Nearly 37,000 Freedom of Information requests were made to public bodies last year – up 8.5% on 2017 and an increase of 32% on 2015, the first full year since fees for making FOI requests were abolished.
A total of 169 FOI requests were received by Galway City Council and 156 FOI requests were received by Galway County Council. NUIG was subject to 71 FOI requests while GMIT received 22 FOI requests.
Speaking after the publication of his annual report for 2018 this week, Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall said that the HSE received the highest number of requests with 10,706 made to the health organisation.
The Information Commissioner also said that there is still an unacceptable number of cases where public bodies failed to make a decision within the required time-frame when an FOI request is received.
Public bodies failed to issue a decision at either the initial decision-making stage or ‘internal review’ stage in 28% of all cases accepted by the Commissioner’s Office.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Passport applications left in limbo because of lack of Gardaí in rural stations
Garda shortages in rural stations are causing holiday hell for families whose passport applications are stuck in limbo.
Galway County Councillor Shelley Herterich Quinn (FF) said a number of local families have missed their holiday abroad because of delays in issuing passports to infants or first-time applicants.
Child and first-time applications for passports need to be verified by An Garda Síochána. But she claimed that staff shortages in Garda stations, particularly rural ones, meant that passport applications could not be signed off on.
One young mother who contacted the Tribune said she has been waiting months for the Passport Office to issue a passport for her baby.
She said the Passport Office blamed the delay on difficulties contacting Gardaí at Galway Garda Station to verify she was the legal guardian of the child.
Describing it as a ‘fiasco’, Cllr Herterich Quinn said many parents were in a similar situation and had missed their holiday over it. She has written to the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the issue.
“The devastation to families who had booked holidays abroad for the first time in three years, with seemingly ample time to have their passports issued, but for whatever reason, the passport never arrived. Thousands of Euros lost. Hundreds disappointed. We’ve had holidays missed, without compensation,” she said.
Cllr Herterich Quinn blamed a lack of Garda resources in some cases.
“Due to current constraints in An Garda Síochána, many Garda Stations are unmanned for hours and even days at a time, particularly in rural Ireland. Therefore it is very difficult for applicants to get their applications verified in the first instance,” she said.
The Passport Office officials must then verify the application with the Garda Station where the application form was stamped. And the only record of the application is a handwritten entry in a ledger at the station. But because some stations are not manned, the calls from the Passport Office are diverted to other stations.
“These stations cannot verify the application. If the appropriate station cannot be reached after one or two attempts, the application does not proceed and indeed a new application may have to be made,” she said.
Cllr Herterich Quinn called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to work with Gardaí and Passport Office to implement an electronic method of verifying passport applications, using existing or a new online portal.
“The implementation of this electronic method of verification would negate the need for the Garda Station to verify the application as it would already be verified electronically, using the Garda’s personal identification number, via the ‘Passport Application Verification Portal’ between An Garda Síochána and the Passport Office,” she said.
Emissions targets ‘crazy attack’ on rural Ireland
Farm leaders and opposition politicians have warned that the 25% emissions reduction for the agricultural sector – agreed last week by the Cabinet – could have massive negative implications for farming and the rural economy over the coming years.
Two former Ministers have accused the Government of going ‘for the soft touch option’ and of launching ‘a crazy attack’ on the farming community, with their latest emissions’ targets.
Former Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, described the 25% reduction in agricultural emissions between now and 2030 as ‘a PR stunt without any back-up details’.
“The passing of the Climate Action Bill set in train this crazy attack on farming. The Bill was supported by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbench TDs, so they just cannot blame the Greens,” he said.
He added that with only vague promises of financial supports and no money in place, young people would find it difficult to stay farming.
“This knee-jerk reaction from the Government will pose serious problems for family farms around the country,” said Deputy Canney.
According to Roscommon-Galway Independent TD, Denis Naughten, the ‘sad reality’ of the situation was that agriculture was now being treated as ‘the soft touch’ in terms of emissions reduction targets.
He also said that the Government must assure the farming sector that if their 2030 emissions reduction targets are not met in other sectors, then agriculture can not be asked again for further reductions.
