Negotiations over a site earmarked for a school for children with special needs have fallen through – but the Department of Education is now in talks with a second landowner about an alternative location.
St Teresa’s Special School in Ballinasloe had been threatened with closure earlier this year as the provider Ability West was unable to meet the insurance premium, which skyrocketed by nearly €24,000 in two years.
The school, which has 20 students and 15 staff, is currently located in temporary accommodation on the grounds of St Brigid’s, the former psychiatric hospital in the town.
Moving into a purpose-built facility is predicted to result in a sizable reduction in insurance costs as the risk of incidents is lessened.
Former minister Denis Naughten has confirmed that negotiations for the purchase of a site for the new school which had been in train since May have failed to reach an agreement. The Department was now engaging with another landowner to buy a second site.
In answer to a parliamentary question from Deputy Naughten, Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh stated that the sites were identified by Galway County Council and were then comprehensively assessed before a preferred site option was identified. There is no indication when or if the deal will be concluded.
“Please be assured that this Department is doing all it can to progress the matter,” insisted Minister McHugh.
Deputy Naughten said parents needed a clear commitment of funding for the project.
“For far too long children with special needs have had to travel great distances to access education. We now have a facility on our doorstep and we need a commitment that the money will be put in place to allow for the construction of a purpose-built school for the children of Ballinasloe, east Galway and south Roscommon,” he stated.
“While it is disappointing that these talks have fallen through, I hope that the talks on the alternative site will lead to a positive outcome for local pupils.”
Following a campaign by parents and local politicians, The Department of Education stepped in last June and gave an advance on their capitation grant of €23,000 to ensure the school paid its insurance premium for the year ahead and stayed open.
Special schools around the country have been struggling with rising insurance premiums because of a higher number of claims lodged.
The principal Anita O’Reilly said the school will await news about progress on the site.
“As the school is growing, we are rapidly running out of space in our existing accommodation.”
They are also hoping for confirmation from the Department that special schools, irrespective of their patronage, will be covered by the state’s claims agency in the future.
Passers-by save church from burning down
The quick reaction of passers-by saved a Connemara church from being razed to the ground by fire.
Hill walkers who stopped off at St Joseph’s Church in Letterfrack on their way to climb Diamond Hill noticed a fire and smoke billowing from inside the building.
They immediately raised the alarm and alerted workers from Connemara National Park. They in turn rang Clifden Fire Brigade, who attended the scene and quenched the blaze.
Parish priest, Fr Anthaiah Pudota told the Connacht Tribune that the fire was started accidentally, possibly by a fallen candle in the church which was built in 1922.
He praised the people who raised the alarm quickly and thanked the workers for their bravery during efforts to bring the fire under control.
“My information was people who visited Connemara National Park raised the alarm. They were on the way to climb Diamond Hill and parked their cars to visit the church.
“I think it was a family who were visiting the area. It was an accidental fire. There is definitely significant damage. Wood was burned, and there was significant smoke damage, but it could have been worse.
“According to the CCTV footage, it happened around 1pm. Clifden Fire Brigade and workers from the National Park were very brave. The smoke inside was like a huge thick fog.
“It took them a while before they could enter. They had to break one of the doors, because the main door was closed. It was definitely very brave of them,” Fr Anathaiah said.
The fire was discovered quite quickly, he said, and so while the church was significantly damaged most of it centred on the candelabra area.
Ballinakill Parish Secretary in Letterfrack, Ann Cooke, thanked the local community and neighbouring parishes for good wishes and support.
“A very special note of thanks to the kind passer-by who raised the alarm, the National Park workers, and the emergency services, for their fast action and bravery, without all of whom the unfortunate event could have been much worse,” she said.
“Thank you all again for your support. Please God we will be able to come together in Letterfrack Church before long,” Ms Cooke added.
Fr Anathaiah, from India, will be two years in the rural Connemara parish of Ballinakill next month. He said that his parishioners have strong faith and are looking forward to the church reopening, but he could not confirm a date as yet.
Mass was said twice weekly, Sunday and Wednesday, at St Joseph’s up until the fire caused the damage at around 1pm on Friday July 22.
