The Government raised concerns about the economic viability of the Picture Palace cinema as long ago as 2012, urging the promoters of the project to scale the development back, newly released documents have revealed.
Work has once again stalled on the city’s cultural cinema, which is running more than €2 million over budget and remains under construction seven years after building first commenced.
Doubts have now been cast on whether the cinema will be economically sustainable when it eventually opens its doors, after it emerged that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht questioned the viability of the project as early as 2012.
The Department also advocated that the cultural cinema should have been planned as a multipurpose facility, questioning whether the demand for art-house film would make the project economically sustainable.
The business plan for the Picture Palace addresses the issue of demand by citing a 14-year-old Arts Council report under a section entitled “Proven Need for Cultural Cinema in Galway”.
The financial projections contained in the business plan are based on a minimum of 63 film screenings each week and minimum weekly attendances of 1,722 people. This is based on 25% seat occupancy, although the plan states that a higher rate of admissions would be anticipated in practice.
In total, a minimum of 87,822 tickets would need to be sold during a full year in order to ensure the cinema’s viability, which would also rely on annual profits of up to €75,000 from its café and €40,000 from advertising on screens and programmes.
In an email sent to public representatives on June 19, 2012 Chairperson of Solas Galway Picture Palace Ltd Lelia Doolan reported: “Today we were informed that the Department is raising questions about the economic viability of the Picture Palace, suggesting that it should have been planned as a multipurpose facility.
“Conversely, it appears that they also believe that the building should be scaled back,” wrote Ms Doolan.
Asked whether market research in relation to demand for cultural cinema in Galway was still reliable, given that it was carried out years before the economic downturn, Ms Doolan said there were still encouraging signs.
“Projections for cultural cinema-going remain steady, given the continuous Irish support (€104.1m in income in 2015), increase in Irish Film Centre and Lighthouse entries, the packed houses for Galway Film Society and the success of the Galway Film Fleadh (17,476 admissions over five days last year) and have enabled Solas to attract Element Pictures, who run the Lighthouse, to come on board as operators of the Picture Palace,” he said.
Former TD Jimmy Deenihan, who was Arts Minister when the Department raised questions about the viability of the cinema, described the project as complex and sensitive.
“It was a complex project that I inherited and I tried to steer it through towards completion as best I could,” he said.
“My officials acted very responsibly and carefully to protect the taxpayer as much as possible in relation to the project. At all times, that was my priority and I was very concerned to protect the taxpayer and, at the same time, I wanted it to be completed. I was trying to balance both.”
Galway’s Golden Girls mark big birthdays!
Two of Galway’s Golden Girls celebrates milestone birthdays on either side of the county this week – racking up a magnificent 210 years between them.
Oughterard’s Phyl Furness celebrated her 107th birthday this week – and Mary O’Leary marked her mere 103rd birthday in Ardrahan!
Phyl, who is originally from Nottinghamshire in England, moved to Ireland in the 1980s – and has been a wonderful part of her Oughterard community ever since.
Mary was born Mary Quinn on May 23 1919 in Ballinlisheen, Tubber, Co. Clare, to John Quinn and Mary Kate McKague. She never saw her father as he passed away before she was born, leaving her an only child.
She attended Boston National School and Gort Secondary School, and from a young age worked on the family farm.
Mary married her husband Joe O’ Leary in Tubber church in 1948. They lived in Ballinlisheen until Joe passed away in July 1997 – and Mary then moved to Gort town.
She moved to the Little Flower Nursing Home, Labane, Ardrahan, on October 14 2011 where she has enjoyed a very fulfilled few years since.
Mary is an avid reader; she loves thrillers and romance, according to Joan Gardiner Surman, Proprietor of the Little Flower Nursing Home.
“She keeps herself informed by reading the daily paper and loves Hello magazine, she has a huge interest in the Royal family,” she said.
She celebrated her birthday in the Little Flower Nursing Home a day early on Sunday – surrounded by her family, the staff who take such great care of her and all the residents of the Little Flower.
“She received a lovely letter of congratulations from President Michael D. Higgins along with a beautiful commemorative medal,” added Joan.
