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Connacht Tribune

Councillors’ anger over social housing in private estate

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County councillors vented their anger at a meeting this week over the local authority’s purchase of 14 houses in a private estate in Athenry for use as social housing – which neighbours claim will knock a total of €1.5 million off the value of their homes.

A clear message was delivered from Council officials – they cannot and will not engage in public consultations when buying private houses for use as social housing because they are commercial transactions requiring confidentiality.

The Council also rejected the claim that it was competing with first-time buyers for properties, stating that it queries whether offers have been made on properties by such potential buyers. The local authority said it will “withdraw” in such cases.

Councillor Jim Cuddy told the Council executive that the manner in which the 14 houses in the Lorro Gate development in Athenry were purchased was “underhand” and they should have been placed on the open market.

The matter was raised by Tuam area councillor Shaun Cunniffe said people had voiced concerns to him about the deal, including one lady who intended to purchase there, but had now decided not to.

He said that people were coming to him when a house in their estate came up for sale saying: “Please tell me the Council aren’t going to buy it.”

Cllr Cunniffe said that when a bad tenant goes into an area, there is nothing anybody can do about it.

Cllr Michael Connolly said that one of the things the Council executive is obliged to do when selling or disposing of a property is to engage with elected representatives, but there was no requirement when buying a property.

“There is a very genuine concern that properties are being devalued, and homeowners will be in negative equity as a result,” said Cllr Connolly.

Cllr Martina Kinnane said she was inundated with queries over the previous few days because of rumours that the Council is buying land for social housing in Oranmore.

“As a local councillor, I couldn’t answer them. They think I’m just not telling them. Everyone has a right to be house, but people have a right to have information,” she said.

Director of Services for Housing, Michael Owens, said the houses in Athenry were for sale as a single lot, and the local authority was therefore not competing with first-time buyers.

He said that in that instance, the only bodies which could have purchased the homes were the Council, an approved housing body with the Council’s backing or an institutional investor.

Mr Owens said housing acquisition is an executive function, and he could not engage in public commentary or debate on a purchase deal because it is a commercial transaction and he must respect requirements in terms of confidentiality.

He explained that he did not attend a meeting organised by local residents on Good Friday but outlined the Council’s position in a letter. He said locals had chosen to have legal representation, so any representation from the Council would now be through them.

Mr Owens said that other opportunities have arisen for multiple units to be purchased in single lots, and where appropriate and if the price represented value for money, the Council engaged.

“We acknowledge there are issues with antisocial behaviour. Of our 2,500 tenants, there’s a very small minority,” said Mr Owens, adding that the local authority has taken action in the past and had a number of successful outcomes in court; a number of cases are under appeal and a number are before the courts.

“It is important to note it is a very small minority of tenants [causing problems],” Mr Owens said.

Cllr Gabe Cronnelly said the houses in Lorro Gate should be allocated under an affordable housing scheme but was told there is no such scheme at the moment.

He said that when homes already allocated as social housing in the development (under Part V planning requirements from developers), 45% of the houses in the estate would be social.

“What is going on in Athenry in totally and utterly unforgivable. Why were the houses not put on the open market? First-time buyers could have gone in and bought them at the same price the Council was buying them at. This is totally underhand what’s going on here.

“Local people were prevented from buying individual houses here. They were sold en bloc. This is totally unacceptable. People who bought their houses in what was supposed to be a private housing estate have had auctioneers value them and have been told in no uncertain terms that if social housing goes ahead at the rate proposed, their houses will be devalued up to €100,000.

“This is going to put people in negative equity at a time when we’re trying to help people struggling with houses. People are genuinely fearful.

“We have a big problem. The vast majority of people in social housing are very decent people. But you will have the odd one. There is a fear factor among people that if they get an unwelcome neighbour coming into the area, they’re going to have a big problem. Their houses will devalue overnight,” said Cllr Cuddy.

Connacht Tribune

Paedophile for sentencing after arrest in Ceannt Station

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A man will be sentenced in December for arranging to meet a child at Ceannt Station for the purpose of sexual assault.

In the meantime, Michael Sheridan, from Cormeelick South, Milltown, must not attempt to use the internet or any other means of communication to contact any child, as set down in conditions attached to his bail.

The 63-year-old pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court last Friday week to attempting to communicate with a child by means of information and communication technology within the State, for the purposes of facilitating the sexual exploitation of the child on dates between March 20 and May 26, 2018, contrary to Common Law and Section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Act 2017.

He also pleaded guilty to attempting to meet the child on May 27, 2018, at Ceannt Railway Station in Eyre Square, having communicated by any means with the child, and did so on at least a previous occasion, and did so for the purpose of doing something that would constitute the sexual exploitation of the child, namely sexual assault of the child, contrary to Common Law.  The sex of the child referred to in the charges was not revealed in court.

In reply to Judge Rory McCabe, prosecuting barrister, Geri Silke said there was no need to order a victim impact statement prior to sentence taking place as there was no victim ‘in the real sense’ in the case.

By consent with Bernard Madden SC, defending, sentence was adjourned to December 15 next, when the prosecution will outline the facts in the case against Sheridan.

