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.
Man arrested over stabbing in Galway City
A 19-year-old man is due to come before the courts in relation to a stabbing incident that occurred in the city earlier this month.
In the incident, a young man suffered a stab wound to his leg at Galway Shopping Centre on the Headford Road, and was subsequently removed to University Hospital Galway for treatment.
It is understood that the man has since been released after being treated for what weren’t regarded as life-threatening injuries.
Gardai, who studied CCTV footage available in the area at the time, had appealed for any witnesses or anyone with information to make contact with them.
The attack is not being treated as a ‘random assault’ by Gardaí – both the victim and assailant may have been known to each other.
The Galway City Tribune has learned that a 19-year-old man has been arrested by Gardaí in relation to the incident and will face charges relating to assault causing harm.
The stabbing occurred on the Tuesday evening of July 21 shortly after 8.30pm – according to Gardaí, there were a number of passersby in the vicinity at the time of the incident.
HSE challenged on cost of Covid hub in Merlin Park Hospital
The value for money of the Covid-19 Community Assessment Hub at Merlin Park has been called into question.
County Councillor Donagh Killilea said it was now time to ‘row back’ on the hub, which has cost €18,000 per week to see an average of seven patients.
Breda Crehan Roche, Chief Officer of Community Healthcare West, confirmed at the latest HSE West Regional Health Forum that the facility was currently not costing anything.
She said that three such hubs were set up in the West at the height of the pandemic; two have been stood down, but Merlin Park was on ‘stand-by’ in case of a winter surge or a second wave of coronavirus.
Cllr Killilea suggested it was not sustainable.
“It’s seen 107 Covid-19 related patients in the four months that it has been operating. That’s 0.9 patients per day, and you’ve 13 staff there at a cost of €18,000 per week. Is this sustainable? We need to row back on it,” he said.
Ms Crehan Roche confirmed that the total number of staff re-allocated to the unit and the number of full-time staffing already there included a GP, a trainee GP, six nurses, two assistant public health nurses, one physio, one admin staff and one cleaner.
“The estimated cost of the operation and capital expenditure of same was €125,000. The cost of catering for the unit since the setup of the Covid services was €2,100,” she said.
(Photo: Staff at the opening of the first Community Assessment Hub in Merlin Park).
Galway City Council brands new PorterShed design “monotonous”
Plans for the development of a technology ‘hub’ on Market Street have stalled after Galway City Council said the design of the building is “monotonous” and of insufficient quality for such a prominent location.
And the Department of Culture and Heritage has ordered that a programme of archaeological excavations must be carried out on the site, which currently houses the Connacht Tribune offices.
Last April, the company behind the PorterShed business incubation hub near Ceannt Station sought permission for the redevelopment of the Tribune building, including the addition of a lightweight floor over the existing two-storey building and a small extension to cater for a lift and stair core. The plans also involved will be a roof garden/decked area overhead.
There would be a partial demolition of a two-storey element to the side and rear of the building, which would be replaced by a new enlarged area over four floors. In total, it would create office space for around 220 people.
However, the City Council last week wrote to PorterShed, acknowledging that while the proposal was acceptable in principle, they wanted a redesign.
“Whilst noting that the existing building is of poor architectural quality, it is considered that the design/visual appearance of the proposed building does not provide the most suitable design resolution for such a prominent urban site, which is located within a sensitive historic environment, being located within the Galway City Core Architectural Conservation Area and in close proximity to the historic St Nicholas Church.
“Whilst it is acknowledged that the refurbishment/extension of the existing building is challenged in terms of meeting the needs of modern office accommodation, it is considered that the architectural quality of the building is not of a sufficient standard for such a prominent and sensitive site.
“It is considered that [the proposal] does no integrate appropriately with the existing streetscape, nor does it provide a positive contribution to the visual integrity of the area.
“This is largely due to the uniform, monotonous design of the building, which incorporates a palette of inappropriate external materials, such as steel cladding, brick cladding and render,” the Council said.
PorterShed must also hire an archaeologist to carry out a programme of excavations at locations on the site in consultation with the National Monuments Service. A written report must then be submitted to the Department of Culture and Heritage.
In a submission to the Council, the Bowling Green Residents’ Committee said that while it was informed by PorterShed earlier this year of the plans to redevelop the Tribune building, it was not aware of the plan to build another storey with a roof garden.
The residents said that while they do not object to the plans for the building, they want strict conditions enforced on any events which take place in the roof garden.
The Council acknowledged these concerns and asked PorterShed to comment on the matter.
“In the event the roof gardens are to be retained, a management plan shall be submitted, outlining the exact nature of use/operation of the roof garden, along with operating times,” the Council said.
The local authority noted that there will be a loss of parking spaces on the site and advised the applicant to address this issue, as a contribution to transportation infrastructure costs will be required.
Finally, the Council said the proposed signage is unacceptable and would have a negative impact on the streetscape, and asked that an alternative design should include bilingual signage.
The Connacht Tribune – which publishes the Galway City Tribune – sold the building on Market Street in 2018 and will be moving to new offices in Liosbán Business Park later this summer.
Meanwhile, a separate PorterShed planning application to redevelop a warehouse adjacent to Market Street carpark – creating 130 co-working desk spaces – has run into similar difficulties.
The Council has sought a redesign of the plans as the proposal “does not integrate with the fabric of the existing urban environment . . . largely due to a mix of inappropriate external materials”.
Test excavations must also be carried out at this site by a qualified archaeologist and the same concerns were raised about signage.
“Pedestrian access through the commercial carpark places pedestrians at risk,” the Council said, asking for the proposal to be revised.
The local authority has also asked the applicant to address the fact that cycle parking spaces are unsheltered under the existing proposals.
The proposal involves a change of use of the 1950s two-storey warehouse and a new two-storey extension with modern design – it will house desk space for 130 people.
The Bowling Green residents, in a separate submission to the Council, said they welcomed the application because the site had been left in an unsightly and neglected state for many years.
However, they asked that a bin storage be brought within a gated area to avoid it becoming a “probable focus for antisocial behaviour”.
The Council agreed and has sought for this to be addressed also. PorterShed now has until the middle of January to submit the revised proposals or the applications will be deemed to be withdrawn.
Planning permission already exists on the site of the former Tribune printworks for a 10,500 square foot indoor artisan food market with around 30 food stalls, as well as beer and wine vendors, similar to the Milk Market in Limerick and the English Market in Cork. The developer intends to proceed with this in tandem with the PorterShed plan.
(Main image: the PorterShed proposal for the Connacht Tribune building, which Galway City Council has ordered to be redesigned).