Bradley Bytes – A sort of political column with Dara Bradley
You’ve got to wonder about the wisdom of the statement issued by Galway City Council last Monday.
Galway, like the rest of the country, and the world, was and is on edge about coronavirus Covid-19. And rightly so – it is deadly.
But far from putting the public at ease, City Hall’s email about switching venues for its meeting fuelled fears.
The statement read: “Following a risk assessment of the Council Chamber in relation to the current guidance regarding Covid-19, this afternoon’s ordinary meeting of Galway City Council will now take place in the veranda lounge of The Galmont Hotel, Fairgreen Road, Galway from 3pm.”
That was it; a one-liner that posed more questions than it actually answered.
The public, if the reaction on social media is an accurate gauge, was panicked.
Why the hell are they moving from the Council Chamber; is it infected, everyone wondered?
We hear that the statement even caused confusion among staff working for the local authority – was there a case of coronavirus in their midst that they hadn’t been told about?
Alas, the explanation was simpler and less dramatic. The reason for the change of venue was this. The Council Chamber is small. It is so small that councillors and Council staff sit close together, shoulder to shoulder. The HSE had issued advice to all employers that workers sitting next to each other for periods of 15 minutes or more should be separated by two metres, as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus. In order to comply with this advice, the Council decided to move to The Galmont, which could seat 18 councillors, several staff members and media the required two metres or more apart.
The problem wasn’t necessarily that the Council was engaging in social distancing – although it did spark fears in other workplaces that are tight for space and don’t have the luxury of moving to a hotel. The problem was that the statement was so sparse on detail, it inevitably aroused suspicion and caused unnecessary panic.
Meanwhile, once the hullaballoo online died down, and the real reason for the change of venue became apparent, the meeting proceeded at The Galmont. There was one problem, though. They only had one microphone, unlike in City Hall where each councillor has their own mic. And so, the mic was passed around to each speaker, who made their contribution, inevitably slobbering and spluttering into the device before passing it on. Coronavirus risk assessment how do.
Will and Kate bring out the Shoneens!
‘The most Shoneen town in Ireland’ was the wonderful description of Galway City in 1916 by an Irish Volunteer who was fighting to overthrow English rule in this country . . . *For more Bradley Bytes see this week’s Galway City Tribune
Redundancies are not on the cards for Galway City Council workers
Redundancies at Galway City Council as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have been ruled out by Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.
The local authority has imposed a temporary ban on recruitment, but is not planning to lay off any of its 520-strong workforce.
Mr McGrath said that down the road, if this crisis continues for a prolonged period, replacing staff who retire may not be possible. But for now, Council workers are ‘flat out’ maintaining essential services across a range of departments.
“No, we’re not planning that (lay offs). We will endeavour to keep our workforce fully employed. We’ve built up our team since the recession, a lot of our team and the additional bodies we’ve taken on are related to specific projects, for which there was various forms of grant aid available so I think we’d be confident that we will try to be able to retain the entire staff resource,” he said.
Nearly 150 members of staff have been set up to work from home, thanks to the ICT Department at City Hall.
Outdoor staff, and other office staff who must be at City Hall, are observing social distancing guidelines. Offices that used to be packed with people now have one or two workers, spaced in accordance with the guidelines.
As with the private sector, there have been changes to the ‘normal’ working week for Council staff, and some have been redeployed to other areas.
The Council has a statutory obligation to maintain essential services.
“Essential services are anything to do with homelessness; urgent housing repairs like plumbing and electrical; work on houses that were nearly complete to bring back into beneficial use and to bring back into use for self-isolation; public lighting is essential; burst water mains; maintaining traffic lights for road safety; and anything to do with water supply and waste water and treating effluent,” said Mr McGrath.
Street cleaning is classed as ‘necessary but not absolutely essential’, and is a slightly lower category than ‘essential services’.
The rota for street cleaning has been cut back to a number of times a week rather than every day, and this reflects the quieter streets due to people staying at home.
