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HSE denies ‘secret’ plan to downgrade Portiuncula

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Two public hospitals in Ballinasloe and Roscommon will be downgraded by stealth through amalgamation, according to secret internal documents.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) West denies it plans to amalgamate Roscommon and Portiuncula hospitals but Independent Deputy Denis Naughten insists that is exactly what is in the pipeline.

Setanta Communications, the private public relations company retained by HSE West, issued a statement on behalf of the hospitals rejecting Deputy Naughten’s claims.

“There are no plans as claimed by the Deputy to amalgamate Roscommon Hospital and Portiuncula Hospital into one hospital,” it said.

Roscommon and Portiuncula are within the Saolta University Health Care Group, which includes several hospitals in the West of Ireland.

However, Deputy Naughten says Saolta is ‘playing with words’ and effectively it plans to amalgamate services at the two hospitals, which equates to downgrading.

Deputy Naughten says internal briefing documents confirm his fears that the two hospitals will be downgraded through amalgamation.

They will be renamed, and become one hospital, straddled over two sites, with certain services diminished in one or both of the sites, he claims.

“The hospitals group and HSE has a track record of denying things and then when it turns out they are true they are forced to abandon them. They have a track record of denying. I have a track record in relation to Roscommon and Portiuncula and my track record has turned out to be true,” insisted Deputy Naughten, rejecting the hospitals’ assurances.

Commenting on the internal document, Naughten said: “While it may seem from the outside that this proposal is just a way to streamline the co-operation between both hospitals, it must be remembered that the previous amalgamations have led to a planned downgrading of services at Portiuncula and Roscommon Hospitals.

“Firstly, we were told that the establishment of the Galway/Roscommon University Hospital group would protect A&E services at both Roscommon and Portiuncula Hospitals. Instead Roscommon A&E has been closed and Portiuncula A&E is not presently capable of dealing with many time critical emergencies, such as strokes. Then we were told that the new West-Northwest Hospital Group (now Saolta) would strengthen the long term viability of our hospitals, but one of the first actions taken was to draw up a plan to downgrade the maternity service at Portiuncula Hospital. Now we have a secret plan to amalgamate both hospitals, which I believe is worrying.”

He added: “It is now time for the Department of Health and hospital group management to outline exactly what are its plans for both Portiuncula and Roscommon Hospitals, instead of developing plans behind closed doors.

“Is it now the case that posts currently vacant, such as the geriatrician post in Portiuncula, will not now happen because there is a geriatrician at Roscommon Hospital? Will this mean Roscommon be left without new appointments if there is already a similar post in Portiuncula?

“My fear is that the service to patients will fall between two stools and that HIQA will then come in and say that neither the service in Roscommon nor Portiuncula is safe, which will lead to the closure of services at one or both hospitals. This is what we have seen to date with the amalgamation of hospitals into groups and in light of the fact that this is yet another ‘behind closed doors plan’, my fear is that this will just be more of the same.”

In its statement rejecting the TD’s claims, Setanta Communications on behalf of Saolta said: “Over recent years we have enhanced the service integration between these two hospitals with joint clinical appointments.

“We have also enhanced the linkage of both hospitals to Galway University Hospitals. These linkages have real practical benefits for our patients including improving access times, efficient transfer of clinical data and so on. Roscommon and Portiuncula have become more integrated within the Saolta Group as they both and the other hospitals in the Group operate under a single board and management structure.

“As part of the Saolta identity, the hospitals’ names may be developed to emphasise the link to the group’s academic partner, NUI Galway, but local identity will remain the dominant identity.

“There are no plans to downgrade any services in the Emergency Department in Portiuncula Hospital or in any other hospital within the Saolta University Health Care Group.”

CITY TRIBUNE

Murals are part of initiative to restore pride in Ballybane estate

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From the Galway City Tribune – A poem about litter forms part of a vibrant colourful new mural painted on the walls of a City Council estate in Ballybane.

The poetry and artwork by local artist Irene Naughton is part of an initiative to restore pride in Sliabh Rua.

The final two lines of Ms Naughton’s poem, called The Dragon’s Foot, read: “The land, the sea and the river all get hurt when we leave a littered footprint on the earth.”

The full poem was painted onto boundary walls as part of a large colourful mural that was created by Ms Naughton.

The street art includes handprints from children living in the estate on the city’s east side.

It also depicts an enchanted forest, a dragon sitting atop Merlin Castle, a view of the Burren, a wolf, butterflies, insects and foliage, as well as a man playing the guitar, a former resident who died.

Ms Naughton, who was commissioned by the City Council’s Environment Department, said it took about five days to complete.

“The residents were very, very helpful and kind,” she said.

Councillor Noel Larkin (Ind) explained that the mural was part of a wider, ‘Ballybane Matters’ project, which stemmed from Galway City Joint Policing Committee (JPC).

“We were doing a lot of talking at the JPC about anti-social behaviour, and it seemed to be more prevalent in the Ballybane area. When we boiled it down, it was in the Sliabh Rua and Fána Glas areas.

“Month after month it was just talking. So Níall McNelis [chair of the JPC] said we should set up a small group to hone in on exactly what was going on,” he said.

A group was formed to focus on improving the Council estate of about 40 houses.

As well as Cllr Larkin, it included: Sergeant Mick Walsh, Galway Garda Crime Prevention Officer and community Gardaí Maria Freeley, Nicola Browne, Kenneth Boyle and Darragh Browne; Fr Martin Glynn; Imelda Gormley of Ballybane Taskforce; Councillor Alan Cheevers; Donal Lynch, chairperson Merlin Neighbourhood Residents’ Association; and two members of Galway Traveller Movement, Katie Donoghue and Kate Ward.

