Concerns over Galway’s preparedness – or lack of it – for the 2020 European Capital of Culture extravaganza were aired in public this week with a number of councillors launching stinging attacks on the company charged with getting the city and county ready for the event.
The departure of the event’s Artistic Director, the so-called ‘botched appointment’ of a Business Engagement Director, fundraising shortfalls, serious communications failures and a lack of connectivity with local communities, were issues raised by councillors at special City Council meeting on Tuesday evening.
However, a number of city councillors also called on their colleagues to adopt a more positive approach to the 2020 event – costing a projected €45.75 million – saying that there was ample time over the next 18 months for the city to ‘catch up’ on any preparation shortfalls that had emerged.
City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, said that he had ‘complete and utter confidence in the Board [of the 2020 company] to deliver a world class event to the city that would do Galway and Ireland proud’.
“Yes, we are behind [in the preparations] and I do feel that this democratic body [the City Council] is entitled to ask questions on any issues arising. But this will be a remarkable event for Galway and it will leave a positive legacy for many years after,” said Brendan McGrath.
The often tetchy single item agenda meeting – called to bring out into the open concerns over Galway’s readiness to host the 2020 European Capital of Culture event – lasted for nearly four hours, ending with the taking of confidence motions in the company tasked with preparing the city and county for the event.
The two confidence motions – with slightly different wordings – were eventually passed by the City Council on margins of 14-3 and 13-4, after councillors received reassurances that they would now be receiving detailed quarterly progress reports on the 2020 preparations.
Fine Gael councillor, Pádraig Conneely and Fianna Fáil councillor, Ollie Crowe delivered the most trenchant criticisms of the company charged with ‘delivering’ the 2020 event to the city and county – the Galway Cultural Development and Activity Co. Ltd, chaired by Aideen McGinley with Hannah Kiely the Chief Executive Officer.
Both Aideen McGinley and Hannah Kiely addressed the meeting, saying that already a huge amount of background work had gone into the 2020 preparations with the Action Plan Phase now coming up.
Fermanagh native Aideen McGinley – who has worked for 37 years in local and central government in Northern Ireland – said that the 2020 event would bring in an estimated one million extra visitors to Galway during its staging.
“We all need to get an oar to row this boat. This will put Galway on a new international platform as regards jobs, infrastructure, tourism and culture,” she said.
For extensive coverage of the special 2020 meeting, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. Buy a digital edition of this week’s paper here, or download the app for Android or iPhone.
Cyclists and disability groups don’t feel the love for ‘kissing gate’ barriers
From the Galway City Tribune – Cyclists and disability groups long campaigning for the removal of ‘kissing gates’ on popular routes were overjoyed to see the one at ‘the Swamp’ in the Claddagh removed last week.
But their joy quickly turned to anger when it was returned a few days later. They learned that it had only been taken out to facilitate a private company. Grant Thornton had organised a 5K run along the Salthill Promenade for corporate staff and sports teams.
Gráinne Faller, who organises the Sundays4Safety awareness campaigns in Salthill, said she could not believe how quickly the Council could act to remove, then replace the barrier when bike groups have been calling for their removal for years, only to be met with inaction.
“These gates lock so many people out of our parks and playgrounds. How can we justify blocking access to public spaces? They are ableist, ageist and they block people with buggies and bikes. They really discriminate against parents. And then we learn that the Council is claiming that this isn’t a problem? We wait. And wait. It is not okay. It’s Council-sanctioned discrimination.”
Chairperson of the campaign group Cyclist.ie, Neasa Bheilbigh, said the gates excluded families and people with mobility impairments from using safe active travel routes to school and public amenities.
“To suggest quiet routes through housing estates and parks are not active travel routes, shows a lack of understanding about how people move in our city,” she insisted.
She highlighted the fact that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has committed to providing funding to remove barriers to promote universal access.
“I always feel safer cycling than walking at night, but having to dismount leaves me feeling vulnerable. The Council don’t seem to grasp the needs of people who use non-standard bikes as mobility aids and who cannot dismount or have the strength to navigate through these barriers.”
Liam Ferrie from Menlo said he was long past retirement age but he found his e-bike was a great way of getting around Galway.
