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Connacht Tribune

European elections offer little prospect of a Galway winner

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Euro candidate?...former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The European elections may be six months away but they’re front and centre for the political parties who have been thinking – nay obsessing – about them for some months now.

That’s despite the reality that the Euros are second-tier elections – and I’d say if you went around the streets of any town or village in Galway, people would struggle with the names of four MEPs for the sprawling Midlands North West constituency.

As to what MEPs do, for most people that’s a mystery that’s beyond the powers of even Hercule Poirot.

Unlike the Dáil, it’s not a legislature in the sense we think of it – at least the Dáil decides on the laws that govern Irish society.

For years the European Parliament was a glorified talking shop. It has more powers now but remains very much subservient to the European Commission (the EU’s Ministers or Commissioners) and the EU Council (the ultimate decision-making body, made up of prime ministers).

MEPs also have a very generous salary and expenses package, something that was highlighted during Liada Ní Riada’s presidential campaing.

So why all the interest? Well there is Brexit, but it’s not really the biggie for parties as far as this election is concerned. Sure, all the parties want to copperfasten their EU credentials, even EU-critical parties like Sinn Féin and EU critics like Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

Parties see most value in the elections for domestic reasons. A good European election can boost morale in a party that has taken a battering in a general election. It can also boost the profile of the party or candidate.

The best example that comes to mind is Fine Gael winning five seats in 2004 – on the back of a huge campaign – only two years after the party experienced the worst election in its long history.

Enda Kenny had become the leader and there were doubts about him. Indeed there were doubts about the future of the party. The party ran really high profile candidates, including Simon Coveney in Munster, Gay Mitchell in Dublin and Jim Higgins in the then Connacht-North West.

In Leinster, they parachuted in broadcaster Mairead McGuinness, much to the displeasure of sitting MEP Avril Doyle. In the event the internecine battle between the two candidates won both of them a seat.

For more,  read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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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Connacht Tribune

New Galway centre for sexually-abused children

Denise McNamara

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Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan with Children's Minister Katherine Zappone

A new Galway centre for sexually abused children is based on an overseas model where the numbers of investigations doubled and prosecutions tripled once all services were brought under one roof.

The Barnahus Onehouse Galway service will be the first of its kind in Ireland and will be used to roll out other centres across the country.

The location has yet to be finalised but is expected to be operating within months – treating children and adolescents in the Galway/Roscommon catchment areas.

Forensic, child protection, medical, therapeutic and policing services for children who have been subjected to sexual abuse or are suspected victims will be delivered together in a child-friendly setting to avoid re-traumatising them.

At the launch at NUI Galway, the centre was described as a game-changer by Dr Geoffrey Shannon, former Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, and leading expert in child and family law on whose recommendation the centre was set up.

The Galway-born solicitor’s audit of 5,400 cases of emergency removal of children from their families by Gardaí over eight years uncovered poor and limited interagency communication and cooperation, which he declared was the key road block in child protection.

The audit was carried out following the removal of a blonde child from a Romanian family after complaints from the public that the child may have been abducted – claims that were later found to be unfounded.

The Galway centre involves three departments – Children and Youth Affairs; Health; Justice and Equality – and three agencies – Tusla; the HSE; An Garda Síochána – working together.

By co-locating the services together, essential agencies can share vital information about children and their families, he pointed out.

“Emergency powers need to be followed up by continuity of care informed by communication, cooperation that goes beyond a paper exercise,” he told the lecture hall.

“Meaningful cooperation would ensure interventions are proportionate, developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive

“In the absence of such cooperation, there is the very real potential that services designed to ensure protection will cause further trauma.”

And after examining centres in Iceland, New York, Antrim and Oxford, it was clear the model had very tangible results.

In Iceland, twice as many investigations of child sexual abuse cases were carried out while the number of cases that were prosecuted tripled.

“It is a safe place to disclose abuse, it is child friendly, it provides a supportive environment, safe from those suspected of perpetrating abuse,” he told the press conference.

Dr Shanahan said it was reassuring to have both the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone as well as the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan at the launch, which spoke volumes about the Government’s commitment to child protection.

Noting that there was still much work to do to help victims of sexual abuse, he said legislation was needed to allow the child victim to give evidence and be cross-examined within a short time of the event occurring using video technology.

This could then be used during the court case, allowing the child to get on with life and recover from the incident, rather than re-live it when the case eventually comes to court.

Minister Zappone said it was Dr Shannon’s 2017 audit that was a catalyst for her to set up a steering group to establish the centre which was a priority project during her tenure.

“When children cross the threshold, they feel safe, supported, loads of beautiful colours, with a section where they can play if they want to.

“It’s not just being in the place. It’s developing the processes and ways of communicating and the trust that makes the difference. And even then, it’s hard to do what it is you need to do to work with a child or young person that has so brutally been abused.

“…This is such important work.”

She said one of the most appealing aspects of the Barnahus model was the child centred of the approach which reduced the need for children to repeatedly recount their traumatic experiences as they engaged with multiple agencies. It also allowed families to be supported in caring for their child throughout a difficult process.

Minister Flanagan said all the bodies involved would “overlap, work together and become entwined”.

Officers specially trained in interviewing sexual abuse victims will be available in Divisional Protective Services Units located in all Garda divisions by the end of the year.

These officers would support the delivery of a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crime, for adults and children alike.

“This is a very positive step towards reducing the trauma and supporting victims through the criminal investigative process.”

Eilish Hardiman, who was speaking on behalf of the Minister for Health Simon Harris, noted the increased number of referrals to the Galway centre before it even opens.

“So there is an unmet need here,” she told the conference.

She said Minister Harris had promised ring-fenced funding for permanent posts to staff the centre.

Before and after the conference, a seminar also took place attended by 100 healthcare professionals with international and local speakers giving an overview of how the service would operate.

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