Councillors to have no say in key merger plan
It has emerged that elected representatives will not be involved in the decision making process for the amalgamation of Galway’s two local authorities and the extension of the city boundaries.
This will infuriate local councillors in particular – the vast majority of whom are totally opposed to the merger of Galway City Council and Galway County Council.
A four-person review group has been asked to examine the potential for a merger between Galway City and County Councils.
The independent statutory committee, headed by Galway native Trinity College Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, has also been asked to examine the possibility of including Barna, Oranmore and Moycullen as part of Galway city.
But it has been confirmed that while councillors can make individual submissions, they have no hand, act or part in the decision making process.
The review group will meet will officials from Galway City Council and Galway County Council over the coming weeks – but they will not be engaging with councillors.
The group is also made up of businessman John Coyle, former Tipperary County Manager Ned Gleeson and Hannah Kiely, who is a well known local financial advisor.
But a senior official with Galway County Council confirmed that the group have had one meeting and would be meeting with senior officials from both local authorities over the coming weeks.
The public are also being invited to make submissions on both matters and they will have until the end of March to do so.
Elected representatives will have no input into the decision-making apart from availing of the opportunity to make submissions like the rest of the public.
The committee is due to report back with recommendations to Environment Minister Alan Kelly within nine months. It will then be subject to a ministerial order.
His predecessor Phil Hogan had categorically ruled out a merger between the two local authorities earlier in the lifetime of this Coalition.
But recently, in a policy u-turn, Minister Kelly said the proposal to merge merited consideration again. “The ambition of this is to create a stronger Galway”, he remarked.
Councillors in both Galway city and the county have come out against any such suggestion. It could mean that a merged council would have 57 members which would be totally unmanageable.
At the moment works are taking place at county buildings in Prospect Hill to provide additional accommodation for an extra nine councillors following last May’s local election. It is a very expensive project.
If the two councils were merged, then they would have to extend again to accommodate the 18 city councillors.
However, there are other councillors who believe that the amalgamation would save a considerable amount of money that could go into the provision of vital services like roads and transportation.
New bridge in Galway ‘pointless for people on bicycles’
From the Galway City Tribune – An advocate for cycling infrastructure in Galway has labelled the city’s newest cycle and pedestrian bridge as ‘pointless’ for people on bikes travelling from the Cathedral to Newtownsmyth.
Galway City Council and National Transport Authority (NTA) said the bridge would remove conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and traffic on the existing bridge.
And it would also facilitate the BusConnects Cross-City Link scheme over the 200-year-old bridge, which is currently with An Bord Pleanála.
But Shane Foran, a cycling campaigner and community member of the Council’s Transport Strategic Policy Committee (SPC), claimed there is confusion whether people on bikes can access Newtownsmyth by turning right off the new bridge.
He said that a review of the BusConnects proposal, “shows them to be inconsistent with the claimed purpose of the new bridge”.
“According to the drawings, there is to be a new one-way street arrangement at Newtownsmyth going north. There is no apparent provision for cyclists to move ‘contra-flow’ to the south.
“Therefore how are cyclists travelling east-west to lawfully access the new cycle bridge from the Newtownsmyth side? The new legal restrictions will arguably also make it pointless for most eastbound cyclists, coming from the university direction, to use the new bridge to travel west to east,” Mr Foran said.
In a submission to An Bord Pleanála on the BusConnects plan, he sought clarity on whether cyclists can travel both ways along Newtownsmyth, to and from the new bridge.
“From my reading of the plans, that would be forbidden. You would no longer lawfully be able to do that,” he said.
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A similar submission to ABP was made by the Galway City Community Network.
“It is not the intention of the proposed scheme to restrict access for cyclists to or from the new Salmon Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge,” the Council said in response.
“The proposed scheme intends that Newtownsmyth will be made a cul-de-sac utilising retractable bollards. The section of Newtownsmyth between the bollards and St Vincent’s Avenue is proposed to act as a shared space for pedestrians and cyclists.