Ms Gormley carried out a survey to get feedback from residents.

“A lot of the problems people had were horses on the green, people being harassed going in and out of estates, trailers full of rubbish left around the place, the City Council not cutting the grass, and anti-social behaviour,” explained Cllr Larkin.

Small improvements, with community buy in, has helped to revitalise the estate.

Cllr Larkin praised Edward Conlon, community warden with the City Council, who has been “absolutely brilliant”.

“He looked funding that was available to get trees or shrubs and to get the grass cut more regularly,” he said.

“Fr Martin got a residents committee set up because he knew people through the church, and that means there is community buy-in, people are actually taking an interest now.

“When we started originally, Sergeant Mick Walsh mentioned ‘the closed curtain syndrome’. You go into your home in the evening close your curtain and don’t want to see what’s going on outside. Whereas now, with community pride restored to the area, if somebody is acting the maggot outside, people are keeping an eye on it and that curbs anti-social behaviour,” said Cllr Larkin.

Covid-19 delayed the project but it “came together very quickly” once work started.

Cllr Larkin said that the project will move to other estates in Ballybane, including Fána Glas and Castlepark, but they also plan to maintain the progress made in on Sliabh Rua.

“We decided to concentrate on Sliabh Rua, because if we could crack Sliabh Rua we could crack the rest of them. Pride has been restored in the community,” added Cllr Larkin.

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CITY TRIBUNE

QR codes hold the key to podcast tour of Galway City

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From the Galway City Tribune – From singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s teenage days busking on the corner of William Street, to the rich past of the 14th century Lynch’s Castle on Shop Street, a new interactive tour of Galway City covers modern and ancient history.

Regional tour guide Jim Ward has created a series of podcasts detailing the history of eight places of interest in Galway City.

The Salthill native has created two-dimensional QR codes that are located at each of the eight locations, which allow visitors to download the podcasts to their smart phones.

Each podcast gives a flavour of the tours that Jim gives in ‘real-time’ when he leads hordes of tourists around the city’s famous sites.

The podcasts range from five to ten minutes and are located on or near buildings at the following locations: Eyre Square, William Street, Lynch’s Castle, the King’s Head, St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, the Latin Quarter, Spanish Arch and Galway Cathedral.

During the Covid-19 Lockdowns, Jim gave virtual tours by video through sustainable tourism website, Flockeo.

He has also brought Ukrainian refugees on tours through the city streets to allow them to become familiar with Galway’s rich history.

The podcasts are hosted on his website, galwaytrails.ie and are accessed on mobile devices through via QR codes scanned onto posters.

Jim said he was grateful to the businesses of Galway, who have allowed his to put up posters on their premises near the sites of interest.

“I propose to ask Galway City Council for permission to place some on public benches and poles at a later date.”

He said the idea was to “enhance interactive tourism in Galway and bring connectivity to the city”.

He also has other plans in the pipeline, including rolling-out an interactive oral history of certain areas such as Woodquay.

This would involve interviewing local people of interest in certain historic parts of the city, which could be accessed through podcasts. The stories would be their own, or that of local organisations.

“The recordings would be accessed through QR codes on lamp posts or park benches and would provide a level of interactivity and connectedness with our historic town,” Jim added.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Renters in Galway City have to fork out an extra €11,500 annually

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From the Galway City Tribune – Renters in private accommodation in Galway City are paying, on average, around €11,500 more per annum than they were at the bottom of the market ten years ago.

According to figures published by property website Daft.ie this week, the average monthly rent in the city now stands at €1,663 – that’s up a whopping 138% since the market trough in early 2012, when it stood at around €700.

At the end of June this year, the average monthly rent had risen 16.4% – one of the biggest jumps in the country.

Nationally rents in the second quarter of 2022 were an average of 12.6% higher than the same period a year earlier, as availability of rental homes reached an all-time low.

County Galway has seen a similar pattern of increases – average rents stood at €1,184 per month, up 12.4% on the previous year. The averages have also more than doubled – up 132% – since the bottom of the market.

At the moment, there are fewer than 60 properties available for for rent in Galway city and county – the lowest figure recorded since the Daft.ie rental reports began in 2006.

A breakdown of the figures shows that a single bedroom in Galway city centre is renting for an average of €588 per month, up 19.5% on June 2021, while in the suburbs, a similar room is commanding €503 per month, up 15.9% on a year earlier. A double room is generating €633 (up 16.4%) in the city centre and €577 (up 19.2%) in the suburbs.

In the city, an average one-bed apartment is currently ‘asking’ €1,110 per month (up 17.3% year on year); a €1,297 for a two-bed house (up 15.6%); €1,542 for a three-bed house (up 16.9%); €1,923 for a four-bed house (up 21.8%) and €2,016 for a five-bed house, which is up 10.6%.

Ronan Lyons, Associate Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin and author of the Daft report, pointed to a resurgent economy which has accentuated the chronic shortage of rental housing in Ireland.

“The shortage of rental accommodation translates directly into higher market rents and this can only be addressed by significantly increased supply.

“While there are almost 115,000 proposed rental homes in the pipeline, these are concentrated in the Dublin area. Further, while nearly 23,000 are under construction, the remainder are earlier in the process and the growth of legal challenges to new developments presents a threat to addressing the rental scarcity,” he said.

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