One of the city’s leading homeless charities has warned that any further cuts to its budget will impact on services and force some of the most vulnerable people in the West of Ireland onto the streets.
In its annual report for 2012, published this week, the Galway Simon Community has called on the Government to at least maintain funding at last year’s level after five years of cuts to services for the homeless.
“The cuts must end,” says Simon CEO Bill Griffin. “The homeless budget must at least be held at current levels if we are to continue to be able to support homeless people to make changes that allow them a quality of life that the rest of us take for granted as our right.
“The time for political leadership is now, the time to turn rhetoric into meaningful action is now, and the time to make a lasting difference to the lives of vulnerable people in our region is now.”
Mr Griffin said the Simon Community supported the Government plan to end homelessness by 2016, but felt that they could not continue to maintain services after experiencing cuts to their budget in each of the past five years.
He warned that people could remain “trapped” in emergency or temporary accommodation, or return to the homeless cycle, because a tenancy breaks down or health and social care supports were inadequate.
People needed affordable housing, health and social care supports, and adequate social welfare payments so that they were not left “chronically poor” in the long-term.
“The result of underfunding of the homeless budget is an increase in demand on other more expensive services in other parts of state provision. So from a human and financial perspective ensuring adequate provision makes sense,” he said.
Mr Griffin pointed out that the HSE Social Inclusion budget had been cut every year since 2009, with 18% of this funding having “disappeared”, while funding to local authorities under the Housing Act and social welfare payments have also been cut.
He said Simon had received “amazing support” from the public in the wake of annual budget cuts since 2008, but staff were well aware that people were dealing with the effects of recession across the board.
“If you have demand going up and resources going down, there has to be an impact on services at some stage,” he said. “People in homeless services have complex needs in a variety of areas that require a commitment by the State.
“We have done everything in our power to do more with less but we now fear that any new cuts will impact on frontline services. The cuts must end. The homeless budget must at least be held at current levels.”
Gardaí in Galway operating with fewer patrol cars
Five large Garda stations in County Galway are operating with fewer Garda vehicles now than two years ago – leading to a call for the local fleet to be restored to 2020 levels.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has confirmed to Galway West TD Noel Grealish that the Garda fleet in the Galway Garda Division stands at 116 as of October of this year.
That’s greater than any of the years from 2012 to 2019, but it represents a reduction on the Garda fleet when compared with 2020 and 2021 figures.
Galway Gardaí had a dozen fewer vehicles this year, compared with 2020. There are 13 fewer patrol cars, down from 96 to 83; there was no change in the number of vans and motorcycles, and the division acquired one extra 4×4.
Garda stations in Ballinasloe, Loughrea, Tuam, Clifden and Salthill have all lost patrol cars in the past 24 months, according to the official figures.
Independent Deputy Grealish has demanded a restoration of the Garda fleet in Galway to 2020 levels.
“Gardaí have a demanding enough job to do, but it makes that important work even more difficult if they are not allocated the proper resources,” Deputy Grealish said.
“A reduction of twelve vehicles in less than two years across the Galway Division, down from 128 at the end of 2020 to 116 in October this year, is concerning.
“I have asked the Minister for Justice to explain why this has happened, that the number of vehicles in the Galway Division has fallen by ten per cent, when nationally the total fleet actually increased by 6%. I am demanding that they at the very least be restored to their 2020 levels,” he said.
Deputy Grealish pointed out that almost all areas of the county had suffered a reduction in Garda vehicles since the beginning of last year. Ballinasloe currently has six vehicles, a reduction of two since the end of 2020; Clifden also has six, down one; Loughrea was down three to eleven; Salthill was down three to ten; the biggest reduction in Garda vehicles was in the Tuam area down five to twelve.
Galway City’s fleet increased by two vehicles, for a total of 71.
Minister McEntee said that the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was responsible for the administration and management of An Garda Síochána, including the purchase, allocation, and effective and efficient use of Garda vehicles.
“As Minister, I have no direct role in these matters. I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review to ensure their optimum use in light of identified operational needs and emerging crime trends,” she added.
Galway City Councillor Donal Lyons (Ind) last month complained that the number of vehicles available to Gardaí in Salthill and Knocknacarra was insufficient.
