City councillors have paved the way for a house on the outskirts of the city to be used as a Muslim place of worship and congregation, despite strong objections from the Council executive and local residents.
Members voted 11 in favour, and seven against, a material contravention to the City Development Plan in which the Council would consider the use of the dwelling house on agricultural land at Mincloon.
There were 17 submissions made since this amendment to the draft plan went on public display in the autumn – all against the change, on the grounds of the area being an inappropriate location for a place of worship, and would lead to increased traffic congestion.
In July, when the matter first came before councillors, they were told that a decision in favour of the proposal would put the planning process head over heels.
Director of Services, Joe O’Neill, warned that it was “effectively saying the use of the property is to be changed.”
Executive planner, Diane Egan, explained to members that the Muslim community had been granted ‘retention of alteration’ in 2010, with restrictions on how the house was to be used.
“It was to protect the residential amenity of that area,” she said.
Galway City Council’s Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, added: “Condition 2 of this permission stipulates that … the dwelling shall not be used as a place for public assembly, a public hall, place of worship, bed and breakfast, or for any commercial purposes, other than use as a single private dwelling house.
“It wouldn’t be granted if they applied for planning permission,” he told members.
However, a majority of Councillors were inclined to disagree with his recommendation, as was the case when it came back before them last week.
Cllr Cathal Ó Concuir proposed that the alteration be accepted, which was seconded by Cllr Niall McNeilis – the latter said it would be a parish house, in keeping with this being a multicultural city.
On the other hand, Cllr Colette Connolly, supported by Cllr Michael Crowe, proposed the CEO’s recommendations that there be no change.
And so began a very heated debate, fuelled by Cllr Pearce Flannery’s suggestion that the members supporting this were only doing so because they got a free dinner from the applicants.
Cllr Peter Keane described this as “the most appalling thing I’ve heard in entire duration of this Plan.” Cllr Flannery was asked to withdraw his remark, but he refused.
Cllr Frank Fahy, who had received a text message prior to the vote saying “I trust that Galway is a fair city,” said that a vote in favour of this alteration was the right decision for the 3,000 Muslims living here. Furthermore, he said, business and sports clubs had been operating from the area for many years, and the roads had been able to accommodate this usage.
Cllr John Walsh, voting with the submission, said that any issues with the traffic and infrastructure was not the applicant’s problem, but the Council’s or the NRA’s.
Cllr Terry O’Flaherty said that the larger gatherings would be in Westside, and not in Mincloon, so she was supporting the applicant’s submission.
However, Cllr Michael Crowe said that a vote against the applicants should not be seen as being anti-Muslim.
“I’m against it, not because of any religious reason or another, and if Bishop Eamon Casey came through the door wanting to do the same for the Catholic religion, I’d say the same,” he said.
“I get the impression that there may be some offence caused by voting one way or another. But the Mosque in Ballybrit is a purpose-built facility, it met all the requirements. Here, they are looking to change a house into a church, and it simply isn’t suitable.”
Senior planner, Caroline Phelan, agreed that this was a zoning issue, rather than an assessment of something being good or bad.
“The City Council has spent a lot of resources pursuing unauthorised developments,” she said.
“We highlighted all along that they shouldn’t invest money in something that is prohibited. This unauthorised development has been pursued since 2012 … four years of resources have been invested into something that is prohibited. Some of the inspections on this property were done up to midnight. There is a mosque on residential lands in the city.”
The members who voted in favour of the submission were: Billy Cameron, Cathal Ó Conchuir, Padraig Conneely, Mairead Farrell, Peter Keane, Noel Larkin, Declan McDonnell, Niall McNeilis, Terry O’Flaherty, John Walsh, and Mark Lohan.
Against were: Colette Connolly, Michael Crowe, Ollie Crowe, Mike Cubbard, Frank Fahy, Pearce Flannery, and Donal Lyons.
After the vote, Cllr Colette Connolly, said that the decision defied logic.
“It beggars belief, given that the dwelling was granted planning permission, with specific planning conditions attached that expressly forbade the use of the dwelling as a place of worship,” she said.