His free legal aid certificate was extended to cover the cost of a medical report for mitigation purposes.

Judge McCabe also directed the preparation of a probation report at Mr Madden’s request and remanded Sheridan on continuing bail with the existing conditions attached to appear back before the court in December for sentence.

Bail was initially granted in the District Court on condition Sheridan surrender his passport and not apply for a new one or any other travel documents; sign on twice a week at Tuam Garda Station; provide a mobile phone number to Gardai and answer his phone to Gardaí at all times; undertake to the court not to make any contact with any child by any means, to include social media; and not to access the internet at any stage pending completion of the case.

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Connacht Tribune

Final outing for Your County, Your Colours – to honour an old colleague

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It was a simple idea well executed – to deliver 32 GAA county jerseys to frontline workers in a hospital or care home in thanks for their dedication during Covid – but before the dust settled on Your County, Your Colours, there was one final and very special delivery to be made.

It is now nine years since a completely unprovoked attack left Tuam man Shane Grogan with life-changing injuries that mean he still requires round-the-clock medical care today.

Before that vicious assault, Shane was a popular member of staff with Merit Medical – who just happened to be the sponsors of the Your County, Your Colours project, dreamt up by Galway Bay FM commentator and former Galway footballer, Tommy Devane.

The team at Merit had one final request – to deliver a special, framed Galway jersey to Shane and the staff at Greenpark Nursing Home, where Shane has lived for some time.

Karen Smyth, Communications Leader with Merit Medical, said that the staff at Merit Medical had never forgotten Shane.

“We see Your County, Your Colours as a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work of the frontline workers in Greenpark,” she said.

“This is just a small token of appreciation of their efforts; they do an amazing job – not just during the pandemic but every day,” she added.

Shane’s dad Joe relayed his thanks to Merit Medical for this presentation – with a special word to the Accounts Department, where Shane worked prior to his accident.

“They have always kept Shane foremost in their thoughts and hopefully, the visits will start again soon!” he said.

The original idea, as envisaged by Tommy Devane, was to honour the tireless efforts of frontline workers across the country during the pandemic.

So he has asked all 32 counties to supply one county jersey accompanied by a short message of thanks. The jersey along with their message was then framed and sent to the hospital or care setting of the county’s choice.

Greenpark Nursing Home Director of Nursing Brian McNamara thanked Merit Medical and Tommy Devane for what he called this wonderful gift.

“We are honoured to have been thought of in this manner and it is our privilege to look after Merit’s colleague Shane Grogan,” he said.

“In our caring for Shane, there will always be a special bond between Merit Medical and Greenpark Nursing Home,” he added.

(Photo: Shane Grogan (centre) with his parents Joe and Joan behind him, accepting his signed Galway jersey, joined by (from left) the McNamara family – Jane, Cora, Director of Nursing Brian and Ian – of Greenpark Nursing Home; Shane’s physical therapist Johnathan Gibson, Merit Medical’s Karen Smyth and Mark Butler, and Tommy Devane, organiser of Your County, Your Colours).

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Connacht Tribune

Teacher has sights set on passing ultimate Ironman test

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It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted and it pretty much eats up all of your spare time – but for Claregalway schoolteacher, Rachel Farrell, the Ironman 70.3 world championship test in September is something she just cannot wait for.

Rachel (28) has always been bitten by the sports and fitness bug, being a competitive swimmer and badminton player from her school days, but now she is concentrating on what’s called the Ironman 70.3.

The 70.3 part of the title refers to the total distance in miles that competitors will cover between the swim, cycle and running legs of the event.

It works out at half the distance of the full Ironman Triathlon but that still adds up to one huge challenge for those brave enough to take it on.

The first part of the endurance test is a 1.9-kilometre (1.2 miles) swim followed by a 90km cycle (56 miles) and then a half-marathon run (21.1km or 13.1 miles).

“I did my first Ironman 70.3 in France in 2019 and the Utah event on September 17 next is actually the 2020 world championships which couldn’t be held last year because of the Covid situation.

“The course in Utah is by all accounts a pretty gruelling one and the conditions there will be tough too, but I’ve prepared well for it and am looking forward to the challenge,” said Rachel.

She will be competing in the 25 to 29 age category and in the France event two years ago, Rachel notched a top 49 finish – the target this time around is for a top-20 finishing slot.

The daughter of Josette and Hugh Farrell, Rachel is currently a secondary schoolteacher in Dubai who is hoping to travel to Utah about a week before the event to help her acclimatise to the heat and desert like conditions of the US state.

Even the journey to get there will be a mission itself with Dubai the starting off point followed by stop-offs at Elay and Las Vegas.

Rachel is pretty much committed to an all-year round preparation programme based on a four-week rota system – three weeks of intense training followed by one week of scaled down activity.

“When I was in Oman back in 2018 and the event was held there it just caught my interest. I put in on my bucket list and really enjoyed the one in France in 2019.

“I’m not sure whether I’ll keep doing them or not – I might just concentrate on swimming or cycling events into the future – but for the moment, Utah is the goal and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Rachel.

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