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CITY TRIBUNE

Gang leader jailed for racially-motivated assault

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The racially-motivated attack happened in broad daylight in Eyre Square.

The leader of a gang of youths who were involved in muggings and sometimes racially-motivated assaults around the city over the last number of years has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Tom Williams (20), Cluain Fada, Headford Road, actually received sentences totalling seven-and-a-half years at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week, but the final four years were suspended on condition he keep the peace and be of good behaviour for five years on his release from prison.

Williams pleaded guilty at a previous court hearing to a charge of violent disorder, in that he along with three others acting together used or threatened to use violence in Eyre Square on May 4, 2018.

He also pleaded guilty to assaulting an Afghan national, causing him harm, on the same date.

Williams further pleaded guilty to robbing a mobile phone from another youth on March 14, 2018, and to assaulting the victim’s father when he asked Williams to return his son’s phone.

Sergeant Paul McNulty told the sentence hearing Williams was the leader of a gang which had no regard for law or order.

He said Williams and three others assaulted two young Afghan asylum seekers outside Cafe Express in Eyre Square at around 1.30pm on May 4, 2018.

“Tom Williams instigated the assault and oversaw it as his gang members carried it out,” Sgt McNulty said.

The victims later told Gardai they noticed a group of black males staring at them. The males called them terrorists and asked them what were they doing in this country.

One of the males, later identified from CCTV as Tom Williams, suddenly stuck one of the Afghan youths into the side of his head using his mobile phone as a weapon. The victim fell to the ground where he was punched and kicked by the gang.  A member of staff from a nearby cafe, who came to the victim’s aid, was punched into the face by another gang member.

Sgt McNulty said Eyre Square was packed with people at the time this vicious, unprovoked assault took place.

Garda Neil Lydon gave evidence Williams robbed a young boy of his mobile phone and rucksack in the Eyre Square shopping centre on March 14, 2018.

The victim was put in fear and he ran to the taxi rank where his father worked.

Garda Lydon said the victim’s father knew Williams’ father, who is also a taxi driver.

Later that evening the man went to a house where Williams was staying and asked for his son’s belongings.

Williams punched him a number of times in the head, face and body before hitting him across the head with a large salt shaker.

Garda Lydon said the man made an official complaint to him the next day.

“He was quite upset because in his culture, it’s very insulting for a young person to attack a man of his age,” Garda Lydon explained.

Garda Lydon said that neither the man nor his son wanted to give a victim impact statement.  He said the son continued to live in fear of the accused and the robbery and subsequent attack on his father had totally changed his life.

In reply to defence barrister, Conal McCarthy, Garda Lydon said he was not aware of Williams having any drink or drug problem.  He said the accused lived with his father in Cluain Fada, while his mother lived in Knocknacarra.

Sgt McNulty confirmed Williams had 33 previous convictions and was out on two separate sets of High Court bail for 18 other offences at the   time he committed the offences before the court.

He said the accused had two convictions for robberies, one for affray, one for the production of a weapon in the course of a dispute, four for assaults, and the rest for deception, possession of stolen property and drugs.

Sgt McNulty said he knew Williams since he was convicted of assaulting a Polish national when he was 13.

He said Williams was of Nigerian origin and was the leader of a gang of youths in the city who had no regard for the law.

Mr McCarthy said his client had been abusing alcohol and drugs for many years and he was intoxicated at the time of the assault on the taxi driver.

Sgt McNulty said that while he knew Williams for several years he was not aware he had a drink or drug addiction, as suggested by counsel.

Mr McCarthy said his client had also been the victim of racial abuse while in school.

Sgt McNulty was sceptical of this, pointing out that Williams was well over six feet tall since he was 13. “He’s a big lad,” he added.

Judge Rory McCabe said the latest probation report on Williams was very bleak, placing him at a high risk of reoffending and it left him with no option when imposing sentence but to discount any hope of rehabilitation.

For their role in the Eyre Square attacks, other gang members, Goodnews Onyenweson, received a four-year sentence with the final nine months suspended in May of last year, while Mourthadha Badiane received a suspended three-year sentence. A juvenile, who cannot be named, also received a suspended sentence.