Renters paying €12,000 more per annum in Galway City than ten years ago
People living in private rented accommodation in Galway City are paying, on average, around €12,000 more per annum than they were a decade ago.
New research from property website Daft.ie has found that in the past year, average rents in the city have increased by 16.4% and now stand at €1,713 per month.
Meanwhile, the Dáil was told last week that the situation in the rental market in the city is “horrendous”.
According to the figures published this week, rents in the city have increased by a whopping 145% since the bottom of the market in early 2012, when they stood at an average of around €700 per month.
Nationally, the increase was 14.1% year on year, or 4.3% between June and September (the figure was 3% for Galway City).
Economist Ronan Lyons of Daft.ie said that the last ten quarterly reports from the website have recorded new all-time highs for average rents.
He said that in the past 18 months, there has been an “extraordinary collapse” in the stock available to rent in Ireland.
Speaking at the Oireachtas Select Committee on Finance last week, Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell said Sinn Féin had long been calling for tax credits, but these needed to be in tandem with a freeze on rents.
“My concern is that if the Government does not introduce a rent freeze, this measure will put further pressure on families and individuals who are struggling to pay for their accommodation. Many renters feel there is no end or hope in sight. To be perfectly honest, I have never seen the housing crisis in Galway as bad as it is now.
“Galway is the place I can best reference and there is little rental property available in Galway. There is concern that this will add to the pressure that people are already facing if a rent freeze is not also introduced,” she said.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe responded that in the Budget he had announced a €500 rent credit, specifically for those who do not receive other housing supports from the State.
“I also acknowledge that too many people are paying too much of their income in rent,” he said.
The Minister added that in Berlin, where rent freezes were imposed, the volume of new rental accommodation available had decreased, and he contended the same would happen in Ireland.
Deputy Farrell said: “Myself and the woman who works with me in my local office are at our wits’ end. Today we had a conversation about how to tell people coming to us that the council can do nothing because there are no rental properties and there is nowhere for people to go.
“That is a position that we have not seen ourselves in since I was elected. I am talking about the period since 2014. Things are getting worse.”
According to the Daft.ie report, average monthly rents for a one-bed apartment in Galway City stand at €1,142 (up 15% year on year); €1,333 for a two-bed house (up 13.7%); €1,594 for a three-bed house (up 16.2%); €1,948 for a four-bed (up 17.7%) and €1,959 for a five-bed (up 2.7%).
For the ‘rent a room’ renters, a single bedroom in the city centre is costing an average of €572 per month (up 15.1% year on year) and €617 for a double room (up 13.4%). In the suburbs, single bedrooms and renting for €533 per month (up 20.3%) and €593 for a double (up 22.5%).
Progress stalls on setting up Eating Disorder Community Health Team
Despite an increasing number of young people experiencing eating disorders, a new specialist community team has yet to be set up in Galway well over a year after it was announced.
The delay is mainly due to a difficulty recruiting a consultant psychiatrist to lead the team, this week’s HSE West Regional Health Forum meeting was told.
Councillor John Connolly (FF) queried the progress on the new Eating Disorder Community Health Team within the Child Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) after the HSE revealed in September 2021 that it would be set up in response to the hike in youths presenting for treatment.
Chief Officer of HSE Community Healthcare West, Breda Crehan-Roche, said interviews had been conducted to recruit a clinical lead, but so far none had been appointed. Six other staff had been appointed and these had been assigned to existing teams within CAMHS while a psychiatrist could come on board to manage the team.
“We have difficulty getting locum cover. Interviews were held. It’s a priority. We are doing a running recruitment process,” she told this month’s meeting.
It took between six and nine months to appoint a person to such a senior post.
“There is a lot of work in specialist intervention in the eating disorders team.”
She admitted that there were no records of how much of an increase there had been in referrals to CAMHS Galway for youths troubled by an eating disorder as all records were on paper rather than on computer.
“I can’t ask clinicians and therapists to pull together manual figures,” she stated. But the indication from staff on the ground was that there had been a downward trend in referrals post-Covid.
There was a move to keeping digital records by the middle of next year.