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Getaway driver for armed robbery avoids jail



The post office in Woodlawn, which has since closed down.

A city cocaine addict who agreed to be the getaway driver in the armed robbery of a rural post office in order to pay off his drug debt, received a suspended four-year sentence, along with a community service order.

Mark Dowd (24), 22 Fionn Uisce, Doughiska, took a cousin’s car without permission on January 18, 2018, and drove an accomplice to Woodlawn Post Office where the armed robbery had to be aborted because the safe would not open.

Dowd pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court last November to attempted robbery and to the theft of the car. He did not plead guilty to a third charge of having cocaine in his possession at the time of his arrest.

The prosecution accepted the plea to the first two charges providing facts in the third drugs charge were accepted.

Sentence was adjourned for the preparation of a probation report and a victim impact statement.

Detective Sergeant Paul Duane gave evidence at the sentence hearing that at 8.45am on the morning in question, a man carrying what looked like a firearm entered the private house attached to the Post Office.

Post mistress Chris Doherty had just brought some turf in to light a fire and as she turned to lock the back door behind her, she was confronted by the man.

His face was covered and he appeared to have a handgun. He pointed the gun at her and demanded money.

She went into the Post Office but was unable to open the safe because it had a time lock. The man threatened to shoot her dogs if she didn’t give him the money. She again tried to open the safe but to no avail.

The man then ran out of the post office empty handed, running in the direction of Ballymacward. He was never caught.

Det Duane said that as this was going on, a silver car was observed parked 300 metres away on a nearby side road.

“The accused was in the car. He was the getaway driver but he left without his accomplice – the gunman,” Det Duane said.

The post mistress’s husband, Des Doherty, and postman Daniel Atwood, spoke to Dowd who was sitting in the driver’s seat and he agreed to follow them back to the Post Office.

However, when he got out onto the main road he went in the other direction towards Ballymacward. They followed him as he drove dangerously for 14km until he was stopped by Gardaí in Menlough village.

He was arrested and was found in possession of €70 worth of cocaine.

Det Duane said Dowd came from Ahascragh originally but had lived in Galway City for some time where he worked in a factory earning €450 a week. He lost his job following his arrest for these offences.

He said Dowd had built up a €2,000 drugs debt while feeding a €600-a-week cocaine habit and he had agreed to drive the getaway car to pay off the debt.

Mrs Doherty read her own victim impact statement into evidence, saying Dowd had used his local knowledge to bring the other man to rob her.

Mrs Doherty said she had been a very confident person who loved to get up early and open all the windows and doors to let in the fresh air before opening the post office.

She said that although she ran a post office, she never felt threatened or afraid.

She said everything changed since that day.  The Post Office is now closed, she said, and it had been her decision to close it as she felt she couldn’t cope if anything like this happened again.

“You might think that because it was not you who came into my home and held a gun to my face that you’re not to blame. You used your local knowledge to bring that thief to my home.

“Just look at you Mum and think how you would feel if someone came into her home and held a gun to her face,” Mrs Doherty said to Dowd, who hung his head as she read her statement from the witness box.

Defence barrister Conal McCarthy told Mrs Doherty his client wished to apologise to her and her family for all the upset he caused.

Mr McCarthy said his client was now drug-free and taken steps to completely rehabilitate himself with the help of a very supportive family.

Det Duane agreed with counsel that Dowd’s physical appearance had dramatically improved since he first saw him in January 2018, adding he believed Dowd had taken the right steps to ‘sort himself out’.

A very positive probation report also stated Dowd now posed a low risk of reoffending and would be a suitable candidate for community service in lieu of a prison sentence.

Judge Rory McCabe said Dowd’s account was that he had been threatened by people he owed money to for a debt he had accumulated, but that was no excuse for his behaviour as he had taken drugs and accumulated the debt by choice.

He placed the headline sentence for the attempted robbery – before mitigating circumstances were taken into account – at six years, and at 18 months for taking the car.

In mitigation, he said Dowd had pleaded guilty, co-operated with Gardai, and had taken steps to deal with his addiction.

The judge noted the very positive probation report before the court before sentencing Dowd to four years in prison for the attempted robbery, which he suspended for five years on condition Dowd be of good behaviour during that time.

