Calls to the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) in 2016 have already surpassed last year’s 3,000 mark for a large swathe of the county.
The charity is grappling with 30% fewer donations over the last few years in the face of a much higher demand, according to SVP Galway Area President Belinda Mullen.
Social welfare recipients are no longer the only callers to the service at this time of the year, she revealed.
“What we call the new poor are increasingly calling us for help. These are people working who are just about making ends meet but a single bill coming up to Christmas can tip them over the edge,” explained Belinda.
“They can be struggling to pay rent as the housing assistance payments are not enough. They might get a high ESB bill or have to fill the oil tank. Their car insurance or tax could be due. There are all these extra bits coming into Christmas – toys, more food – which cause a lot of stress.”
Belinda is head of 27 ‘conferences’ or branches in Galway city and west of the county as far as the Aran Islands, Clifden, Claregalway and Oranmore. She says demand for a dig out has never been higher.
Their annual Christmas appeal was launched locally last week and anything raised here will be used for people living in Galway. The type of help given varies from providing coal or briquettes to filling the oil tank, giving food vouchers or paying off an electricity bill.
“We’re absolutely inundated for help and it’s not even December. It’s already on a par with last year. We’re up on 3,000 calls over the year to date – the same number for the whole of last year. It had been quieter for a few years but it’s come back with a bang in the recession,” she told the Connacht Tribune
“Our income at the same time is dropping on an annual basis. We’d take in around €200,000 per year and that’s down 30-35%. People will money to the SVP and that’s what’s keeping our heads above water.”
Volunteers do home visits and ask to see bills which are causing the financial pressure.
“We’re spending public money so we have to make sure it’s going to the needy and people are not pulling the proverbial over our eyes,” explained Belinda.
“We have very, very experienced volunteers who carry out a very good assessment. People might think at times it’s intrusive but we have to know where they money is going. If we give €80 towards a bill, we’ll want to see the receipt to show it’s been paid.”
The theme of the national SVP appeal is “Your yes can last a lifetime” and the campaign features real stories which demonstrate how one problem can tip a family into a crisis.
The Society spends almost €35m per year on direct assistance.
There will be an envelope drop and church gate collections in some areas of County Galway from this week on.
Swimmer James clocks up one million metres in year
From the Galway City Tribune – A keen swimmer in Galway has clocked up an astonishing one million metres in a year as part of his gruelling exercise schedule.
James Brennan reached the impressive milestone over 400 swims last years, which were split between the sea in Salthill and across the road early-morning sessions at Leisureland pool.
He would count the lengths in his head or on his watch, regularly swimming up to 240 lengths over 90 minutes in the pool and up to 2km off the beach for a half-hour. On a regular week he would swim the equivalent of 20km.
When James realised he was at 800,000 metres last November, he decided to go all-out to pass the one-million mark by the end of 2022.
So he concentrated on swimming for at least ten hours a week leading up to Christmas and celebrated passing his goal before breaking up for the festivities.
“I’ve always done a lot of swimming. I’ve competed for my local swimming club in Claremorris, County Mayo, and was involved in the Corrib Polo Water Club races. I won the Heskin League, which is a combination of the 14 different open water races in Salthill. I also won the league in Claremorris,” he reveals.
The software engineer has been living in Galway for 13 years and has been a member of Leisureland for four years.
“It’s a really great pool, it has nice facilities, the staff are all very nice,” he reflects.
Facilities Manager of the Council-owned premises, Ian Brennan, said the phenomenal distance was the equivalent of swimming from Galway to Amsterdam.
He heard about James’s achievement from Green Party Councillor and Leisureland board member Niall Murphy, who happened to be swimming in the lane beside James when the Mayo man reached the goal.
“I felt that this is a hugely worthy event and fills me with amazement that we have a superhero in our midst. The future is bright.”
Ó Tuathail not interested in Galway City Council co-option
From the Galway City Tribune – A two-time general election candidate for the Social Democrats in Galway West has ruled out filling the party’s vacant seat on Galway City Council.
Niall Ó Tuathail, a health reform advisor, has confirmed to the Galway City Tribune that he will not be co-opted to the City Council seat vacated by the shock resignation of Councillor Owen Hanley in January.
“I’m not going to be put forward for co-option,” said Mr Ó Tuathail.
The father-of-two has lived abroad for a time since taking a step back from electoral politics in the wake of his 2020 General Election defeat.
He confirmed this week he has not reconsidered his decision to take a long break from frontline politics.
“I’m still a Soc Dem member and we’re in a process looking for someone strong to represent the values of the people who voted for us in 2019,” Mr Ó Tuathail said.
He polled 3,653 first preference votes in 2020 in Galway West and was only eliminated after the 12th count in the five-seat constituency.
That was an increase on the 3,455 number ones he received in his first Dáil election in 2016, when he also bowed out on the 12th count.
Mr Ó Tuathail was synonymous with the Social Democrats’ brand in Galway, and was heavily involved with the local referenda campaigns for marriage equality and to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
It surprised many political observers when he opted not to fight a local election for the party in 2019.
That was a breakthrough election for the Soc Dems, when Owen Hanley became the party’s first ever Galway City councillor by winning a seat in Galway City East. Sharon Nolan narrowly missed out on a seat in City Central during the same election.
Mr Hanley cited allegations made against him when he announced in January that he was resigning his position.
He said that the matters were “very serious” and would take a considerable amount of time for the authorities to investigate.
The resignation of Mr Hanley left a vacancy on the City Council.
It is the prerogative of the Social Democrats to nominate a person who will be co-opted to replace him as a councillor at City Hall.
A spokesperson for the party told the Tribune last week that it has not yet chosen a successor.
“We don’t have any update in relation to the co-option. I will let you know when we have a candidate,” the spokesperson said.
One problem faced by the party is that a number of possible replacements for Mr Hanley have left the Soc Dems over policy and other issues.
Cigarettes, drugs and cash seized in Galway
Officers from the Divisional Drugs Unit seized more than €73,000 worth of cigarettes, cash and drugs after a car and residence were searched in Galway today.
As part of Operation Tara – which is targeting the sale and supply of drugs and related criminal activity in the Galway area – Gardaí searched a car in the Knocknacarra area. Cash and cannabis were seized.
A follow up search was carried out at a residence in Salthill, where cigarettes worth €70,000, along with €3,100 in cash and a small quantity of suspected amphetamine were recovered.
No arrests were made, but Gardaí say they are following a definite line of inquiry.