A Galway woman living in Spain has painted a picture of how a true lockdown would look like if introduced in Ireland.
Iseult Harrington from Menlo has been confined to her third-floor apartment in a suburb of Valencia since last Saturday night with her seven-year-old daughter Ana Rosa.
Streets are patrolled with a heavy police presence to ensure that people remain indoors. Fines of between €500 and €3,000 have been levied on those caught breaking the emergency laws, with jail terms threatened for persistent flouting.
A pass is given to dog owners to walk their pets outside, but they must remain within two streets of their home.
A father out walking his child in a buggy was hit with a substantial fine when his protests of needing fresh air fell on deaf ears.
“You have to show your ID and justify why you are outside and where you are going. Only one person can go out to the pharmacy if they have a prescription or to the supermarket for groceries, which means I would have to leave my daughter at home alone,” she said.
“You can’t have more than one person in a car – people with split custody have to bring their divorce papers with them to prove they have a reason for travelling.
“Only two people at a time are allowed into the supermarket and from what I’m hearing there are two-hour queues to get inside. Once there, so many things are gone. There’s no meat at all. There are no oranges – this is Spain, we always have oranges.”
She had started buying some extra supplies over the past three weeks, so has not ventured outside so far.
Locals in Valencia only fully grasped the seriousness of the situation on the cancellation of their annual Fallas Festival, which attracts over one million people to the streets with a mix of fireworks, fire displays and elaborate costumes.
A freelance translator, Iseult is used to working from home but is unsure if the work will continue to be sent her way.
Others who find themselves without a wage are improvising.
“I know of one woman who switched her exercise class to online so that people can keep exercising at home and she can keep earning some money.”
Iseult advised people in Ireland to stock up on goods that they would need if they were stranded in a cabin for a month – sanitary towels, hair dye, comfort snacks to keep up spirits, cooking oil and dried goods and cans – and options for light entertainment such as board games and cards.
“I was guilty of complacency myself in the beginning – there was a lack of cohesion in policy. But I feel very reassured here now. I think it’s the only way.
“It’s shocking to see what’s happening in the UK and in Ireland – that people coming back from Cheltenham [Race Festival] were not forced into quarantine. I think that’s a ticking timebomb.
“It’s shocking to see how the numbers have grown here in Valencia – we had 40 cases, it’s now 500. Spain had 1,000 cases a week ago and it’s shot up to 11,000 – Italy have reached 21,000 and we’re second behind them so it is going to get a lot worse.
“The festival which had a fireworks display every evening was bringing 15,000 people into the city for the last nine nights so that could have caused a lot of damage.”
Living in Spain for the past eleven years, Iseult said she loves her adopted home but returns every August to see her family in Galway.
Speaking by phone on St Patrick’s Day, she said she is grateful for the small things.
She has a balcony that she and her daughter can enjoy some fresh air and light. It’s from here that she joins other Spaniards every evening at 8pm to honour those working in hospitals, supermarkets and pharmacies by banging pots and pans and singing aloud.
They have been told that the lockdown is likely to last a month at least.
“I have a good network, people I can talk to here and in Madrid. My daughter has been much better than I expected. She’s not anxious but is beginning to feel the lack of contact and the lack of exercise. But we’re getting used to it.”
Green light for 100 new homes in east of Galway City
Local residents have lost their battle against plans for the construction of more than 100 apartments and houses in Ballybrit which they believe will worsen an already chaotic traffic situation – a daily feature on AA Roadwatch radio reports prior to Covid-19.
Last December, plans for the development of land adjacent to The Meadows in Ballybrit were lodged with An Bord Pleanála – despite failing to meet City Development Plan guidelines on open space and parking.
Trean Meadow Ltd had sought permission to develop the five-acre site off the Ballybane More road (adjacent to Ballybrit Heights and The Meadows) and construct 78 apartments and 24 houses, as well as a childcare facility with space for 45 kids.
The residential units will be in a mix of one, two, three and four-beds.
The planning application was made directly to An Bord Pleanála under Strategic Housing Development (SHD) ‘fast-track’ legislation – proposals for housing developments of more than 100 residential units or 200 student bed spaces can be made directly to the Board following initial consultations with local authorities.
