A large proportion of Galway householders – previously disqualified from a Government scheme designed to keep them in their homes – could now be eligible to re-enter.
New figures from the Housing Agency show that 78 households in the county were ruled out of the Mortgage to Rent scheme that aims to keep homeowners with unsustainable debt in their current homes.
However, a leading expert in the field says many of those who had their applications rejected could now find solutions – thanks to changes in the scheme which allows householders to remain in their homes as tenants of their local authority, paying an affordable income-based rent.
“There has been a widening of the house value eligibility parameters by the Government, which have risen to €395,000 in Galway,” said Paul Cunningham, CEO of the only Government-approved Mortgage to Rent private operator, Home for Life.
“Another reason is Home for Life’s arrival into the scheme. Unlike many other operators, we are happy to consider rural dwellings or houses that need money spent on them to bring them up to a good standard.
“In the past, those two categories were responsible for high numbers of termination decisions.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Do we need our own school to protect our kids from Covid?
The return to school is less than a month away – but as Galway journalist and mother TESS FINCH-LEES reveals, the rules on minimising the risk of Covid have all but vanished from the agenda. So here she outlines her own radical solution.
“God loves a trier”, as my Dad used to say – and God knows I’ve tried to persuade Norma Foley to make schools Covid safe. They’re not, but I won’t stop trying.
In the meantime, schools re-open in three weeks against a backdrop of a data blackout, a more contagious variant incoming, waning and pummelled immunity from repeated infections, with no protections in place. And monkeypox.
School staff have, yet again, been put in an invidious position.
Since Micheál Martin unilaterally downgraded Covid to flu and devolved public health to “personal responsibility”, it’s up to parents to risk-assess now.
But, if we’re not allowed to know if the unmasked kid sitting next to ours who was off sick for a few days has Covid and is potentially still infectious, how can we? Nits we need to be informed of, but a highly infectious neurotropic disease that can cause organ damage, disability and death?
That’s an ecumenical matter.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and WHO measures to prevent the spread of infection in schools include reducing community transmission, vaccination, distancing, masks, improved ventilation, testing, sequencing, contact tracing and isolation. Ireland has either stalled or rolled back on these.
I spoke to one of the country’s leading children’s rights lawyers, Gareth Noble, who said: “I’m concerned we’re creating a culture of conditioning us to think Covid infections and outbreaks in schools are inevitable.
We significantly reduce risk for our children if we follow basic public health advice such as mask-wearing, contact tracing, air filtration and other measures. Any expert advice from the WHO needs to be considered and actioned. Ignoring it would be negligent.”
I’ve worked in child protection where “negligent” is synonymous with child harm. That’s not something I can ignore. Unless parents are prepared to say, “we don’t consent to exposing our children to Covid infection at school”, our consent will be presumed tacit.
I wrote my first article about Covid safe schools two years ago. There have been many more since. Each time, teachers, parents and children contact me sharing their concerns. Many are either clinically vulnerable (CV) or have a family member who is CV. Some – previously healthy children and teachers – have developed Long-Covid and now have “underlying conditions”.
In the absence of any plan forthcoming, concerned parents are agonising about what to do come September.
In order to attend school, immunocompromised Galway mother (Joan) has to send her twelve-year-old (Brian) to live with her sister – a 30-minute drive away. Without mitigations, bringing the virus home from school could kill Joan. Parting with her son was her only choice.
I anticipate the next year being quite perilous. No public health protections, new – more transmissible – vaccine-escaping variants emerging more frequently, so expect serial (re)infections, which the WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan warns, increases the risk of long-Covid, even in “mild” acute cases. The sterilising vaccines that prevent transmission and infections, are unlikely to emerge within the next twelve months. It’s time for plan b.
Home-schooling works for some, but not my son, who’d rather have his eyeballs poked by pigeons than have me as his teacher.
So, I scoured the internet to see if any school anywhere had managed to prevent Covid outbreaks. I found one – Abrome, in Texas. How did it do it? By ignoring politicians and following the science.
Acknowledging Covid is airborne, mitigations included daily testing, mandatory FFP2/3 masks (unless medically exempt) indoors and outdoors in close contact during surges, distancing, remote learning when cases were extremely high, outdoor learning options, and Hepa filtration in every classroom. If CO2 readings exceeded 800, rooms were evacuated and classes continued in sheltered outdoor spaces, also used for eating. Everyone is vaccinated.
Although I don’t intend to set up a school, the Abrome project inspired me to think out of the box. Using their Covid safe template, why not try to re-create something similar, albeit on a much smaller scale (four to six third year students) somewhere close to home – Galway?
I visualise it as a kind of community bubble with children of the same age meeting up to learn, play and breathe clean air in a Covid safe space. As large or small a gathering as demand and logistics permit.
Having read about Abrome in my recent Irish Independent article, a mother in Dublin messaged me to say it prompted a conversation among friends about whether they could do something similar. I like that. Starting a conversation. Putting an idea and a dollop of hope out into the world and see what comes back.