Photos: Mary O’Leary celebrating her 103rd birthday and (right) Oughterard’s Phyl Furness, who celebrated a magnificent 107th birthday this week.
Ombudsman hears of 125 allegations against Galway Gardaí
A total of 125 allegations were made against Gardaí in Galway last year, according to a report by Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).
There were 105 allegations made against Galway Gardaí in 2020, and so the figure of 125 last year represents a yearly increase of 19%.
It is also higher than the figure of 103 allegations in GSOC’s 2019 report.
The increase in complaints made to GSOC about Gardaí in Galway mirrors a national trend. In 2021, according to GSOC, 12% more complaints and allegations were lodged against Gardaí.
Among the most common complaints were neglect of duty, which ranges in seriousness from not returning a phone call or not properly investigating a crime; abuse of authority, which could include excessive force; non-fatal offences, which could include assault; and discourtesy, which relates to the manner in which a Garda spoke or behaved towards a person.
Meanwhile, complaints to the recently appointed Public Service Ombudsman Ger Deering reached a new high of 4,004 last year – a 17% increase on 2020, and the highest ever in the 38-year history of the Ombudsman.
And 208 of these complaints came from people in Galway; 53 were made about Galway County Council and the Ombudsman received 42 about Galway City Council. NUIG was the subject of six complaints.
Two complaints were received about Galway Mayo Institute of Technology while the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board was the subject of one complaint.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see the May 27 edition of the Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Flexibility needed on designation of Connemara bogs
A Galway senator has called for flexibility to make ‘small local changes’ over the coming years in relation to the SAC designation of the massive Connemara Bog complex.
Senator Seán Kyne told the Connacht Tribune that such flexibility could make a big difference to local families and communities within this SAC (Special Area of Conservation).
“There are a lot of local issues that arise. For example, people from the area can find it difficult to get planning on their own land and allowance could be made for small community projects that mightn’t necessarily tie in with the SAC requirements,” said Seán Kyne.
He said that in cases like those, where a small area could be taken out of the SAC, it should be possible to compensate with the inclusion of another similar sized portion of land on the fringes of the designation.
Senator Kyne – who raised the matter with Minister of State (Local Government) Peter Burke in a recent Seanad debate – said that the size of the Connemara Bog complex site was very large, approximately 50,000 hectares (c. 125,000 acres).
He added that there was a long-running history to the SAC application dating back to 1997 with a lot of appeals to parts of the designation for an area bounded to the north by Galway-Clifden Road (N59) and to the south by the Moycullen-Spiddal road (L1320).
“The Department is engaging in the final signing off of the SAC. I am inquiring in regard to clarification on the appeals. Will there be any future opportunities in regard to appeals?
“I am not talking about large-scale changes. In some cases, there may be a request for some minor changes to the boundaries of the SAC in the future.
“It could be to rectify some issues where there may be mistakes on the mapping, for example, or there could be areas which are commercially sensitive to somebody, and it may make sense to make a slight change in the boundary and that could be compensated elsewhere with the inclusion of another area . . .
“Can there be minor, but perhaps important, changes in the future which would benefit society, the economy and local communities, whether it is a requirement to remove a small piece to allow for a piece of amenity or commercial infrastructure? Clarification on the processes into the future is important,” said Senator Kyne in the Seanad debate.
Minister of State, Peter Burke, said in reply that the criteria used to set the boundaries of the SAC sites were purely scientific as was required in the nature directives.
He said that since the first public notification of the designation back in 1997, there were 60 appeals or objections received – nine of those were successful; 12 were partially successful; 21 were unsuccessful; and 18 were deemed invalid.
“The appeals process for this site has now concluded and the site has moved onto the final stage of the process which requires the publication of a statutory instrument, formally designating the site.
“The statutory instrument includes a description of the site, a detailed map showing the area, a complete list of habitats and species for which the area was selected and a list of activities which require the consent of the Minister before they can be undertaken in a way that affects the site.
“It is important to note that all relevant protections under Irish law apply to the site from the time  it was publicly notified as proposed for designation,” said Minister of State, Peter Burke.