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Drugs taskforce has bigger brief on fraction of money

Dara Bradley

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The budget of the unit dedicated to tackling drug and alcohol addiction in the West of Ireland has been slashed during the recession.

Ten years ago, the Western Region Drugs Taskforce had an annual budget of €1.3 million to deliver services in Galway city and county, Roscommon, and Mayo.

But, despite alcohol being added to its brief (since 2014 it is known as the Western Region Drugs and Alcohol Taskforce), the organisation now receives an annual budget of just €660,000.

This 50% budget cut came despite a marked increase in the use of heroin in Galway City, and the country’s ongoing problematic relationship with alcohol.

The severe cuts were revealed at the Galway City Joint Policing Committee, where WRDTF co-ordinator Micheál Durkin gave members an overview of the services being offered by the taskforce.

The area covered by WRDTF is the equivalent to a fifth of the area of Ireland; and the issues in the city, are not the same as those in rural Galway, or Roscommon and Mayo, he said.

Its resources and staff, which includes three community liaison officers, and two drugs education support workers, are spread thinly  across the counties.

JPC members were appalled by the cuts, and unanimously passed a motion, proposed by City Councillor Donal Lyons (Ind), calling on the HSE West and the Department of Health, to restore the budget to €1.3 million incrementally over the next three years.

Mr Durkin declined to say what impacts the cuts has had on the service but he said if its budget was restored the WRDTF would be in a position to have a more ‘hands-on’ approach. A bigger budget, he said, would allow the taskforce to engage in the ‘front-line provision’ of services for drugs abusers, in partnership with the HSE.

Mr Durkin confirmed to the meeting that some 300 heroin addicts are using the methadone clinic in Galway City. Some 30 GPs have licences to administer the heroin replacement drug, also.

These figures tally with what Garda Chief Superintendent Tom Curley has told previous meetings, when he noted “worrying” increases in heroin use in the city.

City Councillor Frank Fahy (FG) said alcohol was the “biggest drug of choice” in Galway. Over-consumption, he said, was “getting out of hand”.

The former mayor said the problem was so bad, and was causing long-term health and societal issues, that Ireland should consider increasing the legal age limit to consume alcohol from 18 to 21.

Director of Services Joe O’Neill agreed alcohol misuse was a “huge problem”; and alcohol was a “gateway” to using illegal drugs.

He pointed out that Arthur’s Day was highlighted as a problem at JPC meetings and now it is gone – similar collective action was needed to tackle the various aspects of the problem, he said.

Chief Supt Curley, in his crime statistics’ Garda report to the meeting, outlined the successes Galway Gardaí have had in confiscating illegal drugs.

In the first eight months of the year, there were 69 detections for drugs for sale or supply in the city – up one compared with last year. There were 142 incidents of ‘simple possession’ of drugs in that period to the end of August, one less than the same period last year.

Cannabis with a street value of more than €200,000 was seized in Galway in the first eight months of the year – these were mostly from grow houses, he said.

Some €105,000 worth of ecstasy tablets were seized. Other seizures included cocaine (€9,550), heroin (€14,550), and other (€2,390).

CITY TRIBUNE

Commission critical of Mental Health Unit at UHG

Dara Bradley

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Aspects of Galway’s new psychiatric unit – officially launched by a Government minister to much fanfare this week – have been branded “inadequate” and “inappropriate”, in an official report published last week.

The Mental Health Commission has highlighted failings at the new Adult Acute Mental Health Unit at University Hospital Galway, following an official complaint from a chairperson of a Mental Health Tribunal held at the facility.

An inspector with the Mental Health Commission carried out an inspection of the unit and found that the Mental Health Tribunal room there “was not adequately sized, ventilated and soundproofed and that the facilities did not respect the dignity of the patient during the Mental Health Tribunal”.

The new unit was built last year, at a cost of €20 million, after the old building was decommissioned because it was ‘not fit for purpose’.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) moved to address a number of issues at the new facility, after a series of complaints from service users and their advocates, were highlighted in this newspaper.

Patients said they felt isolated, demeaned and dehumanised in the new unit. Lack of sleep due to the noisiness of the new inpatient facility, and a reduction in human contact with staff since it opened last Autumn were chief among the concerns. A ‘draconian’ no-smoking policy where inpatients and visitors are ‘stopped and searched’ for tobacco, and where those caught smoking outside the unit were ‘punished’, was also causing distress.

Last February, the HSE acknowledged there were infrastructural problems with the new facility, and said it was working to address lighting and noise issues at the new unit. It defended its ‘no smoking’ policy.

This latest report from the Mental Health Commission into the failings of the new facility, was published the day after Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly, officially ‘cut the ribbon’ on the new unit last Monday.

On the eve of his visit, the Galway City Tribune contacted some of the inpatients who had complained about the facility last year. “Unfortunately, none of the issues we raised about the unit have been addressed as of yet,” said one service user who responded.

The centre has 50 beds, and residents are referred there by 12 consultant-led teams, including two psychiatry of later life teams, a mental health intellectual disability team, and a rehabilitation and recovery team.

In July of this year, the Mental Health Commission carried out an inspection of the facility, after receiving complaints about the provision of appropriate private facilities and adequate resources to support the Mental Health Tribunal process.