The application itself noted that it may be in ‘potential material contravention’ of the current Galway City Development Plan, which requires that 153 resident parking spaces and 34 visitor spaces be provided. However, the current proposal if for 105 spaces – 44 for the houses and the remaining 61 spaces for the apartments. A further seven have been allocated for the creche.
“The delivery of a high-quality residential development and associated infrastructure including a childcare facility should not be constrained by the open space and carparking provision as proposed. The development complies with the objectives of efficient use of land, delivering housing on residential zoned land and within one of the five key cities of the country.
“The proposed car parking provision equates to at least one space per dwelling . . . [it] can be justified due to the proximity of the application site to public transport links,” the application reads.
It adds that while just 14% of the site has been allocated for open space (the Development Plan stipulates 15%), there are recreational facilities at Castle Park, a 12-minute walk, and Merlin Woods, a 28-minute walk.
During the public submission process, several local residents made submissions to An Bord Pleanála in relation to the proposals.
All of the residents expressed concerns about existing traffic problems in the general area and noted that Ballybane More Road is used as a rat-run from the city during evening rush hour and into the city in the mornings due to the proximity of major exits to Dublin, Oranmore, Limerick, Mayo and Sligo.
One resident recorded 1,135 vehicles passing the adjacent road between 7.10am and 9.15am on one Wednesday morning in January.
Another resident said that due to the lack of parking spaces proposed in the development, it was reasonable to expect the excess cars of residents and visitors would have to park on the Ballybane More Road, which is currently narrower that standard roads in the vicinity – any parked cars would cause an obstruction.
Another resident on that road said that HGVs often get locked when trying to pass each other, and his garden wall has been demolished several times as a result.
On the morning of January 14 between 8-9am, he counted 1,320 traffic movements past his driveway.
“The development is grossly oversized for the location. It is totally out of proportion with existing dwellings. It is visually out of character and will destroy the last remaining undeveloped landscape and wildlife habitat in this area.
“I have no objection to a drastically scaled-down version [of the development] going ahead. The visual impact is absolutely unfair to my family, my neighbours and the poor souls that would have to live in that concrete jungle,” the objector said.
The DRA Community Group (Doughiska, Roscam, Ardaun) said the Ballybane More Road is not adequate to accommodate the existing traffic flow, and believed the three-storey apartment block fronting onto the road would be out of character.
Concerns were also expressed about the lack of pedestrian pathways and cycle lanes within the development and outside the site.
“The density [of the residences] is not considered conducive to family life, as they are considered too confined, without additional open space for children and adults to play and to live in harmony,” the DRA submission reads.
It added that there are a limited number of openings between buildings, which created a potential for them to be used as alleyways and therefore antisocial behaviour.
In her report on the application, An Bord Pleanála’s Senior Planning Inspector, Fiona Fair, said the development would be a “medium density scheme that respects, responds to and integrates with the immediate and surrounding context” and that it would not have significant undue adverse impact on the amenity of the adjoining area.
Ms Fair added that the quantum and quality of landscaping and public open space was acceptable, but highlighted that the site is constrained in terms of change in levels and the use of retaining walls, staircases and an embankment.
She also pointed out the development would result in an improvement in terms of footpath connectivity along the Ballybane More road, and improve pedestrian connectivity.
The Board approved planning permission, attaching a number of conditions, including a stipulation that construction work can only take place from 7am to 7pm Mondays to Saturdays and that 105 carparking spaces and 150 secure cycle parking spaces be provided.
It also ordered that one of the two-bed single-storey houses be omitted from the plans and the area be used for open space instead.
Trean Meadow is owned by Belmullet racehorse owner and bookmaker Damian Lavelle.
Galway Chamber seeks extension of rates waiver scheme
Galway Chamber has called for an expansion of the commercial rates waiver scheme to a longer term and for the inclusion of businesses which have continued to trade during the crisis.
The representative group has also called on Government to extend the three-month rates waiver for businesses which were forced to close their doors.
The calls follow the publication last week of a survey of 100 businesses in Galway City, which found that one quarter may have to go into ‘hibernation’ until next Spring.