“Last Sunday I cycled a total of 28km without any difficulty – apart from a very close pass by a motorist. However, if I had come to a kissing gate I’d have had to turn back as there is no way I could lift the bike through it.”
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the National Ambulance Service, Reg Turner, said his family cycles along the Terryland Forest park en route to school and they have to manoeuvre a large cargo bike carrying his baby son through a kissing gate.
“My seven-year-old calls them jail gates. She says she is sick of lifting her bike and asks when are they coming to remove the gates. The crazy thing is the forest can be accessed from various other exits and entrances which don’t have these gates.”
At a Galway City Council meeting last July, City Council Director of Services for Transport, Patrick Greene, told councillors the NTA had written to Councils acknowledging that kissing gates were problematic for some users.
He said the NTA was working to come up with a new design for gates that are more accessible for users such as people on cargo bikes, pram users and people in wheelchairs, and the Council would act on any recommendations from the NTA once an alternative was sourced.
He said the City Council was planning to do an audit of all kissing gates across Galway.
Cllr Noel Larkin stated that without kissing gates, housing estates and public parks would be more accessible to vehicles and could result in antisocial behaviour.
Cllr Donal Lyons said motorbikes and other vehicles could access public parks and amenity areas if they were removed and not replaced.
(Photo: A cargo bike stuck at a kissing gates. The City Council removed one in Claddagh recently for a road race but then reinstated it).
This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.
Council needs extra loans for home-buying scheme
From the Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council has had to draw down further loans to keep up with demand for the Local Authority Home Loan Scheme.
At a meeting of the City Council, Director of Services for Housing, Brian Barrett, said they had initially sought approval from councillors for a loan of €4.1 million but such was the demand that they required a further €1.4 million.
A renewed Local Authority Home Loan was announced in December last year and provides for Government-backed mortgages for first-time buyers and ‘fresh-start’ applicants – those who are divorced or separated, or who have undergone personal insolvency or bankruptcy.
The scheme was introduced to provide lower interest rate mortgages to those who are creditworthy but would otherwise find it difficult to access sufficient finance.
Mortgages up to 90% of the value of the property are available, with a limit of €320,000 applicable to Galway. An income ceiling of €65,000 applies to single applicants, or €75,000 in the case of a joint application.
Mr Barrett said since the original scheme was launched in February 2018, 277 applications had been received by Galway City Council and 120 had been approved.
Twenty-three of those loans applied to the Tenant Purchase Scheme for local authority tenants buying-out their homes.
“In February, councillors approved a loan of €4.1 million and we need another €1.4 million . . . we require €5.5 million,” said Mr Barrett, who explained this applied to 2022 applications only.
The funding would be borrowed by the Council from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) raised the issue of joint applications in the case of parents and an adult child who wished to buy out a local authority house under the Tenant Purchase Scheme.
“There is a situation arising where a parent with a son or a daughter in the house and the parent is in their 60s. After getting approved, they go to the Housing Finance Agency and they’re told they can only get a four-year mortgage – they waste five months getting approved to be told that,” he said, explaining that money would not be loaned for a period beyond when the parent turns 70.
“That information was not relayed to the Council,” added Cllr McDonnell.
Dermot Mahon of the Council’s Housing Department said he was aware of this issue, but it was part of the scheme.
“The loan scheme specifies that the maximum age of the eldest borrower is 70,” said Mr Mahon.
Councillors agreed to increase the loan, bringing it to €5.5 million.
City councillors pack their bags for Dutch transport junket
From the Galway City Tribune – A group of city councillors will be packing their bags for Holland in the coming weeks as part of an initiative to introduce them to revolutionary transport solutions.
A meeting of the Council heard that the National Transport Authority (NTA) was willing to fund a trip for councillors to an area similar to Galway – in order to highlight the possibilities in relation to sustainable travel.
Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath confirmed that the NTA “feel it would be beneficial for councillors to see some of the solutions implemented in other areas”.
“It would be to a town in Holland, similar in size to Galway, to see their active travel solutions,” said Mr McGrath.
There would be no cost to the City Council, he added.
The meeting heard the trip would last three days and would be open to nine councillors – half of the full Council – while two City Hall officials would accompany them.