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Connacht Tribune

Homeless charity wants crackdown on Airbnb

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A local homeless charity has called for a tightening of the regulations around Airbnb with over 2,000 Galway homes being let to visitors – half of them entire homes and over a third on a full-time basis according to an analysis of listings.

Cope Galway said it firmly believed that Airbnb – the giant online service allowing people to lease or rent short-term lodging – was contributing to the homelessness crisis.

In the same week that just 118 homes in all of Galway were advertised for rent on the website daft.ie, there were a total of 2,212 active Airbnb rentals across Galway City and County.

Of these, 52% were the full properties and 38% were being let full-time, according to data collated by AirDNA, which analyses public information about Airbnb’s listings.

Cope Galway’s assistant CEO, Martin O’Connor, said the data shows the heaviest concentration of properties was in the city and in tourist hotspots such as Connemara.

“In 2017 the number of hosts renting on Airbnb started to climb massively. Anecdotally we’re hearing of blocks of apartments in the city being rented on Airbnb and people setting up a business,” he remarked.

“These are properties that were given planning permission as residential not as accommodation providers such as hotels or B&Bs which must comply with fire regulations.

“You have the ironic situation of tourists living in homes while people without homes are having to live in B&Bs and hotels.

“The introduction of measures to disincentivise the full-time use of homes for Airbnb purposes and the enforcement of planning laws already on the statute books are measures the government can take now.

“While we understand that revenue from Airbnb is an important source of income for struggling homeowners, our concern is that accommodation which is available all year round and in the form of entire homes, is accommodation taken out of the rental market.”

There were 259 people classed as homeless in Galway on the fourth week of March according to the latest available figures from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

This does not include the numbers of rough sleepers who engage with Cope Galway – currently between ten and twelve a night – or the ‘hidden homeless’ who couch-surf with friends and family.

Airbnb disputes the accuracy of the data, claiming entire home listings in Galway last year represented just 0.7% of the available housing stock.

“This report uses inaccurate scraped data to make misleading assumptions about our community. The vast majority (70%) of hosts in Ireland share the home in which they live. The Airbnb model is unique and empowers regular people and boosts local communities, generating over €506 million in economic activity in Ireland last year,” said a spokesperson.

In Galway last year, the typical host on Airbnb earned €5,100 and hosted for less than 4 nights per month – showing that it is only occasional activity

“Many individual hosts are not able to manage their own listing, for example when they are away on holiday or at work, so they ask a management company to take care of bookings on their behalf. In data scrapes, these would show as one individual with multiple listings, when in reality these listings belong to many different hosts. Similarly, a host may manage both their own listing and the listing of a neighbour or friend.

“The platform also has some licensed boutique hotels and serviced apartments listing their spaces, as the platform offers them the opportunity to reach a wider and more diverse audience than traditional offline advertisements. Many of these are listed as entire homes.”

In London, hosts cannot rent out entire homes for more than 90 days per year without official consent from their council. In Paris, registration for short-term lettings is now mandatory and must be no longer than 120 days a year; Barcelona has suspended all new short-term rental permits; Amsterdam has cut its permitted short-term lettings limit from two months a year to one; and hosts in Berlin are only permitted to rent out their property for half of the year.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy is overdue in publishing a report by a departmental working group examining whether new regulations are needed for lettings websites.

An Bord Pleanála ruled in 2016 that using residential apartments for short-term lets was a “change of use” and required planning permission.

Following the ruling, the government issued guidelines to councils last year limiting apartment owners to letting their property in the short term for 60 nights in a year.

The guidelines said flat owners could not rent flats for more than five nights in a row and no more than two rooms in an apartment can be occupied each night, with a guest limit of four people a night.

Martin O’Connor said it was clear from the Galway data these guidelines were not being enforced.

“The number of properties continuously in Airbnb use shows they’re certainly not in compliance with department guidelines. For us, really, the issue is the acute shortage of accommodation here while there is an extraordinarily high number of Airbnbs.”

Connacht Tribune

Adults and young pupils collaborate on children’s book now in the shops

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A new book – a collaborative collection of stories and poems written by the Oughterard Writers Group and the children from the local primary school – was officially launched in style last week.

Tell me a Story was officially launched at Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona, Oughterard, by the principal, Micheál O’Domhnaill – to the delight of the children, parents, friends and writers in attendance and those watching live on zoom.
by Jess Walsh and Barbara Dunne
Tell Me a Story is a collaboration between the Oughterard Writers Group and the children of last year’s 4th class from Scoil Chuimín agus Catríona. It had its genesis in January when the writers applied to Galway County Council for funding for the story book.

The book is the culmination of several months’ work, where stories and poems written by the writers, were sent to the children.

The group was unable to meet the children in person, due to Covid restrictions, but met them several times on Zoom, facilitated by Pete Mullineaux, and James O’Donnell, their teacher. And after months of hard work by the children, their handwritten work and illustrations were then passed back to the writers for design and completion.

Each story in the book tells a different tale. The children responded to the story they liked best, and the book is interspersed with wonderful drawings from the children, with new story endings and poems, along with some of the children’s own handwriting.

It was a special night for all to finally meet in person at the official launch.

The children were presented with their contributor copy by the writer of the piece they worked on, and guests were treated to some selected readings from the book by the children themselves.

