raised concerns regarding the impact of industrial action at Bus Éireann on school transport services.

“At the time I was assured that the industrial action will have no effect on the School Transport Scheme,” said the Galway East Deputy.

But she revealed that correspondence issued by Bus Éireann to private operators this week showed that the industrial action at the company is having a direct impact on the School Transport Scheme.

“Bus Éireann have notified private operators that payments they are due on Friday will now be delayed. This is a serious issue as private operators have warned that they may be forced to withdraw from the School Transport Scheme from as early as next Monday should they not receive their payments,” she warned.

The strike has already caused chaos on all routes into the city in particular, compounded by new traffic measures which were supposed to ease logjams but have so far had the opposite effect.

A statement from Bus Éireann reads: “Almost 1,300 private operators provide services as contractors on behalf of Bus Éireann under the School Transport Scheme. The current industrial dispute means that staff in local school transport offices who normally process accounts are not available which has caused a delay.

“However, a technical solution is being put in place which will see contractors being paid next week, who would normally have been paid this week. The contract agreement with each contractor sets out that payment will be made within 30 days of a correctly completed invoice being received by Bus Éireann.  Payments made next week are well within this range.

“School bus services continue to run normally during this dispute, with over 115,000 children availing of the School Transport Scheme, which is operated by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.”

See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Community fights back on hospital ‘downgrade by stealth’

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Raw emotion, sadness and some anger filled the air at Clifden Town Hall on Sky Road last Sunday afternoon as a shaken community gave honest, personal accounts of the impact the closure by stealth of Clifden District Hospital would have on the people of North Connemara.

The public meeting was hastily organised after fears emerged on Friday that the HSE may transfer respite services from Clifden to Merlin Park Hospital, 50-plus miles away in Galway City.

Families were told their loved ones in Clifden Hospital may have to move home, or go to Merlin Park the following Monday, due to ‘issues with staffing’.

An axe has hung over Clifden Hospital for some years, but this latest move stirred the community to fight back to retain services locally.

Galway County Councillor Eileen Mannion (FG), who organised the public meeting with Senator Sean Kyne, said 625 people signed the attendance sheets and an estimated 650 people attended.

“The community effort spreading the word was unbelievable; the turnout was unbelievable,” she said.

“It wasn’t just anger; it was raw emotion in the room. Sadness. Family members spoke about the calls they got on Friday. The feeling that their elderly person was being rejected; that they weren’t being respected.

“One man stood up, three years waiting for respite care for a family member, and then to be told after a few days in there that she’d have to be taken home or to Merlin Park.

“We’re 50 miles from Galway. If there’s no traffic you might get to the outskirts in an hour but with the traffic in Galway, you could be another hour to get to Merlin Park. Not everyone has transport either and they’ve to rely on buses.

“A young woman stood up at the meeting and said her dad was dying in Galway. And she had to go to Saint Vincent de Paul to get money to pay for a B&B so that the family would be close to him when the end came. People gave their personal stories, and it was just heart-breaking.”

(Photo by Carmel Lyden: Teresa Conneely from Roundstone addresses people at the public meeting in Clifden Town Hall).

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the Clifden Hospital story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Pilgrim took to his feet to realise dream!

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Clifden man Breandan O Scanaill, who is on a pilgrimage from his home town of Clifden to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, received a Mayoral welcome and a memorial crest when he arrived at the Asturian town of Navia last week.

Breandan, whose walk from his home outside Clifden to the reputed burial place of St James in Santiago, began in April, was walking through Navia in Spain when a local man came over to chat to him.

“He asked me about my journey and was interested in the fact that an Irish man had turned up in the town,” says Breandan, who had been admiring the Chapel of San Roque at the time.

The local man outlined the history of the building and the town to Breandan and they began chatting more generally about history and architecture – topics dear to the pilgrim’s heart.

Breandán’s new friend introduced himself as the Mayor of Navia, lgnacio Garcia Palacios, who invited the visitor from Clifden to visit the Town Hall.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Local Property Tax rate to stay unchanged despite Council chief’s plea

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Councillors have agreed to keep the Local Property Tax (LPT) rate unchanged – despite pleas from management that Galway County Council is predicted to spend at least €22 million more than it brings in for the next two years.

County Chief Executive Jim Cullen had recommended an increase of 15% on the LPT rate for 2023 and 2024 – amounting to €2.1m extra in the coffers annually – which would bolster its case when it came to pleading for a greater share of funding from central government.

In an estimation of income and expenditure for the Council, taking into account “unavoidable” expenditure and income changes set to hit, the Council would run a deficit of €9.04m in 2023 and 13.2m in 2024 – well over €22m unless there was a change in finances.

“I am hopeful of an uplift in baseline [funding] levels . . . we cannot continue to ignore the fact that other councils have raised LPT and their citizens enjoy a better standard of services that in Galway,” he stressed.

He told a meeting this week that €9m would be needed to maintain services next year at the same level as 2022. This was due to significant cost increases given that inflation is reaching 9.6% currently. Pensions, gratuities and payroll increases from the national pay agreement, increments and additional staff were all adding to bigger outgoings.

Without that extra funding, it will be necessary to reduce spending by that amount with a negative impact on service and staffing levels, he said.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the story, including the councillors’ discussions, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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