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CITY TRIBUNE

Fears that Galway City will be ‘left behind’ by council merger

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An expert group on local government reform has backed controversial proposals to merge Galway City and County Councils into one entity.

The recommendation for amalgamation of the local authorities “no later than 2021” requires ministerial and Oireachtas backing.

If approved, it would mean a combined merged new ‘Greater Galway Authority’ membership of 57 Councillors (18 city councillors and 39 county councillors).

Critics of the proposed merger claim Galway City would be ‘left behind’, as city representatives would be outnumbered by public representatives from rural towns and villages.

Junior Minister for Local Government, John Paul Phelan said he would bring the proposals to government in the coming days.

The Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Galway effectively endorses a 2015 report by a Galway Local Government Committee, which unanimously recommended the establishment of a new unified Galway authority rather than boundary alteration or retention of the status quo.

It concluded that a merger would maximise the potential of the region to maintain, secure, and grow a sustainable economic base into the future, combining the respective strengths of the two existing authorities in terms of resources, staff, and expertise.

The six-person expert group included City Council CE, Brendan McGrath and County Council Chief Executive, Kevin Kelly.

The group has said nothing should happen to the Councils this side of the 2019 local elections, but the amalgamation should happen no later than 2021.  However, it said a ministerial decision should be taken on the recommendations and “be legislated for as a matter of urgency, to provide certainty.”

The members elected in 2019 to each local authority should combine to form the membership of the unified Galway City and County Council on the date of amalgamation, with the first elections to the unified authority to be held in 2024.

The report with Minister Phelan said the recommended amalgamation must be preceded by addressing “noted deficiencies in both human and financial resources” highlighted by the group.

Minister Phelan said: “I will be bringing proposals to Government shortly arising from the report and dealing also with other aspects of local government structures and governance, including details of the legislation to provide for the alteration of the boundary between Cork City and County”.

Last week, before the merger was announced, City Councillors reiterated their concerns that the city would be swallowed up by the diverse needs of a much larger county, which was struggling financially.

Labour’s Niall McNelis said any merger would affect the rates base for the city, which was unique in Ireland due to the numbers of daily commuters and the presence of two large third level institutions coupled with the sheer size of the county.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) said councillors in Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary were reporting back that their amalgamations had not worked. He noted that Galway County Council did not fund sports pitches whereas the city had a proud history of providing top sporting facilities.

Fine Gael’s Frank Fahy said any proposal to support the arts in the city would be outvoted in favour of funding for roads in Portumna or Ballinasloe.

A motion by City Mayor Pearce Flannery was passed unanimously to invite Minister Phelan to meet with city councillors before a final decision was handed down.

CITY TRIBUNE

Concerns over reopening of Middle Arch on Tuesday

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A Galway City Councillor has given a cautious welcome but has also raised concerns over the reopening of the ‘Middle Arch’ beside the Claddagh Basin next Tuesday.

Access was closed to the public last May following requests from the Gardai due to large crowds that had gathered in the days previously amid fears of it becoming a serious health and safety risk.

The concerns were raised by Cllr. Niall McNelis who said that a cautious welcome should be given but that the possibility of closing it in evenings needs to be seriously looked at.

He said “The decision to close it was earlier in year was due to it had become an area where large groups had gathered drinking and had led to calls by locals that it had become a serious health and safety risk. The area also does not have safety barriers and this has led to persons falling into the water in the past.

“Recently there has been a large number of calls made that the area should be reopened and that public space be made available to the public.”

Cllr. McNelis also said that a cautious welcome should be given but that the possibility of closing it in evenings needs to be seriously looked at.

“We can not have the same scenes repeated as we did earlier this year and in previous years. House gardens and Claddagh church grounds were used as toilets and large amounts of litter mainly drink, was left behind. I have met a number of residents this weekend who are not happy with decision and calls have been made by them to have it closed in evenings by City Council and Gardai should assist in clearing area if needs be.

“We do not have enough Garda personnel to have proper policing in our city, we need more resources for the city to tackle and enforce anti social behaviour.

“I have met this week with Gardai and have been given assurances that this will be closely monitored and occasions such as exam results nights, freshers week and good weather will be monitored,” he said.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council rows back on ‘reduced delays’ projections for Kirwan junction

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Motorists have described it as ‘a disaster’ and a former mayor has said the project gave very poor value for money, but Galway City Council have this week asked the public to be patient with the revamped Kirwan junction, close to the Menlo Park Hotel.

Since the four-arm signalled junction opened early last week, motorists have complained of traffic queues stretching back to the Quincentenary Bridge and Corrib Park.

And now the Council has rowed back on its consultants’ claims that the junction would increase capacity by 15% and reduce waiting times by 25%.

Former mayor and local taxi driver, Cllr Frank Fahy, told the Galway City Tribune that given the negative impact of the junction on traffic, the €5 million spent on the project represented ‘very poor value’ as regards taxpayers’ money.

“I will admit that the junction is now safer for pedestrians in that they can hit a button to give them a safe crossing, but since it opened there have some very serious traffic tailbacks,” said Cllr Fahy.

However, City Council Acting Director of Services for Transport, Uinsinn Finn, told the Galway City Tribune that the new junction needed time to ‘bed in’ with a familiarisation process.

“The main objectives of this project were to make far safer for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate, as well as making it safer for motorists too, without impacting [negatively] on the traffic flow,” said Mr Finn.

He added that since it opened – and over the coming few weeks – data on all aspects of how the junction was functioning would be compiled which could involve changes to light sequencing, lanes and peak traffic flows.

One motorist who contacted this newspaper said that the daily “nightmare” journey from the Barna Road to the Headford Road during the morning peak traffic time had added up to 40 minutes to his journey time.

“The two lanes are regularly gridlocked from the junction, back the N6, over the Quincentenary Bridge and back to Corrib Park.

“In the mornings, it’s now easier to go down Taylor’s Hill and into town, past Eyre Square and up Bohermore to get down to the Headford Road.

Councillors were told by consultants in 2017 and again in 2018 – when they voted to proceed with the changeover to a junction – that average delays would be reduced by 25% and junction capacity would increase by 15%.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Man hospitalised following Eyre Square assault

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Gardaí have appealed to the public for information into an assault in Eyre Square last weekend which led to a young man being hospitalised.

The victim of the assault – a man in his early 20s from the city area – suffered a cut to his knee and may have had a substance sprayed towards his eyes.

Following the incident – that occurred close to the Eyre Square taxi rank shortly after midnight on Saturday night last – the victim was taken by ambulance to University Hospital Galway.

It is understood that the victim was released later that morning and has made a full recovery. This week, Gardaí are poring over CCTV footage in an effort to try and identify the perpetrators of the assault.

The assailants are understood to have fled on foot after the incident towards St Patrick’s Avenue on the east side of Eyre Square.

A Garda spokesperson has appealed for anyone who was in the vicinity of the taxi rank on Eyre Square between 12 midnight and 12.30am on the Sunday morning (Saturday night) of July 25 last, and who may have witnessed the incident to contact them.

(Photo: the assailants fled on foot towards St Patrick’s Avenue off Eyre Square)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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