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Connacht Tribune

Iconic country house looks set to lie empty after HSE pulls out

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One of the most impressive country houses in Tuam, which is to be vacated shortly by the HSE West, is set to lie empty – because nobody wants to buy or lease it.

Toghermore House in Tuam, which was owned by the Burke family, has been used as a residential mental health centre for many before the HSE decided to close it down and move the residents out.

This is despite the fact that, in recent years, the HSE spent some €2 million in refurbishing the house by providing expensive chandeliers, murals and paintings along with the establishment of a workshop.

Local councillor Donagh Killilea has described it as ‘a disgrace’ that an iconic building that dates back to the 1700s has been ‘abandoned’ by the HSE without any confirmation of its future use.

“They have offered it to sporting clubs who are no interested and there was talk of it becoming an administrative centre for the HSE but this seemingly is not the case either. It is a great building and grounds going to waste.

“I have asked the HSE and they have currently no plans for it. I have a great fear that, similar to other buildings in Tuam that have been vacated, they will go to wrack and ruin. They will just become derelict sites,” Cllr Killilea said.

Several years ago, it was announced by the HSE West that they would spend around €1.5 million in acquiring three houses for mental health patients in Tuam – at the expense of one of the most iconic buildings in the town.

In recent years €2 million was spent in refurbishing Toghermore House, which used to accommodate eleven residents but now, according to Cllr Killilea, it houses just three.

The house boasts some exquisite chandeliers and over the past few of years has been transformed into one of the most luxurious centres for residential accommodation in the whole of the country.

Its impending closure has sparked outrage in the local community – especially as the house was donated by the then owner Bobby Burke to the town so that it could provide residential care for those with intellectual disabilities.

The house was threatened with closure back in 2013 when fire safety issues were identified but these were resolved after a short period of time but now Toghermore House is set to close permanently early in the New Year. There are fears that it will be left to fall into a dilapidated state.

Under the new move, it is planned to move the remaining residents from Toghermore House into a house in the town. However, this is the subject of a planning appeal by neighbouring residents.

Cllr Killilea has described the move as ‘a complete waste of public money’ and said that Toghermore House was in perfect condition to house the residents and he now fears for the future of the building.

Connacht Tribune

Unauthorised developments in County Galway go unchecked for months

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The Planning Enforcement Section of Galway County Council is so understaffed that complaints of unauthorised developments are not being investigated for months, the Connacht Tribune has learned.

In one case, a complaint alleging a house was under construction in a picturesque and environmentally sensitive part of Conamara without planning permission was not investigated by the Council for at least six months.

And it can be revealed that there is a ‘large’ backlog of complaints of unauthorised developments in the county, which the Planning Enforcement Section at County Hall has blamed on staff shortages, according to correspondence obtained by the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

In response to repeated requests by a concerned member of the public to intervene and investigate an allegation of unauthorised development in an environmentally protected area of Conamara, the Council’s Planning Department indicated it was too stretched.

“Unfortunately, the planning enforcement section is experiencing a period of prolonged staff shortages and consequently there are a large number of files awaiting investigation/review,” it said.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Access Centre provides pathways to University of Galway for the disadvantaged

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Photo of Imelda Byrne

Great leaps have been made in recent years to make access to tertiary level education a realistic prospect for once marginalised groups in society.

With the deadline for CAO applications approaching next week, the Access Centre at the University of Galway is aiming to reach as many underrepresented groups as possible ahead of next academic term.

Head of the Access Centre, Imelda Byrne (pictured), said research has shown that those who once felt third level ‘wasn’t for them’ are increasing their presence at UG, and bringing a richness to the sector that had for a long time been missing.

In the five years up to 2021, there was a 100% increase in the number of students registering for the Disability Support Service at the university, while those coming from Further Education and Training courses in institutes like GTI had surged by 211% over four years.

“The message that we really need to get out there is that the CAO is not the only route into third level. There are a number of pathways,” says Imelda.

“There are loads of places set aside for students coming from a place of disadvantage,” she continues, whether it’s national schemes such as the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) for socio-economic disadvantage; or the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE); or the university’s own programme for mature students.

Those places are there to ensure those from all backgrounds get an opportunity to reach their education potential, tapping into hugely talented groups that once may have missed that opportunity.

“What we have seen is that when they get that opportunity, they do just as well if not better than other students,” continues Imelda.

For HEAR and DARE scheme applicants, and for those hoping to begin higher education as a mature student, next Wednesday’s CAO deadline is critically important.

But beyond the CAO applications, the Access Programme will open up in March to guide prospective students, whatever challenges they are facing, into third level.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway County Council ‘missing out on millions’ in derelict sites levies

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Photo of Cloonabinnia House

Galway County Council is missing out on millions of euro in untapped revenue due to a failure to compile a complete Derelict Sites Register.

That’s according to Galway East Sinn Féin representative, Louis O’Hara, who this week blasted the news that just three properties across the whole county are currently listed on the register.

As a result, Mr O’Hara said the Derelict Sites Levy was not being utilised effectively as countless crumbling properties remained unregistered – the levy amounts to 7% of the market value of the derelict property annually.

The former general election candidate said Galway County Council was ill-equipped to compile a proper list of derelict sites and called on Government to provide the necessary resources to tackle the scourge of dereliction across.

“There are still only three properties listed on Galway County Council’s Derelict Sites Register . . . anyone in Galway knows that this does not reflect the reality on the ground and more must be done to identify properties, and penalise owners who fail to maintain them,” said Mr O’Hara.

The situation was compounded by the fact that the Council failed to collect any of the levies due to them in 2021.

“This is deeply concerning when we know that dereliction is a blight on our communities. Derelict sites attract rats, anti-social behaviour and dumping, and are an eyesore in many of our local towns and villages.”

“The Derelict Sites Levy should be used as a tool by local authorities to raise revenue that can then be utilised to tackle dereliction, but they are not adequately resourced to identify and pursue these property owners,” said Mr O’Hara.

(Photo: The former Cloonabinnia House Hotel is on the Derelict Sites Register).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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