He also directed he carry out 200 hours’ community service in lieu of a 12-month sentence for taking the car.

Judge McCabe explained there was sufficient evidence before the court that Dowd had successfully rehabilitated – which was of benefit to society – to allow him to suspend the four-year sentence.

The prosecution then entered a nolle prosequi – a decision not to proceed with the prosecution – on the drugs charge.


Councillors zone land for residential use despite concerns over flooding



From the Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council has voted to allow for the future development of housing on a large parcel of land on the Headford Road (photographed and shaded red) which had previously been designated for recreation and “water-based activity”.

The land, which is situated below sea level, has been designated as being in a Flood Zone A area by the Office of Public Works (OPW), meaning that “vulnerable usage” such as housing should not be considered there.


During a meeting to approve the Galway City Development Plan 2023-29, councillors voted to reject the recommendation of its own Chief Executive, and in doing so opened the door for the future development of the 1.3-hectare (3.2-acre) site.

The land, which overlooks Terryland Forest Park, was also identified as a flood risk in the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management report (CFRAM).

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG), proposed that the local authority should ignore the submissions of the OPW and the CFRAM report and rezone the land as residential.

“To say that this land should only be for water-based activity is not correct. To say that all of this land is a floodplain is also incorrect,” he said.

“It is below sea level but because of the dyke, it is not going to flood. There is a bit of land at the bottom [of the site] which is a flood risk, but I would imagine, if plans do go forward for this site, that area would be left open. Some of the land is borderline [flood risk] but not all of it.”

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

This proposal was opposed by a number of councillors including Cllr Owen Hanley (SocDems).

“I would say that 80 per cent if not more [of the site] is in a flood risk area or is of concern. Also, if you develop part of it, you make the rest of it more at risk of flooding because the water is diverted there,” he said.

“While I respect that councillors are arguing in good faith, I am concerned about the way that we are discussing flood risks in this development plan overall.

“It would be inappropriate, given the advice that we have been given, to make this change.”

Despite these objections, councillors voted by a margin of 10 to 4 to rezone the land.

This decision may put the council on a collision course with the Minister of the Environment, Eamon Ryan, as the newly formed Office of Planning Regulators (OPR) had opposed this rezoning. The role of the OPR is to ensure that local development plans are in line with national regulations.

It is expected that the OPR may refer this decision to the Minister for the Environment, who has the power to overrule this decision by Galway City Council.

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240 student bed spaces in Galway are ‘just a drop in the ocean’



From the Galway City Tribune – State-assisted student accommodation is a step in the right direction, but the 242 beds announced for Galway are just a “drop in the ocean”.

That’s according to the President of University of Galway (UG) Students’ Union, Sai Gujulla, who told the Galway City Tribune that while they welcomed the announcement that Government was to begin investing in student beds, it would do nothing to address the crisis in the sector in the short term.

The Government announced this week that for the first time, it would provide State assistance “to stimulate the development of new and additional student accommodation” – financially supporting the construction of 242 on-campus student beds at UG.

However, Mr Gujulla said the number was nowhere near what was required and the proposal formed part of a long-term strategy which didn’t address the very real crisis being faced by students right now.

“It is a welcome announcement, but it’s not sufficient for what’s required.

“It will take a number of years for this to take effect and so it will do nothing for students who need accommodation right now,” he said, adding that the number of students commuting daily to Galway from all over the country was at all-time high as a result of the accommodation shortage.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

Minister of State and TD for Galway West, Hildegarde Naughton (FG), said the policy would “ensure affordability for all students” by ensuring costs are kept to a minimum during the construction phase.

“This new policy will see 242 student beds delivered in the first phase by the University of Galway, with ATU also given funding to develop its own proposals to provide affordable student accommodation.

“The focus of this policy is to ensure affordability for students and this Government will ensure that costs are kept to a minimum, thus providing more affordable rents,” said Minister Naughton.

Mr Gujulla said it was imperative that this commitment was met and that when Government said affordable, it was affordable for students and parents on low incomes.