The city’s burial grounds are closed, but graves still need to be opened, and the Planning Department continues to operate.
Cancer patients will have surgeries in private hospitals
Cancer specialists in Galway are reviewing their patient lists identifying cases that need to be prioritised for urgent surgery and biopsies.
Saolta University Health Care Group, which includes UHG and Merlin Park, has moved to reassure the public that ‘time-sensitive’ cancer cases will get the treatment they need, despite the Covid-19 crisis.
Pat Nash, Chief Clinical Director with the Saolta Group, and consultant cardiologist at UHG, said talks have taken place with Galway Clinic and Bon Secours with a view to cancer surgeries of public patients proceeding at the private hospitals.
“There are many types of cancer, some of which are very time-dependant in that they need intervention very quickly to prevent any bad outcome, whereas others, the immediacy of the time isn’t necessarily going to impact on the long-term outcome.
“I can assure you, that all cases are being reviewed by consultants. Those who need treatment that is time-sensitive, where any delay could impact on outcome, will get treatment.
“Each consultant is reviewing their list and ensuring that any urgent surgery, up until now was accommodated in UHG, but we will be looking to do surgery within Galway Clinic and Bon Secours where we will have capacity and where we can start more or less immediately,” he said.
Meanwhile, cancer patients residing in a residential facility close to UHG while receiving treatment have been relocated to the Harbour Hotel to make way for those battling the Covid-19 pandemic instead.
Cancer Care West offered their 33-bedroom Inis Aoibhinn facility on hospital grounds to University Hospital Galway, which is gearing up capacity to deal with the predicted influx of patients over the coming weeks.
The Harbour Hotel in turn offered its premises free of charge to the charity to accommodate patients from across the region during their treatment.
Richard Flaherty, CEO of Cancer Care West, said staff and 28 residents had relocated to the Harbour Hotel on Monday after the hospital accepted the offer.
It will be used to accommodate staff or patients who need to be isolated close to a medical setting.
“We will continue to provide nursing care and support services onsite at the hotel to our patients.
“We also have arranged transport for the patients to and from treatment as they cannot walk as easily as before to the hospital,” he explained.
“It’s quite a logistical challenge for us, but we knew strategically how important Inis Aoibhinn would be.
“We have to pay for catering and transport but we are particularly grateful to John Lally and his team at the Harbour Hotel for their exceptional generosity for facilitating us at this difficult time.
“As an organisation we are committed to assisting in any way we can the HSE in the fight against Covid-19.”
City Council’s conference call ‘eavesdropper’
Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column by Dara Bradley
Galway City Council, like the rest of us, is adapting to the new reality of life under Covid-19 restrictions.
There haven’t been any face-to-face City Council meetings, be they full meetings or committee meetings, since the crisis really hit.
But that doesn’t mean elected members and management are twiddling their thumbs. Far from it – they’re busier than ever, just a different sort of busy.
Last Wednesday evening, city councillors held a conference call with Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.
Members of his management team were also involved in the meeting, which was conducted using technology that allows people to ‘attend’ a meeting online from the comfort of their own homes.
Each member is invited to the virtual meeting through a link sent to their email account. They click into this and then they are ‘in’ the meeting and can speak and see the others, also attending remotely.
A reliable deep-throat who participated in Wednesday’s chat informs us that the meeting had to be stopped – at the behest of McGrath – and restarted, over fears someone was eavesdropping.
The suspicion is that the link to join the meeting was sent to someone it shouldn’t have been, and this person attempted to listen in.
“Brendan halted the meeting and we had to hang up and start again because a mystery man was listening-in on the teleconference. It was hacked but Brendan has the number and can find out who it was,” said one source.
If the standard of debate at the tele-conference was anything like some of the drivel you can get at some ordinary Council meetings, then the conference-blocked hacker didn’t miss much!
For more Bradley Bytes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune