Interest payments on loans for land bought by Galway City Council at the height of the construction boom, but which was never developed, will amount to more than €400,000 next year.
Chief Executive of the City Council, Brendan McGrath, confirmed that €400,000 was the ‘interest-only’ payment to the banks for parcels of land that were bought for social housing but were never developed.
The lands, in Knocknacarra and Rahoon, were not transferred to the Land Aggregation Scheme, which was effectively a NAMA for local authorities set up by Government during the economic crash.
Mr McGrath confirmed to Cllr Collette Connolly (Ind) that the total amount of monies owing for the land purchases was €32 million; and it was costing €400,000 annually to service the debt.
Cllr Connolly said it was “madness” that the Council pays so much to private banks to service loans on land that was never used as it was intended – to build social housing.
She said the City Council was “allergic to building social housing”, even though that was the only valid solution to tackling the housing shortage.
Cllr Connolly said that the €400,000 would only be a drop in the ocean in terms of building new houses but it could have been put to better use, such as for housing adaptation grants for the elderly.
Some of the land that was never used is within the footprint of the proposed Galway City Ring Road (bypass).
In response to Cllr Frank Fahy (FG), Mr McGrath confirmed that the Council would be recouping some money for that land when Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) are issued this week. He confirmed the amount of money received for the CPOs would be based on the market value of the land now, and not based on the amount paid for the land at the height of the boom over a decade ago.
Groundbreaking coronary operation at UHG offers vision of future healthcare
The announcement this week that Galway University Hospitals carried out the first robotic guided coronary intervention in Ireland and UK, has given researchers a glimpse into the future possibilities presented by this medical breakthrough.
Currently, University Hospital Galway is the centre of excellence for cardiovascular medicine for one million people in the West and North West.
It’s where patients from Sligo, Donegal and elsewhere go for coronary procedures, such as the insertion of stents to relieve blockages in the arteries of the heart.
That involves hours of travel, on top of lengthy procedures, which can be exhausting for patients.
But one potential benefit of new robotic technology is the prospect of remote procedures, explained Professor Faisal Sharif, Consultant Cardiologist, who carried out the first procedure in Ireland or UK, at UHG.
“I think we will see in the future more advantages, and value, when these procedures can be done remotely,” Prof Sharif told the Tribune.
This would involve a patient going to Sligo University Hospital or Letterkenny University Hospital to have a stent procedure, which would be carried out via the internet by a robotic ‘hand’ controlled by a consultant cardiologist based at UHG.
Obviously, the basic structures and a trained crew would need to be available in Sligo or Letterkenny, including nurses and junior doctors.
And Prof Sharif cautioned that for remote procedures to become reality here, there needs to be more research and development and more funding.
“That’s the potential and that’s the future but it hasn’t come yet,” he said.
What has come is exciting, too, though.
Before Christmas, Prof Sharif carried out three procedures which combined the benefits of coronary intervention with the precision of robotics.
The new technology is used in stent procedures to relieve blockages in the arteries of the heart. It allows for greater precision in positioning stents, allowing the interventional cardiologists to move the stent a millimetre at a time.
It also allows the medical team to have an enhanced, close-up view of the angiographic images and information during the entire procedure.
The new technology allows interventional cardiologists to use the robot as an extension of their own hand, allowing for robotic precision and details visualisation when positioning of guide catheters, guide-wires and balloon or stent catheters.
Prof Sharif said the technology was beneficial both to the patient and to the cardiologist.
“The main advantage of robotics is that it is safe and very precise in stent placement. It allows the accurate placement for up to 1mm at a time,” he said.
For the patient, this increased precision means less metallic material in the arteries, “and so less long-term side effects from that metal”.
The use of robotics also benefits staff, meaning fewer back injuries, less exposure to radiation and more precise placement of stents, he said.
Prof Sharif said UHG would be performing these procedures more regularly. They’ve started with straightforward cases, and over time, when they understand more about it, and the volume increases, they will increase complexity.
Seven more procedures are planned for the next fortnight but won’t entirely replace the traditional method, he said.
“Physicians learn a technique to do things over many years. That’s our livelihood, that’s what we do. If we bring machines in, there is going to be resistance. But at the moment, it’s to see the positive side of things, see how it can improve outcomes, how it can do things more safely, how it can take the load off physicians, who will still be fully trained to do it.
“It is just assistance. I think we need to learn what the potential is. It won’t replace anything. If any hospital has 10 operators, four or five may adopt it, others may stay the traditional way. I think the change will be slow. But I hope over time when they see the results they might like to change,” he said.
Originally from Pakistan, Prof Sharif’s home for 26 years is Ireland. As well as clinical work, the academic part of his job involves University of Galway tutoring and research commitments.
He’s a founder member of a university programme on medical device innovation called BioInnovate Ireland, which has developed start-ups over 10 years.
That synergy, as well as funding through Science Foundation Ireland, led to the first robotic procedure in Ireland and the UK taking place in Galway.
“In Galway we have a big medical device sector. It’s the ideal place to be for medical device developments, especially cardiovascular,” he added.
Chris Kane, General Manager of Galway University Hospitals welcomed the new technology.
“Innovations such as this are transforming medicine . . . this state-of-the-art robotics will enhance patient care for our patients across the West and Northwest of Ireland,” she added.
(Photo: The robotic guided coronary intervention at UHG. It was the first such procedure in Ireland and the UK).
Six Shinners to contest Galway City local elections in 2024
Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley
Sinn Féin is planning to run two candidates in each city electoral ward in the next Local Elections in 2024.
Party number-crunchers nationally want to flood local election tickets with candidates to pick up extra seats and capitalise on anti-Government sentiment that is circulating among a cohort of voters.
The Shinners ran too few candidates in the last General Election. It meant they could not capitalise fully from a swing to the party during that campaign. They left seats behind them.
Now they’re planning to run a record number of candidates. In Galway, that would mean two candidates in each of the three areas, City West, City Central and City East.
The thinking is that they need to pick up additional seats in local authority elections, so that they have sufficient councillors to vote for Sinn Féin candidates in Seanad elections. More councillors equals more senators.
Sinn Féin is very much preparing for Government; and while the polls suggest it’s the most popular party (at 34% according to the latest in the Sunday Times last weekend) and would likely win most Dáil seats if an election was held tomorrow, it would still need numbers in the Seanad to pass legislation.
One problem faced by Sinn Féin is the party might find it difficult to source six credible candidates to contest local elections in Galway.
Another problem with running two, rather than one, in each ward in Galway City is that SF could split the vote and end up not winning any seats at all.
In 2019, Councillors Mairéad Farrell, Mark Lohan and Cathal Ó Conchúir all lost their seats after dismal local elections. Farrell was since elected to the Dáil following her Lazarus comeback but the organisation locally is still wary of a fickle Galway electorate.
If Sinn Féin doesn’t win back those three seats lost in 2019, then the next locals would be deemed a massive failure.
Winning more than three seats on Galway City Council would be a success but are the Shinners willing to risk running two candidates in each ward, splitting the vote and ending up with egg on their faces?
Photo: Mairéad Farrell with fellow Sinn Féin members Mark Lohan and Cathal Ó Conchúir (back left) after she was elected to the Dáil in 2020. All lost had their seats in Galway City Council in 2019 after dismal local elections.
This is a shortened preview version of this column. For more Bradley Bytes, see the January 27 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Galway is seventh-worst city in Europe for car traffic congestion
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Car traffic congestion in Galway is quickly rebounding to pre-pandemic levels, with commuters spending up to 94 hours caught on the city’s gridlocked arteries last year.
According to data compiled by INRIX, a world-leader in mobility data, Galway is the seventh-worst city in Europe for congestion, an 84% increase on its position in 2021.
The data shows that Galway places in the worst 50 cities in the world for congestion – taking 39th place, with Dublin the only other Irish city placing higher at Number 12.
While the figures show that car traffic has not fully returned to pre-Covid levels, the 2022 figures came within 13% of 2019 congestion rates.
This was despite vast numbers continuing to work from home last year, a worrying trend according to the local People Before Profit representative Adrian Curran.
In Cork, Limerick and Dublin, there had been a more lasting effect, showing decreases of 20%, 26% and 29% respectively, he said.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the January 27 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.