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HSE managers told to register all interests to avoid conflict

Dara Bradley

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Senior hospital managers in the HSE West from now on must declare register of interests to guard against potential conflict in the awarding of health contracts.

The new measure is one of six recommendations the HSE insists has been implemented following a controversial case in which public contracts worth almost €400,000 were awarded at University Hospital Galway without a competitive public procurement process.

The recommendations were made on foot of an internal audit carried out by the HSE in relation to the awarding of a contract to Northgate, a private company, to provide services to the Saolta group of hospitals in the west and north west.

The audit was ordered after it emerged Bill Maher, the former chief executive of Saolta, had a business relationship as a consultant with Northgate, prior to working with the HSE.

Mr Maher’s successor, Maurice Power, was the chief financial officer of the hospital group when the services were procured.

City Councillor Pádraig Conneely, who consistently raised the spectre of a conflict of interest in this case, has said he has been vindicated by the internal audit.

Speaking at the latest HSE West Regional Health Forum, Cllr Conneely said management at the hospital are “not clean on this”.

He said no procurement took place and the internal audit was “damning” of the practices in place.

Cllr Conneely said he was “fobbed off” when he first raised this as a matter of public interest but he has now been “totally vindicated”.

He criticised the HSE for not releasing the report to members, and claimed it was an insult that they had to access the report through Freedom of Information.

Cllr Conneely pointed out at the meeting that Tony Canavan, Chief Officer of Saolta Hospital Group, was not implicated in the report but others had questions to answer.

In response, Ann Cosgrove, Chief Operating Officer with Saolta Hospital Group, said she could not comment on individuals.

She said the internal audit was available through FOI and would not be released outside of that.

Ms Cosgrove said the recommendations of the audit, which were published at the meeting, have been fully implemented.

One recommendation – compiling a register of interests for all senior management of hospitals – will “help to avoid situations where a potential conflict of interest may arise with a supplier to a hospital group”.

“Consultation with HSE Procurement should take place prior to hospital groups entering into any significant purchase commitments,” the report recommended.

Another of the six recommendations said: “All contracts in excess of €25,000 which have been awarded without a competitive process must be disclosed to the Comptroller and Auditor General”.

It also said that “HSE terms and conditions should always be used when entering into contracts with suppliers”. It added: “The current arrangement involving the secondment of IT project management services from Northgate to Saolta should be concluded and replaced by the new procurement framework agreement once this becomes available”.

CITY TRIBUNE

Designated drinking zones in city centre are ‘only solution’

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Properly staffed designated areas are the only solution to out-of-control outdoor boozing, according to the city councillor who drafted the city’s drinking bylaws.

Cllr Peter Keane told the Galway City Tribune it was likely that councillors would seek to ‘tweak’ the existing bylaws in the near future to find a long-term solution that would enable young people to ‘enjoy a drink outdoors in a safe and controlled environment’, not just now, but in the future too.

To avoid a repeat of scenes around Spanish Arch over recent weekends, the Fianna Fáil councillor said providing areas where the consumption of alcohol was allowed would enable Gardaí to properly enforce the drinking bylaws throughout the rest of the city.

He said he could ‘absolutely appreciate the concerns of residents’ in the Claddagh and elsewhere where anti-social behaviour including urinating in gardens ‘and worse’ had been a blight in recent weeks, but said with proper control, those worst excesses could be avoided.

In the first ten days of June, 83 on-the-spot fines were issued in the city for drinking in a public place.

And last Saturday night, Gardaí closed off the Quincentenary Bridge after hundreds of young people gathered on the carriageway and turned it into a “highly-dangerous road traffic risk situation”.

“Control is the key word for me. Gardaí don’t have the resources, nor do they have the appetite as far as I can see, to deal with the lack of control there has been during the recent good weather.
“If you were to designate, say for example the Spanish Arch or a green area in Salthill, where the bylaws didn’t apply, you could put a number of wardens in place there to control the situation. You could provide adequate bins and toilets, and enough bodies to staff it, and that would allow gardaí to police the bylaws elsewhere,” said Cllr Keane.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and coverage of the re-opening of the hospitality sector and outdoor dining, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Dispute simmers between businesses and Council over outdoor spaces

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Friction between businesses and local government over the reclaiming of public space to facilitate outside hospitality marred the beginning of the city’s ‘outdoor summer’.

Galway City Council has come under fire over its handling of plans by bars and restaurants to use street furniture to facilitate outdoor dining and drinking.

Most city watering holes and eateries resumed trading on Bank Holiday Monday – serving outdoors only – for the first time since Christmas, and the authorities reported that it was successful for the most part, although it needed time to ‘bed in’.

The city vintners’ group said its members with adequate outdoor space were happy to be back and described the mood as ‘euphoric’ in places.

But several outlets expressed disappointment with the Council.

In Eyre Square, the Skeff Late Bar and Kitchen claimed it had to cancel 200 advance bookings – up to 800 people – for this week, after the Council refused permission for “extended outdoor seating”.

On Middle Street, Sangria Tapas Restaurant lashed the Council for refusing it permission to use certain types of awning and windbreakers to facilitate outdoor dining. “Surely the powers that be can take time to support the industry that supports the city?” its proprietor said in a complaint to City Hall.

‘Back the West’, businesses criticised the Council for rowing back on promises to provide additional outdoor space on Dominick Street Lower and Dominick Street Upper, in time for outdoor hospitality’s reopening on June 7.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council chief: ‘landlords see 4% rent increase cap as a target’

Enda Cunningham

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said that the 4% annual cap on residential rent increases is now seen as a target by many landlords.

Brendan McGrath said that affordability continues to be a major problem for renters in the city and that an increasing number of people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme have to pay ‘top ups’ to their landlords.

The HAP scheme replaces rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need – the individual finds a private rented accommodation within specific rent caps and the Council pays the landlord directly. The tenant then pays a rent to the Council based on their weekly household income.

The maximum monthly rents under the scheme range from €330 for an adult in shared accommodation to €900 for a single parent or couple with three kids.

Based on their household size, tenants can also apply for a 20% extra ‘discretionary’ payment on top of their HAP payment.

However, Mr McGrath said many on the HAP scheme in Galway have to pay top ups to their landlords.

“Rents as a percentage of income is increasing and affordability remains a major problem for the city’s renters. The majority of HAP tenants require additional discretionary payments to assist them in maintaining their tenancies, particularly single person households.

“An increasing number of HAP tenants now have to pay top ups to their landlords even with the 20% extra HAP discretionary payment applied for their particular household size,” Mr McGrath said in a report to councillors.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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