“We’ve heard before that accommodation would be affordable, but it must be affordable for all and not just some people,” he said, adding that means testing, similar to that used for accessing the SUSI grant, should be considered as a way of setting rents.

Minister Naughton said this scheme was the beginning of a new policy on student accommodation aimed at making third level education more accessible.

“I look forward to seeing this new scheme rolled out across all our tertiary educational facilities in Galway,” said the Fine Gael TD.

Meanwhile, Mr Gujulla said students were still struggling to find accommodation in the city, despite being back at college for three months.

“We have new cases with the same problems every day and with new Erasmus (European) students and postgraduates arriving in January, it will continue,” he said.

“Rents are still extremely high and they’re not going down and while this intervention by Government is positive, it needs to go further and we need something to address the immediate problem too.”

(Photo: The Goldcrest student accommodation in Corrib Village. University of Galway owns large tracts of land in the area).

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New life breathed into derelict Blackrock cottage



From the Galway City Tribune – Boasting one of the most spectacular views in the country from a reimagined building marrying old and new, Blackrock Cottage on Salthill Prom finally opened this week after a labour of love by its new caretakers.

During a tour of the spectacular outdoor dining pods with chef Martin O’Donnell on the eve of its unveiling, at least four people approached, curious about how the derelict Famine-era building was brought back to life.

“That happens every time I’m out here,” says Martin, who hails from just up the road in Barna.

“The level of interest in this place is unbelievable.”

Most new eateries have to work for footfall. This one has potential customers passing by morning, noon and night, even during the depths of the wildest winter. It’s an unrivalled location opposite that most iconic symbol Galway – the Blackrock diving tower.

Brían McHugh from McHugh Property Holdings Ltd bought the cottage from the previous owner, the late Mary Sjothun (née Flynn) in 2018. Initially turned down for planning permission by Galway City Council, on appeal the design for bringing back the old to life and creating a new light-filled modern extension with a bike rental and repair station on the site was approved by An Bord Pleanála.

The project took 18 months to build during a difficult Covid period, when materials and workers were in short supply.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

“We didn’t have to keep the cottage as it wasn’t listed. But we wanted to be respectful of an 1830s cottage and its history. So we worked with Galway City Conservation Officer Jim Higgins to keep the beams, the slates on the roof and lime mortar – we’ll finish the whitewashing when we get a dry spell,” explains Brían.

“I think Sean Dockry architects have made a great job of creating a commercially viable building with a modern extension, marrying the old with the new while maximising the views.”

The raised terraces, one of them with a firepit, have all been designed to allow people to sit in sheltered areas while looking out over Galway Bay. The garden has been landscaped with herbs and edible flowers that will be used in the kitchen.

The second phase of the site, expected to be completed next March, will develop a bigger barbecue area with seating for up to 60 people. The bicycle rental area will be added if the greenway becomes a reality.

The takeaway part of the café will be run by the Álainn team, who ran the pop-up coffee van and later container beside the site offering superfood pots and delicious coffee by the Burren roaster Anam Coffee that became such a hit with swimmers and walkers during the pandemic.

Breakfast and lunch will be walk-ins only, with dinner to be offered early next year. The menu is described as contemporary modern Irish using top class local producers that have a good working relationship with Martin. He was head chef in The Twelve in Barna for 15 years and has a slot on Ireland AM on Virgin Media TV.

Things to expect on the menu are pulled confit of duck with eggs benedict, lamb shank and poké bowls with in-house cured fish.

“There’s nothing like this in the west of Ireland – I don’t think there’s anything like this anywhere in the country – a space like this, with so many tables, four inches from the water,” says Martin.

“We’re mid-price range. Blackrock Cottage was always built for the local people, not the elite. We’ll have amazing quality food that will be affordable.”

Brían declines to reveal the extent of the investment in this venture. His company also owns the nearby driving range and the Spinnaker Hotel, as well as various development sites in the city and suburbs.

“It’s not cheap to bring a 200-year-old cottage back to life. But I’m delighted we didn’t take the easy option and we saved a piece of Galway history.”

(Photo by Brian Harding: Gerard O’Donoghue, Operations Manager; Mathieu Teulier, General Manager and Martin O’Donnell, Head Chef at Blackrock Cottage restaurant).

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