Earlier this month, the Department of Local Government announced that rates would be waived for a three-month period – from March 27 – for businesses that were forced to close due to the pandemic.
The Chamber have now asked for an extension to that three-month waiver, and for businesses which continued to trade to qualify for the exemption.
Kenny Deery, CEO of Galway Chamber said: “While the move was welcomed by many as a step in the right direction, it was clear that three months was an inadequate period of support and the term needed to be expanded.
“Furthermore, Galway Chamber are calling for the Department to expand the scope of the commercial rates waiver, so that it can be applied to businesses who have been negatively impacted, with a proportional rebate, rather than just businesses who have had to close.
“We are suggesting that the criteria of a 25% decline in turnover should be the test for eligibility, as is the case with the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
“As it stands, the waiver has the possibility to act as an adverse incentive for businesses to remain closed for longer than may be necessary.
“Rates income is vital to allow the local authorities provide necessary services throughout the city and county. Galway Chamber, along with colleagues in Chambers Ireland, are calling on Minister Eoghan Murphy and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to support the local authorities with central government funding to replace this rates income,” said Mr Deery.
According to the Chamber survey, 80% of businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors said the rest of 2020 is about survival, while overall, 24% said they are “seriously considering” not reopening until Spring 2021.
It found that 80% of businesses wanted the rates waiver to continue beyond the three-month limit.
Statistics record rise in serious crime in Galway last year
The number of crimes reported in the Galway Garda Division in 2019 was down almost 17% on the previous year, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office.
The CSO figures show that last year, there were a total of 8,126 crimes recorded in Galway, down just under 17% from 9,780 in 2018.
However, the Galway Division – which covers the city and county – saw an increase in serious crimes such as rapes and sexual assaults.
There were 188 sexual offences recorded here last year, up 27% from 148 the previous year. These included 163 rapes and sexual assaults and 25 ‘other offences’, which can include incest, child abuse material and gross indecency.
Endangerment cases – where there is potential for serious harm or death – were up more than fourfold from three to thirteen.
Fraud offences – which include deception and forgery – were up from 240 to 360, an increase of 50%, while drugs offences saw an increase of just under 5%, from 538 to 563.
An analysis of the CSO data by the Galway City Tribune shows that by far, the most common offences the Gardaí had to deal with in 2019 were disorderly conduct (1,557 cases); handling of stolen property (1,055 cases); shoplifting (829); assault (829) and criminal damage (794 cases).
Gardaí in Galway also investigated very serious crimes, including 44 threats to kill (up from 27); 53 cases of arson (up from 36); 182 assaults causing harm (unchanged from 2018); three cases of false imprisonment (down from six) and a single human trafficking offence (there were none recorded in 2018).
The statistics also show that last year, there were 301 cases recorded as ‘offences while in custody and breaches of court orders’, which was up from 289 in 2018.
The data also shows there were 38 robbery, extortion or hijacking offences last year, which was down 22.5% from 49 the previous year.
There were 23 cases recorded as ‘offences against government and its agents’, up 64%. These can include non-compliance with the direction of a Garda; wasting police time; nuisance phone calls and breaches of the Offences Against the State Acts.
There was a decrease in drink driving offences – down 5% from 395 to 375, while there were 16 cases of driving under the influence of drugs (up from seven).
For drugs cases, there was an overall increase in recorded offences of 4.6% – possession for personal use was up 12% to 415 offences; possession for sale or supply was down 14% to 117 and cultivation/manufacture of drugs offences were down 36% to seven. There were 23 ‘other drugs offences’, up 15%, and these can include forging prescriptions or obstructing a search.
Social code offences – which can cover anything from begging and indecency to bigamy and bestiality – halved from 68 to 33.
The CSO figures on crimes recorded by Gardaí come with a ‘health warning’ – it suspended publication of them in 2014 after problems were discovered with the Garda PULSE system, the only source of recorded crime available to the CSO.
In 2015, further “quality issues” emerged with the PULSE data, and the CSO suspended publication of data in early 2017, pending the completion of an internal review nationally of homicide incidents and other concerns which the agency had raised.
The CSO has now recommenced publishing statistics, branding them as ‘Under Reservation’, which means that revisions can be expected.