Fr Anathaiah said that services would now be said at Tullycross Church, about five kilometres away, for the foreseeable future.
“We are not quite sure at the moment (when it will reopen); we are waiting to see the extent of the damage. I can’t give an exact date, but we will definitely come back in the coming months,” Fr Anthaiah Pudota said.
State to look at plan to protect historic monastic ruins
Officials from the Office of Public Works have confirmed that they will visit what is widely regarded as the most complete Franciscan monastic ruins in Ireland to see what works are required to save it.
And a local public representative has said that he does not want to be part of a generation that allowed Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary to fall into worse disrepair.
Correspondence sent this week to those who diligently look after the friary has suggested that the OPW’s Head of Historic Properties will come down to establish what emergency works are required.
This follows the recent visit by the Minister for the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan to Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary which dates well back before the 1400s and requires urgent works to be carried out.
Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG) said: “It would be an absolute disgrace if we were the generation that allowed this friary to deteriorate even further.”
It was explained to the Minister while visiting the Abbey that it is in desperate need of emergency works and it was essential that the Minister brought this back to his department.
He was informed that it was around the late 1980s when there was any major works carried out on the abbey by the OPW.
“The abbey needs remedial work urgently as it is falling into disrepair and the main area of concern is the tower.
“There has never been any serious remedial work done on the tower and there has never been scaffolding put up around the outside of it to deal with the exterior of the tower,” Cllr Reddington told The Connacht Tribune.
A local group who met with the Minister explained that there is no electricity at the abbey or any toilet facilities for visiting tourists.
He was informed that the nearest electrical pole is only 200m away, so it wouldn’t be difficult to get electricity to the abbey.
The abbey, he was told, needs electricity which would then mean there would be options in terms of security lighting and closed-circuit television to prevent any vandalism taking place.
Those who look after the Franciscan Friary – including Glen Corbett and former Galway footballer Seamus McHugh – gave a detailed run down of emergency works that need to happen at the abbey.
They said that it was critical that emergency works start as soon as possible to protect the abbey for future generations.
The Minister committed to working with the group on this. The delegation than joined OPW officials and Finna Construction who gave them a tour of the OPW offices in Headford which benefited from a €5 million investment.
This week came the commitment that the OPW would visit the friary to establish the emergency works that need to prioritisation.
(Photo: Seamus McHugh, Minister Patrick O’Donovan, Glen Corbett and Cllr Andrew Reddington at Ross Errilly Franciscian Friary in Headford)
Gardaí issue alert over fuel thefts
Householders, farmers and truckers in the West of Ireland have been advised to put security measures in place to protect their fuel tanks, following a number of thefts over the past month.
While the thefts aren’t an everyday occurrence, Gardaí have advised that with fuel prices likely to remain high over the coming months, basic security precautions should be put in place.
Galway is one of a number of counties where fuel thefts have occurred over recent weeks with home heating oil, trucks and farm diesel in different parts of the country targeted by the thieves.
Sergeant Michael Walsh, Galway Garda Crime Prevention Officer, said that while the number of thefts reported in Galway had been quite small, fuel thievery was still an ongoing problem.
He said that some of the precautions recommended included a secure fencing off, of outdoor fuel tanks with good quality perimeter fencing.
“Fuel tanks that are located away from houses or offices are most at risk and in these situations, robust perimeter fencing, and gates need to be properly secured.
“We are also recommending that people and businesses consider installing alarms, anti-siphoning devices, security lighting and CCTV cameras,” said Sergeant Walsh.
He added that fuel thieves often used small drill and syphoning pump to steal the fuel with the whole operation completed in a matter of minutes.
Last month in Limerick, thieves stole an estimated €500 worth of diesel from trucks parked overnight in a business park – large trucks and artics can have a fuel capacity of over 100 gallons.
“As with a lot of robberies, fuel thieves will tend to pick out the opportunist targets. Fuel is a valuable commodity and basic security measures need to be put in place,” said Sergeant Walsh.
Where businesses have multiple users of their fuel tanks, the Gardaí also advise that a fuel management system should be put in place to record the users as well as the dates and times when they access the supply.