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Connacht Tribune

Councillors vote down social housing blueprint

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Conamara councillors have voted to defer a masterplan to provide 100 social houses in Moycullen – despite being warned it would be a retrograde step at a time when the demand was at an all-time high.

Cllr Noel Thomas, who proposed the motion to defer the Galway County Council masterplan first mooted almost two years ago, stressed that he recognised the demand for social housing – but he disagreed with ‘lumping’ them all together instead of providing mixed developments of private and affordable housing.

Cllr Thomas said he had spent a long time researching and getting answers from council officials on the matter and he wasn’t going to back down now, adding that in light of other recent announcements on other council housing schemes for the area, going ahead with the masterplan would not be advisable until the local area plan was completed.

That scheme was to be completed within the next decade but the Council has since bought a site on the N59 on the Galway side of the village with the intention of providing 49 social units.

That planning application made originally by a private developer was turned down by the Council but granted on appeal to An Bord Pleanala.

There are further plans to build a social housing estate on the Coillte site on the Church Road, another 39 adjacent to Uilinn closer to the village as well as a housing agency’s plan to build 15 units opposite Sweeney’s Shop and Fuel Station west of the village.

“I am not against social housing but I don’t believe in creating all social housing estates. Have we not learned from our mistakes in the past?” he asked.

“People have already expressed their concerns over these plans. They are going mad that they are being put into big lumps. This is a village with no social housing and now there are plans to provide over 200.

“I don’t understand why it can’t be a mixed development and I believe that the Coillte site should be allocated for affordable housing to help young people to buy their own home instead of putting them into social housing.”

Senior Executive Engineer Rachel Lowe told the meeting she had no housing need figures for Moycullen (two years ago it was over 200) but that there were 3,200 people on the housing list county wide and, for 150 of them, Conamara South was their area of choice.

She told the Conamara Municipal District meeting in Oughterard that there were 14 units under construction in Carraroe, 18 in Ros a Mhíl, eleven in Letterfrack and 13 in Anach Mheáin in Beal a Daingean, with another 26 units being provided in the former St Joseph’s School and Laundry in Clifden.

She also listed the 39 units coming on stream in Moycullen as well as a number of other units in the former post office in Inverin giving the meeting a flavour of how the Government’s commitment to investing in housing under Rebuilding Ireland was going on.

Cllr Thomas said he appreciated that there was ‘a big demand for social housing in Moycullen at the moment’ but hoped the Council would use ‘some common sense and try to keep people in their own area though that’s not always possible’.

He said he thought the plans to build over 200 social housing units in Moycullen was ‘out of proportion’ and that the Council was missing out on an opportunity to provide some badly needed community facilities for the village, reminding the meeting that the primary school was already full to capacity.

“That school is using prefabs with plastic on the roofs to stop water leaking in and there isn’t even a proper bus service. We need to step back.

“It’s ridiculous to ram these all together as it won’t work. We should be taking baby steps to see how it’s managed before moving onto the next step. I don’t think we should be developing that site on the Spiddal Road for 100 units (the masterplan) until the local area plan is completed.”

He said the new poor were the working class who were trying to keep on top of bills and that it would be more in line to provide an affordable housing scheme.

Ms Lowe warned councillors it would be a “big step back” to defer the masterplan at a time when there was a national debate on the need for social housing. She further asked that the vote be deferred to October 4.

Cllr Séamus Walsh seconded Cllr Thomas’ motion – and it was carried, with Cllr Alastair McKinstry voting against it.

Connacht Tribune

Adults and young pupils collaborate on children’s book now in the shops

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A new book – a collaborative collection of stories and poems written by the Oughterard Writers Group and the children from the local primary school – was officially launched in style last week.

Tell me a Story was officially launched at Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona, Oughterard, by the principal, Micheál O’Domhnaill – to the delight of the children, parents, friends and writers in attendance and those watching live on zoom.
by Jess Walsh and Barbara Dunne
Tell Me a Story is a collaboration between the Oughterard Writers Group and the children of last year’s 4th class from Scoil Chuimín agus Catríona. It had its genesis in January when the writers applied to Galway County Council for funding for the story book.

The book is the culmination of several months’ work, where stories and poems written by the writers, were sent to the children.

The group was unable to meet the children in person, due to Covid restrictions, but met them several times on Zoom, facilitated by Pete Mullineaux, and James O’Donnell, their teacher. And after months of hard work by the children, their handwritten work and illustrations were then passed back to the writers for design and completion.

Each story in the book tells a different tale. The children responded to the story they liked best, and the book is interspersed with wonderful drawings from the children, with new story endings and poems, along with some of the children’s own handwriting.

It was a special night for all to finally meet in person at the official launch.

The children were presented with their contributor copy by the writer of the piece they worked on, and guests were treated to some selected readings from the book by the children themselves.

The evening was rounded off by Muinteoir J O Donnell reading his poem, Last Night’s Wind from the book, and it was a very fitting ending to a wonderful evening.