CITY TRIBUNE

Outpatients’ concerns over reduced services at Merlin Park

Dara Bradley

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Patients who use ‘Hospital 1’ at Merlin Park face uncertainty over services after nurses were re-deployed to University Hospital Galway.

The hospital unit carries out infusion and transfusion services, as well as oncology and haematology.

Saolta University Hospital Group – which operates the public hospitals –has transferred nurses from Hospital 1 in recent weeks, so that it had sufficient staff available to reopen St Anthony’s Ward at UHG.

St Anthony’s is a 28-bed ward that had been closed all during Covid-19. It has now been re-opened, using redeployed nurses from Hospital 1, to cater for the return of essential procedures at UHG.

Saolta has argued that it is trying to maintain core services at UHG and it is re-deploying staff from elective areas in Merlin Park.

Merlin Park and UHG combined is Galway University Hospital – essentially the same workplace for industrial relations purposes – and is part of the same umbrella of hospitals in the West and North West run by Saolta.

A number of outpatients who have used Hospital 1 have told the Galway City Tribune they are concerned with the change, and the implications it might have on the services they receive.

Hospital 1 is a medical ward that offers a Monday to Friday service on the first floor of the main building on Merlin Park grounds.

They do infusions and transfusions and treat patients with MS, those who are anaemic, as well as oncology and haematology.

Those impacted by the reduced service at Hospital 1 also include people with blood disorders; people with blood cancers or leukaemia; and people with conditions such as myelodysplasia.

“Neurologists use it to observe patients who’ve had seizures. There’s a multitude of consultants who would’ve used Hospital 1 for various investigative procedures. Rather than going into hospital in UHG, occupying a bed, Hospital 1 is used for infusions, and you could be in and out in a day, or stay a couple of nights,” a source said.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has called on Saolta to put in place a contingency plan.

Anne Burke, INMO, Industrial Relations Officer, Western Region, confirmed to the Galway City Tribune that some of her members have been re-deployed from Merlin Park to UHG, because of a massive shortage of nurses at the Newcastle site.

“If they pulled the Hospital 1 nursing staff out of UHG today, St Anthony’s would have to close and that’s the nub of it. They simply do not have the staff to do it,” explained Ms Burke.

“The staff have redeployed. They were initially told it would be for two weeks. But clearly, that won’t be sustainable in the context of massive vacancies at the UHG site.

“There’s bound to be a very definitive impact on the service. We have members already working overtime, and part-time workers who have upped their hours. But you are only flogging a dead horse if you’re asking people to work over and above. There’s only so much overtime you can do – no matter what money is offered – in the context of the conditions on the wards,” she said.

Asked when Hospital 1 might return to ‘normal’ staffing levels, Ms Burke said: “When is it likely to revert? There’s a big question mark over it, and our position is that it’s an unanswered question in the context of the deficit of nurses at UHG site and the attempt by management to maintain core services.

“That might be of cold comfort to those who depend on transfusions in Hospital 1. But they are going to have to put in a contingency plan about all of this and how it’s going to be managed and how Joe and Mary Bloggs who is looking for an infusion or transfusion, how are they going to get that. They cannot just be left in abeyance. They have to receive some element of treatment. Whether that is done through engagement with the private hospitals again, we don’t know.”

The recent cyber attack on the HSE has hampered INMO’s ability to communicate with hospital management.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Hundreds of new apartments in Galway will not be available to buy

Enda Cunningham

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The backer of the Crown Square scheme in Mervue is planning a massive ‘build to rent’ housing scheme as part of the development, with 345 apartments.

Padraic Rhatigan was previously granted permission for 288 apartments on the site but has now applied for a modified and higher-density development, with blocks ranging from four to nine storeys in height.

There will also be a neighbourhood facility with a gym, a primary care medical centre with pharmacy, a ‘working from home’ lounge, games room and a creche.

There will be 240 two-bed apartments, 86 one-beds and 19 three-beds, all of which will be specifically for the rental market and not available to purchase.

The plans include three blocks ranging from five to nine storeys in height, with garden courtyards.

To meet social housing requirements, the developer plans to transfer 35 of the apartments (20 two-bed, 10 one-bed and 5 three-bed) to Galway City Council.

