The Ombudsman has reprimanded Galway City Council for ‘unfairly’ changing the record of a Traveller family’s waiting time on the city’s housing list.
The Ombudsman launched an investigation after a Traveller woman complained that her family had been removed from the housing waiting list by the Council.
The local authority had changed their eligibility for housing from 2005, when they first applied, to 2014.
The family had been removed from the housing waiting list in 2012 and again in 2014 when the Council said they had failed to reply to correspondence.
But the Ombudsman ruled it was unfair, and the Council agreed to backdate the family’s qualification date for housing to 2005.
This means they have been on the waiting list for 17 years.
According to the Ombudsman, the family was originally approved for housing and placed on the housing list in 2005.
In 2012, the Council removed the family from the housing list when they did not reply to the Housing Needs Assessment.
The family regularly moved location and occasionally did not receive correspondence sent to them. They also had some literacy issues, the Ombudsman said.
The family appealed, and were reinstated on to the housing list, but with a qualifying date of 2012.
But two years later they were again removed from the housing list for not replying to a questionnaire on the Traveller Accommodation Programme. They were reinstated onto the list but this time with a qualifying date of 2014.
The Ombudsman investigated and found that the family had responded to the Housing Needs Assessment in 2011. They had provided the requested documentation, including proof of previous income signed by a Commissioner for Oaths, and a signed ‘change of address’ form.
The Council responded by asking for more documentation including proof of current income, which was provided.
“However, in response, the Council asked the family to provide two more documents – a form to be signed by their current landlord and confirmation of rent allowance rates. In a second letter issued the same day the Council informed the family that they qualified for social housing,” it said.
The Ombudsman said this second letter indicated that the re-assessment process was completed. He noted that two documents requested by the Council, was already on its files.
The investigation found it was “unclear” if text messages or phone calls were used to contact the family “in line with principles of diversity and inclusion, and recognition of Travellers’ distinct culture” as per the Council’s Traveller Accommodation Programme.
This was one of 208 complaints made to the Ombudsman by Galway people. Some 53 complaints were lodged about Galway County Council, and 42 about the City Council.
Two complaints about GMIT were received, and Galway Roscommon Educational Training Board was the subject of one complaint.
(Photo: Ombudsman Ger Deering)
Pedestrians and cyclists ‘do not trust traffic lights’
Cyclists and pedestrians can no longer trust traffic lights in Galway City because motorists continue to drive through on red, a local senator has said.
Senator Pauline O’Reilly told a Galway City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting that enforcement was needed to change the behaviour of drivers who were driving through red traffic lights.
The Green Party senator said that the traffic light at the Aldi junction in Westside, along the Seamus Quirke Road (pictured), was well known for motorists driving through on red lights.
Cyclists and pedestrian had no confidence or trust that motorists would stop at red lights, she said.
Councillor Frank Fahy (FG), a taxi driver, agreed and said that motorists were not just travelling through lights that were amber or turning red, they were speeding up and going through red lights seconds after they had turned red, he said.
He said that the former Headford Road roundabout junction with the Quincentenary Bridge was particularly bad for that type of dangerous behaviour.
Tommy Flaherty, community member of the JPC, again asked if CCTV technology could be used at certain junctions to detect motorists driving through red lights.
He said if the JPC and Gardaí gave the green light for this technology, it would deter those skipping red lights.
There were 52 incidents of drivers failing to stop at traffic lights up to the end of May. It represented no change on the same period last year.
Speeding offences had increased by 4% to 2,129 during that period, and there were 319 parking offences, up 8%.
There were 17 pedal cycle offences up to the end of May, compared with 26 during the same period last year.
Private security for Galway hospitals cost €34,000 per week
The HSE has confirmed it is now using in-house security again at Galway University Hospitals after it was confirmed it was spending €34,000 on average per week on private security guards.
More than €4m was spent on private security companies at University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park in the past two and a half years.
That includes €1.7m in 2020; €1.9m in 2021; and more than €800,000 this year up to the end of May.
Among the services offered by the private security guards was “close supervision of patients where required”.
The security guards were on duty at the main entrance to the public hospital at UHG, as well as in the Emergency Department.
They security companies provided services such as static officers, key holding, CCTV and alarm monitoring, mobile patrols on hospital grounds, and production of staff ID badges.
Ann Cosgrove, Chief Operations Officer of Saolta University Healthcare Group – which operates UHG and Merlin Park – said the company’s current contract was in its third year and there was an option to extend it for a further 12 months.
She said that there was a greater need for security at UHG but the figures also included Merlin Park.
County Councillor Daithí Ó Cualáin (FF) said on average the two hospitals were spending €34,000 on security per week.