“This room where mental health tribunals were held was partitioned to provide a tribunal room and a training/multi-purpose room. It was not soundproofed and proceedings could be heard in the training room next door. The room was small, approximately five metres long and 3.5 metres wide. A narrow table with six chairs was in the centre of the room. The width of the table did not allow adequate space for people sitting opposite each other being insufficient to accommodate mental health tribunal members, the patient, his/her advocate, any attending nurses and the consultant psychiatrist. There were no windows; there was a Velux style window in the ceiling, which could be opened remotely. The room was stuffy and hot at the time of the inspection. The room infringed the right of the patient to be treated with respect and dignity during the tribunal process,” the inspector found.

A previous inspection of the tribunal room in the old ‘not fit for purpose’ building, found that it was bright and spacious, with natural light coming through a number of windows along one wall, and it was well ventilated. This room was now being used for training and meetings and all tribunal hearings are now held in the smaller room, according to staff.

The Mental Health Commission issued an Immediate Action Notice to address these concerns and said in a statement this week that it was “engaging with the approved centre to ensure the service is meeting the needs of patients attending a Mental Health Tribunal”.

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Connacht Tribune

New school’s teething issues over parking

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An audit is to be carried out by Galway County Council to address safety concerns over parking near the new Presentation Secondary School in Athenry – with a new link road doing little to alleviate that problem.

At a meeting of Athenry Oranmore Municipal District, Cllr Gabe Cronnelly (Ind), said that since the school had reopened earlier this month, cars had been abandoned all over the road in the Raheen Woods area – this despite ample room on the new link road from the M6 to the school, which had opened in advance of the start of term.

“The community warden did go down and received dog’s abuse,” he added.

Senior Engineer, Damien Mitchell, said they would be carrying out a review in the coming months and would carry out the necessary safety measures, once they had ascertained what was required.

“We have committed to a review; we wanted everyone back to school for a couple of week, to let everyone settle down. Once everyone is back, there will a review – an audit and we will put in any measures that are needed.

Cllr Cronnelly said whether it was bollards or some other mechanism of blocking people from parking on the footpaths near the school, “something had to be done”.

“There are people who have poor mobility who actually have to go out on the road to pass parked cars. The habits are starting to appear already.

“The road was designed to be narrow to stop this from happening, and the footpaths are high, but they are able to get up on them,” he explained.

Cllr Shelly Herterich Quinn (FF) said buses parking up and the volume of traffic was creating chaos, and called for some method whereby the parents of children in the school should be educated on the importance of not parking on the narrow artery – as it was discouraging people from walking to school.

Councillors were told that the school had 18 buses travelling to it every morning and evening and was operating its own traffic management plan to make their arrival in the evening run smoothly – preventing cars from entering the premises until after 4.15pm.

Cllr Albert Dolan (FF) suggested that a programme with the Student Council in the school should commence, so that students could work with the school and local representatives to solve the problem.

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Connacht Tribune

Playground’s official opening after two-decade campaign

Francis Farragher

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Eithne and Sean O'Donohoe performed the tape cutting at the official opening of Abbeyknockmoy playground.

A parish census back in 1996 that identified the need for a playground in Abbeyknockmoy village completed the full circle when a state-of-the-art facility was officially opened.

The playground – with an estimated value of close on €300,000 – has now been completed debt free for under half that cost, with the help of a huge voluntary labour contribution, local fundraising efforts and a series of grants.

Fittingly it was local businessman Seán O’Donohoe who cut the tape to open the new facility – he and his wife Eithne donated the historic site for the playground free of charge to the local committee.

Local councillor, Pete Roche – who was involved from the playground’s formative stage nearly six years ago – said that the completion of the project marked a wonderful day for the parish and local areas in terms of community participation and support.

“This project couldn’t have happened unless we had everyone rowing in behind it. This has been a real team effort . . . from two CLÁR grants to the support of Galway County Council . . . but most of all, it has been driven by the local community,” said Cllr. Roche.

The Playground Committee – under ‘the chair’ of Emer O’Donohoe over recent years – is packed with attractions for children with ‘good stretches’ of green areas to avoid any sense of ‘over-crowding’ during its busier times, especially when the weather is good.

The facility – constructed to the highest safety standards – is insured by Galway Co. Council and was officially blessed by Fr. Joe O’Brien, PP, Abbeyknockmoy, while Cllr. Roche also planted a Purple Maple tree to mark the occasion.

The official opening took place when several hundred adults and children converged on the facility that has been in operation since the end of last year.

One of the archaeological features of the playground is an old stone cross in the centre of the site which according to archaeologists dates back, well into the 1800s.

However, local legend has it, that a stone mason who was ‘snubbed’ for a job in the construction of the nearby ‘Old Abbey’ (1189) built it, vowing that it would last longer than the monastery itself.

According to Pete Roche, one of the big breakthroughs with the projects came with the donation of the site by Seán and Eithne O’Donohoe and family.

“We really couldn’t have asked for a better site . . . situated in the heart of the village and accessed off a county road under the shadow of Knockroe Hill and close to the Old Abbey.

“It really is a very proud time for everyone in the parish and just shows what can be done where there is goodwill, positivity and an outstanding community spirit,” said Cllr. Roche.

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