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Galway’s Independent TDs reveal demands for deal

Dara Bradley

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Galway’s Independent TDs insist their mission is to bring rural Ireland back from the brink – not to hold the country to ransom with ‘parish pump’ politics.

The four Independents, representing three Galway constituencies, have demanded a series of policies targeted at reviving rural communities, which have suffered most during the economic catastrophe.

During the ongoing government formation talks, some of the Galway kingmakers also sought commitments on infrastructure projects and policies to boost the West of Ireland so that the recovery is felt outside of the capital.

Pushing for regional development so that the west is a real counterbalance to Dublin and the east, is a central consideration in the TDs demands.

Among the Galway TDs ‘shopping list’ in no particular order includes: expediting a new Emergency Department in University Hospital Galway; funding a city bypass; commitments on mental health; increased roads budgets; fast-tracking better broadband in isolated areas; measures to attract industrial investment to bring jobs to rural towns; a new air ambulance service for the west; increased payments to disadvantaged farmers, a greater proportion of whom live in the West; action on mortgages and the housing crisis; commitments on the rights of turf-cutters; and assurances about rural Garda stations and policing.

Spooked by a Sunday newspaper report, which claimed Independents were seeking a €13 billion package and holding the country to ‘ransom’, the Galway players in the talks have come out fighting.

The ‘rural five’, which includes Galway West TD, Noel Grealish and Roscommon/Galway TD Denis Naughten flatly rejected the charge.

“I don’t know are they out to smear us or destroy us,” asked Deputy Grealish. “This might be a game to try and get Labour back in with them (Fine Gael).”

Deputies Naughten and Grealish insisted their demands were ‘broad brush’ policy commitments aimed at revitalising rural Ireland.

The pair and their group – including Michael Collins, Michael Harty and Mattie McGrath – insist they have not demanded a list of capital development projects. “We have concentrated on measures that will rejuvenate rural Ireland,” said Deputy Naughten.

The six involved in the Independent Alliance, including Roscommon/Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice and Galway East TD Seán Canney, said the figure of €13 billion is way off the mark. “It’s bullshit – totally ridiculous,” said Glinsk-based Deputy Fitzmaurice.

Deputy Fitzmaurice confirmed he and Canney have sought a series of measures to be included in any new programme for government.

However, Deputy Fitzmaurice said he was angry with the leaking and briefing against the Independent Alliance, which he believes was a deliberate attempt to embarrass them.

“We were portrayed in the Dublin media as total head-bangers and lunatics. But what we are asking for is measures that will help rural Ireland to survive,” he said.

“It’s not going to cost €13 billion. What we’re looking for wouldn’t even scratch the surface of €13 billion. Last week they announced €10 billion for a transport package in Dublin, for the new Luas line. You won’t hear the Dublin journalists or politicians saying that’s lunacy. But when we put forward sensible proposals for infrastructure in the West of Ireland and measures to help rural Ireland, they say we’re lunatics,” fumed Deputy Fitzmaurice.

The Independent Alliance’s demands include tackling national problems, such as the mortgage time-bomb, homelessness and housing crisis, as well as specifically rural issues, like commitments on allowing turf-cutters to continue to cut turf on their own bogs.

“We put forward solutions, such as intergenerational mortgages, which are mortgages of 100 years and are passed on – they work well in Austria. There’s no point going into government if you can’t get solutions to the problem that 50,000 are going to be thrown out of their homes in 18 months,” he said.

The specific capital projects they have asked for include a city bypass and new Emergency Department in UHG. “Both of them are budgeted for already, we’re just looking for the process to be made sooner,” he said. Other demands include additional payments to small and disadvantaged farmers. They want local authority resurfacing works on roads to occur once every ten years, like in 2006, as opposed to once every 20 years as is the case now.

He said reports that the Alliance had sought the construction of a motorway from Tuam to Derry were ‘misleading’.

They asked, he said, that the West of Ireland be re-designated so as to qualify for 40% EU funding for cross-border infrastructure projects such as North-South railway or roads connections. “Why wouldn’t we ask for this; the money from Europe is there,” said Deputy Fitzmaurice.

Deputies Grealish and Naughten, who are alligned to a seperate group of Independents, issued a joint statement distancing themselves from the ‘shopping list’ approach of other Independents, as outlined in the Sunday Independent.

“At no stage during talks with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael was a list of major capital developments presented by us. Instead we focused on key strategic national decisions which would have a direct impact on the survival of provincial towns and rural Ireland.