“Both pedestrians and cyclists will be permitted to traverse Newtownsmyth in both directions when the bollards are up, permitting access and egress in both directions for cyclists.
“References in the design to one-way relate to vehicles exiting Newtownsmyth during the loading window when the bollards are retracted and are not intended to restrict cyclist permeability,” it told ABP.
But Mr Foran was not convinced. “What happens when the bollards are down and if that section is made one-way for vehicles what legal mechanism makes it two-way for bicycles?” he asked.
Galway City Council to make formal complaint over ads for short-term lets
Galway City Council will write to the Advertising Standards Authority to complain that short-term rental properties in Rent Pressure Zones are in breach of their planning permission and should be removed from the likes of Airbnb.
Green Party Councillor Niall Murphy told a meeting of Galway City Council that there had been regulations in place to restrict such short-term lets in the RPZs since 2019, but enforcement has been weak due a lack of staff in the local authority.
Difficulties identifying owners and a lack of resources had meant that landlords have been able to ignore the rules and carry on business as normal.
While further legislation is on the way that will lead to Fáilte Ireland maintaining a register of properties, it has been repeatedly delayed.
“The Advertising Standards Authority can pressure Airbnb to see if a property has planning permission and is within the limit,” said Cllr Murphy.
Properties advertised within RPZs, which are let for more than 90 days, are breaking the law.
Councillor Niall McNelis (Lab) said the motion shouldn’t be specific to Airbnb as there were multiple letting platforms advertising properties in Galway.
While he agreed with the spirit of the motion, he said policing the amount of days landlords were letting properties out was “exceptionally difficult”.
Cllr Murphy said he understood that complaints had to mention specifically the platform where adverts were placed.
The only voice of disagreement came from Cllr Noel Larkin (Ind) who said he did not agree with dictating to property owners what they could and could not do with their properties.
Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) tabled an amendment to remove reference to Airbnb and instead ask them to complain about short-term letting platforms.
It passed by 15 votes to 1.
After the meeting, Cllr Murphy said letting platforms should be pressurised into refusing to carry those adverts in breach of the regulations.
“While there is a place in the market for short term-letting platforms such as Airbnb, they have to operate within the current regulations. Many of the customers on such well-known platforms would not be aware that the advert they are answering is actually in breach of the law,” he said.
‘No significant numbers’ in Galway hospitals linked to vaping
From the Galway City Tribune – Vaping and e-cigarette usage has not been linked to the admission of “significant numbers” at Galway hospitals.
A meeting of Regional Health Forum West was told that despite anecdotal reports of the damage caused by vaping, very few patients had presented to hospitals with health issues as a result of e-cigarette usage.
Chief Executive Officer of the Saolta Health Care Group, Tony Canavan (pictured), made the comments in reply to a question from Leitrim-based councillor Felim Gurn who said he had been told “the damage done over 30 years of smoking” was less than that caused “three years vaping”.
Mr Canavan provided information from National Tobacco Free Ireland which states: “It is highly likely that chronic use of e-cigarettes will induce pathological changes in both the heart and lungs”.
He said a Department of Health report found that most of the observed clinical harms were due to acute events associated with the use of e-cigarettes.
“They included poisonings (mainly nicotine and some e-liquid constituents), injuries (mainly burns and some fractures), and respiratory diseases (mainly injuries to the lungs and exacerbation of asthma).
“There were fatalities among the poisonings and respiratory disease cases, and long-term disability among some burn cases. Both the poisoning cases and the respiratory disease cases highlighted a possible association between e-cigarettes, and the use of other drugs such as alcohol, synthetic cannabinoids and opiates,” states the report.
Mr Canavan said while the HSE does not recommend the use of e-cigarettes, hospitals locally had not seen patients presenting with illnesses as a direct result of their usage.
“The short answer is no – we haven’t seen a significant number.
“There are lots of comments, opinions and ideas but maybe not a whole lot of evidence at the moment,” said Mr Canavan.