If this column was an advert it would read:
WANTED: 14-year-olds – and a teacher – who don’t want to be (re)infected with a neurotropic, vascular, SARS-CoV-2 virus at school this year. No excuse required.
I don’t know if anything will come of this, but I do know it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.
To start the conversation, email: email@example.com
Passers-by save church from burning down
The quick reaction of passers-by saved a Connemara church from being razed to the ground by fire.
Hill walkers who stopped off at St Joseph’s Church in Letterfrack on their way to climb Diamond Hill noticed a fire and smoke billowing from inside the building.
They immediately raised the alarm and alerted workers from Connemara National Park. They in turn rang Clifden Fire Brigade, who attended the scene and quenched the blaze.
Parish priest, Fr Anthaiah Pudota told the Connacht Tribune that the fire was started accidentally, possibly by a fallen candle in the church which was built in 1922.
He praised the people who raised the alarm quickly and thanked the workers for their bravery during efforts to bring the fire under control.
“My information was people who visited Connemara National Park raised the alarm. They were on the way to climb Diamond Hill and parked their cars to visit the church.
“I think it was a family who were visiting the area. It was an accidental fire. There is definitely significant damage. Wood was burned, and there was significant smoke damage, but it could have been worse.
“According to the CCTV footage, it happened around 1pm. Clifden Fire Brigade and workers from the National Park were very brave. The smoke inside was like a huge thick fog.
“It took them a while before they could enter. They had to break one of the doors, because the main door was closed. It was definitely very brave of them,” Fr Anathaiah said.
The fire was discovered quite quickly, he said, and so while the church was significantly damaged most of it centred on the candelabra area.
Ballinakill Parish Secretary in Letterfrack, Ann Cooke, thanked the local community and neighbouring parishes for good wishes and support.
“A very special note of thanks to the kind passer-by who raised the alarm, the National Park workers, and the emergency services, for their fast action and bravery, without all of whom the unfortunate event could have been much worse,” she said.
“Thank you all again for your support. Please God we will be able to come together in Letterfrack Church before long,” Ms Cooke added.
Fr Anathaiah, from India, will be two years in the rural Connemara parish of Ballinakill next month. He said that his parishioners have strong faith and are looking forward to the church reopening, but he could not confirm a date as yet.
Mass was said twice weekly, Sunday and Wednesday, at St Joseph’s up until the fire caused the damage at around 1pm on Friday July 22.
Fr Anathaiah said that services would now be said at Tullycross Church, about five kilometres away, for the foreseeable future.
“We are not quite sure at the moment (when it will reopen); we are waiting to see the extent of the damage. I can’t give an exact date, but we will definitely come back in the coming months,” Fr Anthaiah Pudota said.
State to look at plan to protect historic monastic ruins
Officials from the Office of Public Works have confirmed that they will visit what is widely regarded as the most complete Franciscan monastic ruins in Ireland to see what works are required to save it.
And a local public representative has said that he does not want to be part of a generation that allowed Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary to fall into worse disrepair.
Correspondence sent this week to those who diligently look after the friary has suggested that the OPW’s Head of Historic Properties will come down to establish what emergency works are required.
This follows the recent visit by the Minister for the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan to Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary which dates well back before the 1400s and requires urgent works to be carried out.
Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG) said: “It would be an absolute disgrace if we were the generation that allowed this friary to deteriorate even further.”
It was explained to the Minister while visiting the Abbey that it is in desperate need of emergency works and it was essential that the Minister brought this back to his department.
He was informed that it was around the late 1980s when there was any major works carried out on the abbey by the OPW.
“The abbey needs remedial work urgently as it is falling into disrepair and the main area of concern is the tower.
“There has never been any serious remedial work done on the tower and there has never been scaffolding put up around the outside of it to deal with the exterior of the tower,” Cllr Reddington told The Connacht Tribune.
A local group who met with the Minister explained that there is no electricity at the abbey or any toilet facilities for visiting tourists.
He was informed that the nearest electrical pole is only 200m away, so it wouldn’t be difficult to get electricity to the abbey.
The abbey, he was told, needs electricity which would then mean there would be options in terms of security lighting and closed-circuit television to prevent any vandalism taking place.
Those who look after the Franciscan Friary – including Glen Corbett and former Galway footballer Seamus McHugh – gave a detailed run down of emergency works that need to happen at the abbey.
They said that it was critical that emergency works start as soon as possible to protect the abbey for future generations.
The Minister committed to working with the group on this. The delegation than joined OPW officials and Finna Construction who gave them a tour of the OPW offices in Headford which benefited from a €5 million investment.
This week came the commitment that the OPW would visit the friary to establish the emergency works that need to prioritisation.
(Photo: Seamus McHugh, Minister Patrick O’Donovan, Glen Corbett and Cllr Andrew Reddington at Ross Errilly Franciscian Friary in Headford)