A total of 138 car-parking spaces have been allocated on the lower basement levels of Crown Square for residents, and there will be 1,200 secure bicycle parking spaces across the development.

The planning application was made directly to An Bord Pleanála under ‘Strategic Housing Development’ legislation, which allows for the Board to decide on applications residential developments of more than 100 units following initial consultations with the local authority.

According to Rhatigans, the property market has changed since it was granted permission in November 2019 for 288 apartments in three blocks ranging from five to eight storeys in height.

“The rationale behind this proposal stems from the changes to market modelling and the demand for residential accommodation which have arisen since the previously approved application.

“These amendments … are being proposed following a review of the economic viability of the overall scheme,” the applicant previously said.

According to the new application, the scheme is intended to create a “distinctive new city quarter”.

“Important pedestrian and cyclist connections are also incorporated into the design by creating links between Monivea Road and Joyces Road providing an accessible street network for walkers and cyclists. It is considered that the proposed development would bring significant socio-economic benefits to the community,” the application reads.

The apartments constitute Phase 2 of the Crown Square development. The first phase is already under construction and includes a 180-bed hotel with bar, restaurant and conference facilities and five office blocks with space for up to 3,500 workers.

Mr Rhatigan recently told An Bord Pleanála that despite uncertainty in the market with hotels at the moment due to Covid-19, there is still a plan to proceed with the hotel in Phase 1 “and broadly with the masterplan for the overall scheme”.

He explained that the substructure of the hotel was currently being put in and that Rhatigans are in discussions with a few potential operators, but are not as far along in the discussions due to the delays brought about by Covid-19, however, it is believed to be still viable.

It remains the intention to be a high-quality hotel with a good-branded operator on board, he told the Board.

Two of the buildings in Phase 1 are expected to be completed with landscaping and occupiers moving in at the end of this year.

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CITY TRIBUNE

City Council ‘does not outbid’ private buyers in housing market

Dara Bradley

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Charities that buy houses in Galway for homeless people are not distorting the property market, a senior official at City Hall has said.

Dermot Mahon, Acting Director of Services for Housing at Galway City Council, insisted that Approved Housing Bodies (AHB), which provide and manage rented social houses, do not outbid private buyers in the housing market.

He was responding to queries from elected members before they approved a loan of almost €1 million to facilitate three AHBs to buy four city homes.

“We don’t engage in a bidding process,” Mr Mahon said. “We take a value, and we will not exceed that value. If there are other purchasers we will not engage, and we will not exceed it [valuation].”

He said that there is a cap in all local authority areas set by Government regarding the maximum amount that can be paid to purchase houses for use as social housing rental properties.

Councillors agreed to approve loans of €930,000 for the purchase of four homes.

The agreement included €202,355 to Galway Simon for a two-bed house off the Western Distributor Road in Knocknacarra; some €189,264 to Cope Galway for a one-bed apartment on Dominick Street; and €246,528 and €292,279 respectively to Peter McVerry Trust for two-bed and four-bed houses in Doughiska.

Funding is provided by way of a grant from the Department of the Housing to the local authority who provides the funding to the relevant AHB in the form of a 30-year mortgage. Loan charges are waived provided the terms of the scheme are complied with.

“All properties have been supported by an independent valuation and represent good value for money,” said Mr Mahon.

He said that Simon and Cope were two organisations that had “excellent records” in Galway.

Mr Mahon said that Peter McVerry Trust is “in the market for more property” in Galway.

The Trust already operates the Modular Family Hub in Westside on behalf of the Council, which is a temporary facility to house people who are homeless in accommodation other than hotels and B&Bs.

Two families from the Westside Hub will be relocated to the two new properties bought in Doughiska.

In response to several questions from councillors, Mr Mahon insisted that the method of allocating housing was “transparent”.

“There is no queue skipping – it is done in consultation with us,” he said. It is based on need and length of time on the housing waiting list.

Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) called on the Council to carry-out full surveys of houses before they are allocated to tenants.

He pointed to a recent situation in Doughiska where homes were allocated to tenants but the properties were ‘faulty from the get-go’, which was not acceptable. The issue was decided on in the courts, he said.

Mr Mahon said the four new properties being discussed were compliant with planning permission and had been assessed by engineers.

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