“During our discussions with both parties it was clear that there would be little or no new funds available for the next two budgets, and we were always very conscious of putting forward clear proposals which would benefit as many disadvantaged communities, both rural and urban, as possible. In many cases the changes which we suggested had little or no financial impact but could, with a determined commitment by Government, make a real difference to the survival of many communities throughout the country.”

Speaking to the Connacht Tribune, Deputy Naughten insisted the five rural TDs were focused on the bigger picture.

“Over the last eight and ten years rural Ireland and provincial towns have been absolutely decimated. What we have looked for is policy measures targeted at rejuvenating rural Ireland and provincial towns.

“We have looked for investment in our health services, and for investment in the Emergency Department in Galway but that is something that needs to be done in Cork and Limerick and will benefit patients in my own constituency in Roscommon Galway but also in Mayo and Leitrim and Donegal,” he said.

Fast-tracking the roll-out of broadband to nurture economic growth in provincial towns is another key area, he said.

“We have also looked for things that won’t cost much or anything at all such as a ‘closure commission’. This would be a commission that, before a decision is made to close a service in rural Ireland, would look at trying to save the service or replacing it. So if a decision was made to close a post office, the commission would look at maybe allowing the local community shop to take it over. It’s measures like these that are aimed at keeping rural Ireland alive,” said Deputy Naughten.

Deputy Grealish also confirmed that he sought commitments that no more Garda stations would close. The Carnmore politician said his group had engaged in over 110 hours of talks, and suggested that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were dragging their feet and wouldn’t have even entered negotiations, only for the insistence of the ‘rural five’.

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City publican in heroic River Corrib rescue

Francis Farragher

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A city publican who last week helped save the life of a woman who had entered the waters of the Corrib off Wolfe Tone Bridge has made an appeal for young people to ‘look out for each other’.

Fergus McGinn, proprietor of McGinn’s Hop House in Woodquay, had been walking close to Jury’s Inn when he saw the young woman enter the river.

He then rushed to the riverbank on the Long Walk side of the bridge, jumped into the water, spoke to the woman and stayed with her until the emergency services arrived.

The incident occurred at about 3.45pm on Friday last, and a short time later the emergency services were on the scene to safely rescue the woman.

“She was lucky in that the river level was very low and she didn’t injure herself on the rocks and stones just under the water.”

He also appealed to the public to support in whatever they could the work being done by groups like the Claddagh Watch volunteers.
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

Pubs face court – for serving booze on their doorsteps!

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Gardaí have warned city publicans that alcohol cannot be served outside their own premises – even in newly-created on-street spaces designated by Galway City Council as suitable for outdoor dining.

Councillor Mike Crowe (FF) said three Gardaí visited a number of city centre pubs on Thursday afternoon informing them that drinking outdoors was not allowed under licensing laws.

“They warned publicans and restaurants that the area outside their premises is not covered by the licence, and therefore under national legislation, they are breaking the law, because they are not entitled to sell alcohol in non-licensed areas.

“The operators were told that this was an official warning, and they will be back again in a few days and if it persisted, they [Gardaí] would have no option but to issue a charge and forward files to the Director of Public Prosecution. You could not make this up.

“All of the big operators were visited, and received an official warning, and they will be charged if they persist. According to the guards, they’re getting instructions from [Garda headquarters in] Phoenix Park,” he said.

The matter will be raised at a meeting of the Galway City Joint Policing Committee on Monday.
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

Call for 50% affordable homes in new Galway City Council estates

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The next Galway City Development Plan should include a greater provision for affordable housing than that recommended by Government, a meeting of the City Council has heard.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) told the meeting that while it was the Government’s intention to introduce a stipulation that new estates should have 10% affordable housing, Galway should go further – building anything up to 50% affordable in developments that are led by the local authority.

The Affordable Housing Bill, which is currently working its way through the Oireachtas, proposes that all developments should have 10% affordable and 10% social housing as a condition of their approval.

Affordable housing schemes help lower-income households buy their own houses or apartments in new developments at significantly less than their open market value, while social housing is provided by local authorities and housing agencies to those who cannot afford their own accommodation.

The Council meeting, part of the pre-draft stage of forming the Development Plan to run from 2023 to 2029, was to examine the overarching strategies that will inform the draft plan to come before councillors by the end of the year and Cllr McDonnell said a more ambitious target for affordable housing was absolutely necessary.

“It must be included that at least 50% of housing must be affordable [in social housing developments],” he said.

This sentiment was echoed by Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) who questioned if the City Council was ‘tied down’ by national guidelines, or if it could increase the minimum percentage of affordable housing required locally.
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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