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CITY TRIBUNE

Coronavirus: hospitality sector fears ‘devastating blow’

Stephen Corrigan

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A day when most Irish people go 'just a little bit mad'.

The hospitality industry in Galway is fearing a devastating blow if St Patrick’s Day celebrations are curbed or cancelled as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.

A Galway publican told the Galway City Tribune that there was huge concern that major events will have to be called off if the virus spreads any further – with nine cases already confirmed on the island of Ireland.

The owner of the Kings Head, Paul Grealish, said while there was huge concern in the hospitality sector over the virus’ spread in Europe, there was a sense of helplessness as businesses could do nothing to stop it.

“Businesses such as ours are very concerned about it, but there’s very little we can do. If it spreads, we’ll all be affected. We’re taking a philosophical view of this because it is totally out of our control.

“I’ve been meeting with staff and advising them – we’re taking our advice from the HSE, the Restaurants Association and the VFI, reinforcing the importance of washing hands, and taking due care and attention,” said Mr Grealish.

What would be hugely concerning, he said, was if the St Patrick’s Day festivities had to be cancelled in an attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19, with March 17 usually marking the beginning of the main tourist season in Galway.

“It would be a big concern if the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin and Galway was cancelled. That would be a very poor start to the season.

“If they were to start cancelling more inward flights, that would be disastrous,” he said of the news this week that Ryanair had cancelled one-quarter of their flights to and from Italy between March 17 and April 8.

Mr Grealish said that the cancellation of major events such as the St Patrick’s Day celebrations would have long-lasting effects.

“You would be concerned that if they were cancelled or downgraded, we might have knock-on effects in May, June and July,” he explained.

American tourists, who are crucial to the success of the hospitality industry in Galway, were traditionally nervous about travelling outside the US, and the cancellation of events was likely to further dissuade them from crossing the Atlantic, he said.

While the spread of Coronavirus could result in more Irish holidaymakers choosing to stay at home this summer, it was unlikely to entirely offset the potential impact of a reduction in the numbers coming from overseas.

With a likely increase in the number of cases of the virus in Ireland, it was reasonable to assume that there would be additional people having to take time off work to either recover, or to self-isolate, and this would impact on the wider economy, added Mr Grealish.

“You might have a situation where people can’t go to work because of the Coronavirus, or they might have no work to go to. That will affect their ability to spend money,” he said, adding that fears of an economic decline could have a significant impact on consumer confidence.

Meanwhile, Galway 2020 have moved to allay fears that any of their events will have to be cancelled in the immediate future as a result of the virus.

“Galway 2020 is aware of the ever-evolving situation regarding the Coronavirus.  At present, no upcoming Galway 2020 events or participants are impacted. We are engaging with the relevant authorities and will continue to monitor the situation and proceed as advised in the interests of public health,” a spokesperson stated.

CITY TRIBUNE

Patients moved from Merlin ‘to bolster private numbers’

Enda Cunningham

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Merlin Park: Patients were moved to private hospital.

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he will ask the HSE why patients requiring rehab services were moved from Merlin Park to a private hospital, leaving the state-of-the-art facility idle.

He was asked in the Dáil last week why waiting lists were not being tackled, when capacity at the Galway Clinic and Bon Secours private hospitals is at 15-20%.

Last month, the State entered a deal to ‘take over’ the country’s private hospitals – which has come under criticism in the Dáil with claims of under-utilisation of facilities.

Galway West Deputy Catherine Connolly asked for full details of the agreement with the private hospitals – worth €115m per month nationally – and said nothing about it made sense to her.

“We have major waiting lists and our two private hospitals in Galway City are at 15% to 20% capacity. The hospital itself [UHG] – I must be wrong about this figure but it is what I have been told – was at 30% to 40% capacity as of May 15,” she said.

Department of Health figures for last week show a 39% ‘utilisation’ rate for the Bon Secours and 16% for Galway Clinic.

“The Minister has stood in the Chamber and told us he had to make such arrangements, and certainly I welcomed the narrative at the time that we were taking over the private hospitals to deal with a pandemic. However, we are not utilising them.

“Merlin Park has a state-of-the-art rehab service. It has a gym and all types of therapists but it is now lying idle because, under this deal, the Government transferred the patients from that wonderful facility to a private hospital.

“It took the therapists and patients into the private hospital to allow them to get up to 15% or 20% capacity. It sent the nurses into the public system and left the system empty at Merlin Park, and that is to mention only one service.

“None of the way this has been done makes sense to me. Surely anybody with a bit of sense would know that when the terms and the heads of agreement were signed, it should have allowed for change.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Barriers set to halt groups drinking at quayside

Francis Farragher

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Access to the green quayside areas off Wolfe Tone Bridge will be blocked from today to prevent large groups of people drinking over the Bank Holiday weekend.

And the message from Garda Chief Superintendent Tom Curley is – enjoy the glorious weekend of weather that’s in store, but diligently maintain the two-metre social distancing rule and don’t consume booze in public areas.

“We are not killjoys and the lovely weather is a boost to everyone’s spirits. People will enjoy the outdoors this weekend but it’s illegal to consume alcohol in public areas and we will be enforcing that bylaw.

“In this kind of weather, there will inevitably be groups of people congregating in outdoor areas – but the message is simple and crystal clear: at all times maintain the two-metre social distancing guideline,” Chief Supt Curley told the Galway City Tribune.

On Tuesday evening last, Gardaí did enforce a dispersal procedure in the Spanish Arch/Claddagh Quay area of the city, after about 200 young people had gathered there, many of them consuming alcohol. They continued to patrol the area yesterday.

A spokesperson for Galway City Council confirmed yesterday that a green area on the Claddagh Quay side of the river – where large groups of young people had gathered this week – would be closed off to the public, probably from today (Friday).
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CITY TRIBUNE

Westwood owners plan tourist accommodation usage

Enda Cunningham

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The Westwood student accommodation complex site this week.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The owners of the new Westwood student accommodation in Newcastle are planning to use part of the complex for tourist and business traveller accommodation “in light of the current health pandemic”.

NTM ROI Seed Capital is currently building the five apartment blocks off the N59 and has sought a determination from An Bord Pleanála on whether it would need to apply for planning permission to allow “partial occupation for tourist and visitor use in the academic year from September 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021”.

Under the existing planning permission, the development “shall only be occupied as student accommodation . . . and shall not be used for any other purpose without a prior grant of planning permission for a change of use”.

However, the company has drawn up a contingency plan in the event that construction may not be completed for the coming academic year.

The plan involves allowing tourists and other ‘non-student’ users to be accommodated in the complex – An Bord Pleanála has been asked to determine whether the change would be a ‘material alteration’ of the planning approval or not.

If it is ruled a material alteration, the Board can then invite submissions from members of the public before it decides on whether to approve or reject it.

Already, local residents – who strongly objected to the entire development during the planning process – have expressed concerns about parking issues which they believe would arise if the Westwood is used for tourist use.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. Please remember that without advertising revenue and people buying and subscribing to our newspapers, this website would not exist. You can read the full article by buying a digital edition of this week’s Galway City Tribune HERE.

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