He wondered whether they were trained and whether it was appropriate for security guards to be supervising patients.
Cllr Ó Cualáin said it might be cheaper and more appropriate to hire in-house security rather than to contract it out.
Ms Cosgrove said that the service provided was 24/7. She said that security guards are “not the first port of call” if a patient needs restraint – healthcare assistants would deal with those situations in the first instance. They were trained, however.
She confirmed that Saolta had hired about 14 full-time security guards for GUH in the past six to eight months to supplement the private security companies.
The savings made from these posts would be reviewed before a new contract for private security was tendered, she said.
‘Nitelink’ type service would be considered under review of Galway’s bus network
The National Transport Authority will consider a nighttime bus service as part of a review of bus services in Galway – branded the city “with the greatest transport problems” by the Minister for Transport.
Hugh Creegan, Deputy Chief Executive of the National Transport Authority (NTA), has confirmed that separate reviews will be carried out this year on the Galway bus network and also the Galway Transport Strategy.
“The public consultation process in respect of the Galway Bus Network Review will be undertaken separately from, and in advance of, any consultation associated with the planned review of the Galway Transport Strategy,” said Mr Creegan.
Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell said: “Galway is crying out for expanded bus services, particularly a night service.
“The people of Galway deserve a safe, affordable public transport option at night. People are coming and going from work, going home after a meal or a night out.
“The past year we have had a national conversation about women’s safety in public, and one thing that I have heard from women is that they feel unsafe getting around the city at night. Walking alone can be very intimidating and taxis are not always an option for everyone.
“A regular night bus service would alleviate this anxiety. It would also give an affordable option to those working in the night life sector.
“We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, and the price of fuel is a major contributor to that – people need real alternatives to using their car for every journey.
“We have seen bus services expanded in Dublin, with additional night routes being added. This commitment to providing a decent public transport service must be extended to the West.
“If we are ever going to start to tackle the climate crisis and the notorious traffic problems, we need to drastically improve the bus service in Galway, and give people a reliable, affordable, and frequent bus service,” the Sinn Féin TD said.
It comes as Minister Eamon Ryan again acknowledged the dire traffic situation in the city.
In the Dáil last week, Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív in the Dáil asked the Minister why the Transport Strategy was going to be reviewed before it was even implemented.
The programme for Government commits to implementing the Galway transport strategy, which was published as recently as 2016. My understanding is that the Minister has organised a review of this strategy before it is even implemented.
“Can the Minister outline why it was imperative that we would have a review of a strategy that was of recent gestation? Is the implementation of the existing strategy put on hold while we review this strategy and when will the review be completed?” asked the Fianna Fáil TD.
Those reviews are an ordinary statutory process. Those strategies tend to be reviewed every four years. That is a normal occurrence and it does not put on hold any existing plans within existing strategy. It is a normal process of assessing the latest information, including the census and other data material. I was in Galway recently to meet the local county council and city council.
“There is a recognition that of all our five cities, Galway is the one with the greatest transport problems and the greatest urgency. One of the things I said to Galway City Council was that it needs to come back on this and that we need acceleration projects that we can deliver in the next three years.
“Whatever about the big projects and long-term futures, the here and now is what is important to Galway. Advancing such things as BusConnects, active travel and other projects which we can deliver in a three-year time period is what I am keen to really push,” the Minister said.
Separately, Minister of State at the Department of Transport and Galway West TD, Hildegarde Naughton (FG), was told by constituency colleague Catherine Connolly (Ind) that she had “absolutely no confidence” that the NTA would carry out a feasibility study for light rail in Galway.
“The Minister of State will know that Galway is going under with traffic. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the country which is thriving in terms of employment but it is absolutely bogged down in traffic.
“There is no sense of urgency with the NTA. Absolutely none. It is 2022 and it is slowly looking at Park & Ride on one side of the city when in 2005 the elected members voted to roll out Park & Ride.
“A climate emergency was declared years ago now and then there is biodiversity yet we are still looking at unsustainable levels of traffic in Galway and no bold measures. I have absolutely no confidence that the NTA will carry out a feasibility study for light rail because it is clearly on record as saying that it will not suit Galway. Some 22,000 people signed a petition imploring the then-Minister to carry out a feasibility study.
“We cannot blame motorists if we do not offer them alternatives. We must lift the traffic off the road. I am a cyclist but we are getting bogged down in minutiae of small cycling, little stretches, without looking at the overall plan of a sustainable city with sustainable transport. People will move if we provide that,” said Deputy Connolly.
Minister Naughton said she shared the frustration about the progress on public transport options in Galway and that the NTA would present a strategy on Park & Ride to the city and county councils in July.