The evening was rounded off by Muinteoir J O Donnell reading his poem, Last Night’s Wind from the book, and it was a very fitting ending to a wonderful evening.

The book costs €10 (with 50% of profits being donated Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona) and can be bought online from Kenny’s and Charlie Byrne’s bookshops in Galway, and from Moycullen Bookshop and shops in Oughterard.

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Connacht Tribune

Landowners see red at poor greenway dialogue

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A decision on the route chosen for the greenway between Athlone and Galway City is expected to be announced before Christmas – despite the vehement opposition of a group of landowners.

Opponents staged another protest outside County Hall last Monday to up the pressure on councillors to continue to voice disquiet over the way the project is being pursued by Galway County Council and RPS consultants.

Jean Molloy from Stoney Island outside Portumna, a member of the East Galway Action Group, said there was a complete lack of respect by the project team for the major stakeholders who had the most to lose – those whose land would be taken by the greenway.

Her family, who run a small farm on the land earmarked for the route, had received two letters from the team and not a single phone call over their concerns. She had attended public meetings to outline their preferred route but believes the consultants are not listening.

“We’re expected to give up everything but yet we don’t see a real benefit in the way the route is going as it doesn’t connect villages or neighbours, our kids can’t use it to cycle to school,” she insisted.

“The preferred route is in remote areas off-road, which may suit tourists a few times a year but won’t be safe for us. Why can’t they go along the road, as long as it’s segregated? Yet, we’re expected to give up our livelihoods, our privacy, our security.”

The campaigners allege the process has been flawed from the start.

They accuse those driving the project of “underhanded” tactics and adopting a “divide and conquer approach” and say consultants have failed to engage with every landowner and resident affected in the route corridor. They allege the team is refusing to meeting landowners in groups.

“They have told landowners that a final route is to be released before Christmas, but this is just not feasible. It’s important that the general public is made aware of how the individuals at the centre of the proposed cycleway are being treated.”

Director of service in the infrastructure and operations unit of Galway County Council, Derek Pender, has refuted claims of intimidation and a lack of engagement.

Last September he insisted they had undertaken well over 1,500 face-to-face or phone call consultations with 350 potentially impacted private landowners over 15 months.

The preferred route starts near Ballyloughane Beach, east of Galway City, passing through Oranmore, Rinville, Clarinbridge, Kilcolgan, Kinvara, Gort, Woodford, Portumna, Meelick, Clonfert, Ballinasloe, Shannonbridge, and finishing at Athlone Castle before linking with the cycleway to Dublin.

He claimed there was support for approximately 90% of the route and that the so-called hybrid model – where the cycleway would go along a national or regional road – would only be used in discreet isolated areas that were specific pinch points.

Cycleways beside long stretches of road were not safe, he has previously contended.

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Connacht Tribune

Clifden roster dispute escalates despite HSE recruitment

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Staff at both a hospital and nursing home in Clifden are balloting for industrial action over changes to the rosters – despite a targeted recruitment campaign for nurses that has resulted in over 20 applications.

Last week Clifden District Hospital – beset by critical staff shortages – closed for four days with the HSE claiming that no patients were booked into the facility with respite and step-down beds for recuperating patients who can be medically discharged from an acute hospital but deemed not well enough to go home.

This was the same week when the HSE admitted that 4,662 bed days were lost at University Hospital Galway (UHG) and Merlin Park and 1,295 at Portiuncula Hospital in the first nine months of this year due to delayed discharges.

The HSE said the four days could be used by staff at Clifden District Hospital and St Anne’s Community Nursing Unit to take leave accrued due to overtime they had built up over filling in shifts due to a lack of workers.

Anne Burke, Galway industrial relations officer for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said the union did not accept there was no demand for beds in a facility such as the Clifden District Hospital.

“They have orchestrated this downgrading of the hospital because we believe they want it for another purpose which they have not yet revealed. If you don’t advertise you’re open for business you won’t get the business. We think they don’t want it to be a viable option,” she exclaimed.

“They have always told us that staff weren’t interested in coming to Clifden. But there was no meaningful recruitment. Now, finally, they advertised specifically for jobs in Clifden, and we have been told that 29 applications were submitted and 21 are deemed eligible for interview, which we understand will take place next week.”

The INMO and SIPTU [Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union] are to ballot members from the two facilities for industrial action next week over changes to the rosters.

They claim the HSE is breaching the Building Momentum public service agreement which requires changes to rosters to be done by agreement between management and staff. A previous memo withdrawing the staff right to seven uncertified sick leave days was rescinded following lengthy talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.

Over 700 people attending a public meeting last September over fears Clifden District Hospital was being closed by the HSE. The hospital has had 12 beds for patients since the Covid pandemic, down from 30 some years ago.

After meeting with local politicians, the organisation issued a press release stating the facility would not close but said the respite and step-down services “remain on a day-to-day footing” due to staff shortages.

“The HSE has agreed to meet with GPs in the Clifden area to discuss the needs in the community for respite and step-down beds.”

They also announced they would run a ‘bespoke’ recruitment campaign for nurses.

The INMO estimates that seven additional nurses are needed for the hospital and a further six are required for the nursing unit to maintain rosters.

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