The book costs €10 (with 50% of profits being donated Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona) and can be bought online from Kenny’s and Charlie Byrne’s bookshops in Galway, and from Moycullen Bookshop and shops in Oughterard.

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Connacht Tribune

Landowners see red at poor greenway dialogue

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A decision on the route chosen for the greenway between Athlone and Galway City is expected to be announced before Christmas – despite the vehement opposition of a group of landowners.

Opponents staged another protest outside County Hall last Monday to up the pressure on councillors to continue to voice disquiet over the way the project is being pursued by Galway County Council and RPS consultants.

Jean Molloy from Stoney Island outside Portumna, a member of the East Galway Action Group, said there was a complete lack of respect by the project team for the major stakeholders who had the most to lose – those whose land would be taken by the greenway.

Her family, who run a small farm on the land earmarked for the route, had received two letters from the team and not a single phone call over their concerns. She had attended public meetings to outline their preferred route but believes the consultants are not listening.

“We’re expected to give up everything but yet we don’t see a real benefit in the way the route is going as it doesn’t connect villages or neighbours, our kids can’t use it to cycle to school,” she insisted.

“The preferred route is in remote areas off-road, which may suit tourists a few times a year but won’t be safe for us. Why can’t they go along the road, as long as it’s segregated? Yet, we’re expected to give up our livelihoods, our privacy, our security.”

The campaigners allege the process has been flawed from the start.

They accuse those driving the project of “underhanded” tactics and adopting a “divide and conquer approach” and say consultants have failed to engage with every landowner and resident affected in the route corridor. They allege the team is refusing to meeting landowners in groups.

“They have told landowners that a final route is to be released before Christmas, but this is just not feasible. It’s important that the general public is made aware of how the individuals at the centre of the proposed cycleway are being treated.”

Director of service in the infrastructure and operations unit of Galway County Council, Derek Pender, has refuted claims of intimidation and a lack of engagement.

Last September he insisted they had undertaken well over 1,500 face-to-face or phone call consultations with 350 potentially impacted private landowners over 15 months.

The preferred route starts near Ballyloughane Beach, east of Galway City, passing through Oranmore, Rinville, Clarinbridge, Kilcolgan, Kinvara, Gort, Woodford, Portumna, Meelick, Clonfert, Ballinasloe, Shannonbridge, and finishing at Athlone Castle before linking with the cycleway to Dublin.

He claimed there was support for approximately 90% of the route and that the so-called hybrid model – where the cycleway would go along a national or regional road – would only be used in discreet isolated areas that were specific pinch points.

Cycleways beside long stretches of road were not safe, he has previously contended.

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Connacht Tribune

Clifden roster dispute escalates despite HSE recruitment

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Staff at both a hospital and nursing home in Clifden are balloting for industrial action over changes to the rosters – despite a targeted recruitment campaign for nurses that has resulted in over 20 applications.

Last week Clifden District Hospital – beset by critical staff shortages – closed for four days with the HSE claiming that no patients were booked into the facility with respite and step-down beds for recuperating patients who can be medically discharged from an acute hospital but deemed not well enough to go home.

This was the same week when the HSE admitted that 4,662 bed days were lost at University Hospital Galway (UHG) and Merlin Park and 1,295 at Portiuncula Hospital in the first nine months of this year due to delayed discharges.

The HSE said the four days could be used by staff at Clifden District Hospital and St Anne’s Community Nursing Unit to take leave accrued due to overtime they had built up over filling in shifts due to a lack of workers.

Anne Burke, Galway industrial relations officer for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said the union did not accept there was no demand for beds in a facility such as the Clifden District Hospital.

“They have orchestrated this downgrading of the hospital because we believe they want it for another purpose which they have not yet revealed. If you don’t advertise you’re open for business you won’t get the business. We think they don’t want it to be a viable option,” she exclaimed.

“They have always told us that staff weren’t interested in coming to Clifden. But there was no meaningful recruitment. Now, finally, they advertised specifically for jobs in Clifden, and we have been told that 29 applications were submitted and 21 are deemed eligible for interview, which we understand will take place next week.”

The INMO and SIPTU [Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union] are to ballot members from the two facilities for industrial action next week over changes to the rosters.

They claim the HSE is breaching the Building Momentum public service agreement which requires changes to rosters to be done by agreement between management and staff. A previous memo withdrawing the staff right to seven uncertified sick leave days was rescinded following lengthy talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.

Over 700 people attending a public meeting last September over fears Clifden District Hospital was being closed by the HSE. The hospital has had 12 beds for patients since the Covid pandemic, down from 30 some years ago.

After meeting with local politicians, the organisation issued a press release stating the facility would not close but said the respite and step-down services “remain on a day-to-day footing” due to staff shortages.

“The HSE has agreed to meet with GPs in the Clifden area to discuss the needs in the community for respite and step-down beds.”

They also announced they would run a ‘bespoke’ recruitment campaign for nurses.

The INMO estimates that seven additional nurses are needed for the hospital and a further six are required for the nursing unit to maintain rosters.

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