“The reality is that right across each of the emission sectors, we are now seeking monumental change over the next 89 months, a rate of change that has not been achieved anywhere on our planet.
“This can only be realistically achieved through the development of innovative solutions to address Ireland’s unique challenges.
“The fact that 37% of our population live in isolated rural areas and are reliant to such a huge extent on solid and oil-fired central heating are examples of these unique challenges,” said Denis Naughten.
Galway-Mayo IFA Regional Executive, Roy O’Brien, told the Connacht Tribune that the emissions’ reduction target in agriculture could not be measured; was badly thought out; and would be largely unworkable.
“Every farm is different – there is no one size fits all solution on this issue. How can solutions be put in place for something that can’t be measured,” said Roy O’Brien.
Co Galway IFA Chairman, Stephen Canavan, said that no one really had a clue as to how the proposed emissions’ cut would be worked out on individual farms.
“We’re being told that this will all be a voluntary process, but I don’t think anyone has an idea about all this will work out. There simply is no roadmap in place for this whole process,” said Stephen Canavan.
Macra na Feirme National President, John Keane, said this week that the 25% reduction in sectoral emissions for the agriculture sector between now and 2030 puts Ireland’s farm family model at risk without any plan in place as to how farmers can achieve these targets.
“Macra na Feirme has not seen any governmental economic impact assessment outlining how a reduction of 25% will affect the rural economy and the individual family farms that will be expected to deliver this target.
“We now have an arbitrary figure with no agreed science-based pathway to achieving this target that ensures farm viability and allows young people to enter the sector.
“A detailed plan with substantial funding for its delivery is lacking and farmers are failing to see the much talked about just transition in action for farm families,” said John Keane.
In a Farmers Journal commissioned study by KPMG Consultants – and published last week – it was stated that a 21% emissions’ reduction in agriculture would result in 10,000 job losses while a 30% cut would lead to a massive 56,400 jobs cut.
(Photo: Roy O’Brien of the IFA)
Consultants ‘must engage with locals’ over Galway-Athlone greenway plans
The controversial greenway between Galway and Athlone could be bound up in legal red tape for years if the consultants do not properly engage with local residents and ensure that the end product will be to their benefit.
That’s according to local Councillor Jimmy McClean who has come up with a different approach to ‘selling’ the concept, which has now been agreed by members of Galway County Council.
This would see the greenway projected as something that would not alone benefit tourists but would also accommodate local householders and landowners in terms of connectivity.
A route which goes from Athlone through Shannonbridge, Meelick, Portumna, Gort, Kinvara and into Galway City has emerged as the preferred option for the €150 million greenway.
The developers of the project – including Galway County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland – have said that this route will run through publicly-owned lands as far as possible, including Bord na Mona trails, Coillte forestry roads and ESB-owned property.
Landowners along the preferred route have complained about lack of consultation, expressed fears of their farms being dissected and dread the prospect of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) being applied to acquire the lands necessary to construct the greenway.
According to Cllr McClearn, the development of a hybrid model that would also benefit residents and landowners along the proposed route was the desired option to see the project through within a realistic timeframe.
The discussion about the 140km Athlone to Galway greenway arose at a meeting of the County Council as a result of a motion from Cllr McClearn who suggested a hybrid model should be applied to the route.
This would involve the provision of several links that would branch out from the main route to different localities along the way – thereby making it user-friendly for local communities.
“It is quite evident that there is huge resistance to what is being proposed at the moment and if there is no change, it will wind up in the courts and face long delays.
“Local farmers and residents in the Meelick and Stoneyisland areas in my Council area are totally opposed to what the consultants have been pursuing up to now.
“They see no benefit for themselves or their families unless the greenway was to become a cycleway in these pinch-point areas as it would mean that children and adults could cycle or walk safely to their neighbours and this would be beneficial to their quality of life.
“It would also give people using the greenway an opportunity to understand and interact with locals, to visit local attractions and understand what services are available locally,” Cllr McClearn added.
This motion was supported by several councillors from all sides of the Council chamber and was accepted by the Council Executive as something that will now be pursued.