“This was because of its location in G zoning where all development is restricted to that pertaining to agriculture. The dwelling in Tonabrucky borders onto a very narrow road in close proximity to a junction, where a number of accidents have occurred, according to residents of the area.
She described the rezoning in the City Development Plan to insert the specific objective of a mosque as “a circumvention of the planning laws” and a misuse of the CDP planning process.
“It undermines the Planning Department of Galway City Council, who have effectively now wasted scarce staff resources and taxpayers’ money, thanks to the decision of some councillors, in pursuing enforcement action over the past four years in order to achieve compliance with the original grant of planning permission,” she added.
“I deplore the fact that councillors are portrayed as pro or anti-Muslims, when in fact the issue is simply one of planning.”
She rejected any assertion that she was not for a ‘fair and tolerant Galway’.
Voice of ‘Big O’ reflects on four decades
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The daytime voice of Big O Taxis is celebrating four decades in the role – and she has no plans to hang up her headset any time soon.
Roisin Freeney decided to seek a job after staying at home to mind her three children for over a decade. It was 1981 when she saw an advert in the Connacht Sentinel for a dispatch operator.
The native of Derry recalls that the queue for the job wound its way past Monroe’s Tavern from the taxi office on Dominick Street.
“There was a great shortage of work back then. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the line of people. My then husband who was giving me a lift in never thought I’d get the job, he was driving on past and I said, let me off.
“I got it because I worked as a telephonist in the telephone exchange in Derry. But I was terrified starting off because I hadn’t been in the work system for so long.”
Back then Big O Taxis had only 25 drivers and just a single line for the public to book a cab.
“We had an old two-way radio, you had to speak to the driver and everybody could listen in. It was easy to leave the button pressed when it shouldn’t be pressed. People heard things they shouldn’t have – that’s for sure,” laughs Roisin.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of Róisín’s story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Baby boom puts strain on Galway City secondary schools
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A baby boom in the late 2000s has left parents of sixth class pupils in Galway City scrambling to find a secondary school place for their children next September – with over 100 children currently facing the prospect of rejection from city schools.
The Department of Education is now rushing to address the issue and confirmed to the Galway City Tribune this week that it was fully aware of increasing pressure and demand on city schools
Local councillor Martina O’Connor said there were 100 more children more than there were secondary school places for next year, and warned that this would put severe pressure on schools to increase their intake numbers.
“This will put a lot of pressure on schools because they will have been working out the number of teachers and what resources they would need in October or November last year and they could be facing a situation where they will be asked to take an additional eight or 10 students.
“There would normally be a small excess – maybe two or three – but this year, it’s over 100. There is a bigger number of children in sixth class this year and there will be the same issue for the next few years,” said the Green Party councillor.
A Department spokesperson said while there were capacity issues, factors other than numbers could be at play, adding that there were approximately 1,245 children in the city due to move onto secondary school in September.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
GMIT warns partying students they are delaying return to campus
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Partying students have been told their actions have impacted GMIT’s plans to re-start practical classes on campus – and Gardaí are monitoring the city’s bus and train stations to catch those breaking the 5km travel restriction by returning home for the weekend.
College authorities said the current “extremely serious outbreak” of Covid-19 among students in Galway City was caused by a small minority who are “moving and mixing between different households”.
Following a meeting with Gardaí last week, GMIT contacted all students to clarify that because there are no ‘onsite’ classes, there should be no need to travel for educational purposes.
“The Gardaí have notified us that there will be checks at the bus and train stations to implement the 5km travel rule, as well as checkpoints on the roads, and that fines will be given for any non-compliance with this rule,” students were told.
In a separate communication issued this week, the college’s Covid Officer appealed to students to abide by the rules.
“This outbreak has had an impact on our plans with regard to return to onsite practical work, with consequences for all students.
“We are appealing to all students to comply with all Covid restrictions and in doing so, to help ensure that those students who have to return to onsite practical work can do so,” the email read.
Many students from outside the city have opted to stay in their accommodation for access to better broadband.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and more coverage of Covid figures and vaccinations, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.