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Illegal cigs threat ‘will shut’ city shops

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A significant number of shopkeepers in Galway will be forced to ‘shut up shop’ because of the prevalence of illegal cigarettes here, a newsagents’ representative group has warned.

And figures provided to the Galway City Tribune by JTI Ireland (Japan Tobacco International, which controls more than half the Irish market) show that almost one-third of all cigarettes smoked in Galway have been smuggled into the country, or are counterfeit.

According to the JTI survey – which owns brands such as Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut and Camel – 30.7% of discarded cigarette packets in Galway were illegal, almost on a par with the 31.1% recorded last year.

Stephen Daly, President of the Convenience Stores and Newsagents’ Association (CSNA) said his members face closure, because of losses incurred.

“I’m not surprised at the figure, we’re seeing it all over the country, you can see it on the figures at the tills,” said Mr Daly, who owns Happy Days in the Galway Shopping Centre.

“The customers are gone, there are faces we don’t see coming into the shop anymore. We are very conscious of the health impact of smoking, and these people too, but they’re now willing to take a chance on what’s in their illegal cigarettes, because they can get them half price.

“We’ve had a lot of lay-offs in this sector already, and it’s very difficult to find anywhere else for cuts to be made. So there are a lot of shops in Galway and elsewhere that are facing closure because of this.

“Tobacco accounts for 25% of our sales, and we make an 8.5% margin on the products. But where retailers make their money is the smoker who comes in to buy cigarettes, and they’ll pick up additional goods like a newspaper, chewing gum and maybe a drink. We have higher margins of 20% to 40% on other products.

“If tobacco sales were gone in the morning, our business would be immediately halved,” said Mr Daly.

 A spokesperson for JTI Ireland said the problem with illegal tobacco is ‘significant’ and will worsen if Health Minister James Reilly’s proposal to introduce standardised packaging goes ahead.

“If somebody cannot differentiate between two completely different brands, they’re likely to go to the person who is selling the ‘traditional’ style box on the street,” he said.

F or more on this story, see the Galway City Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

‘Gobbledegook’: Galway 2020’s language on €1m legacy funding spend

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The Culture Minister has been pressed to provide clarity on what exactly the €1m ‘legacy’ funding for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture (ECOC) will be spent on.

And Galway West TD Catherine Connolly (Ind) accused Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin of using language that was “gobbledegook” to describe the legacy funding.

The money will be channelled through Galway Culture Company, which is the latest iteration of Galway Cultural Development and Activity CLG, commonly referred to as Galway 2020, which was initially established in 2016 to run and operate the European Capital of Culture designation.

Minister Martin told the Dáil that the company will publish details of its “proposed legacy framework” on its website.

In broad terms, however, she said the €1m legacy funding could be broken down into the delivery of three aims.

There was €300,000 to “facilitate EU and international relationships and funding”; a further €500,000 “to develop and support place-based cultural programming”; and €200,000 “to provide supports to the cultural and creative sector”.

“Galway Culture Company is working to develop the legacy framework of Galway’s designation as European Capital of Culture and to build on the learnings and outcomes of Galway’s many European and global designations, including European Capital of Culture, UNESCO city of film, European Green Leaf city and European region of gastronomy,” Minister Martin said.

But Deputy Connolly expressed frustration at the use of language that lacked clarity.

Repeating that sentence uttered by the Minister, which was a direct quote from the company’s website, Deputy Connolly said: “I feel like saying ‘mother of Jesus’. What are we talking about here with regard the €1m of a legacy in terms of infrastructure and artists on the ground getting money?”

Minister Martin replied: “It is the strategic objective of Galway Culture Company to bring together key agencies and stakeholders to drive forward a collective creative vision for Galway through meaningful partnership and collaboration, so creativity is at the heart of that.

“It will seek to complement the work of the two local authorities in Galway by working with the cultural units in the city and county councils and will assist in the implementation of both arts plans and the cultural strategy.”

Deputy Connolly said Minister Martin’s heart was in the right place, but twice she labelled her description of Galway Culture Company’s role in delivering a legacy for Galway 2020 as “gobbledegook”.

And the Independent TD urged Minister Martin to take a ‘hands-on approach’.

Minister Martin said that physical infrastructure, and new cultural buildings “is not and never has been part of the direct delivery and legacy of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture”.

The delivery of physical arts and cultural infrastructure was a matter for Everybody Matters, Galway cultural strategy 2016-25 developed by its two local authorities, she said.

The €1m for legacy is included in the Department’s €15m overall support for Galway 2020.

Minister Martin had agreed in April of 2021 that the legacy funding would be paid, and she acknowledged in the Dáil last week that the allocation was finally approved last December.

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Connacht Tribune

Taoiseach “shares frustration” around construction delays at University Hospital Galway

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he “shares the frustration” caused by delays to construction projects like the new Emergency Department and paediatric and maternity units at University Hospital Galway.

Mr Varadkar said the units “should have been under construction by now” and he will be pursuing the matter with the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe “so that we get those projects up and running”.

He was speaking in the Dáil last week following criticisms from Galway West TD Noel Grealish about the standard of healthcare in Galway and the West of Ireland.

“I share his frustration that so many important projects in the West have been delayed, particularly the Emergency Department and the paediatric and maternity units at University Hospital Galway, UHG, which should have been under construction by now, let alone have gone to planning.

“That is something I will be pursuing with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, over the course of the year so that we get those projects up and running,” the Taoiseach said.

Deputy Grealish said there had been a lot of debate about the state of the country’s health services, with growing waiting lists and Emergency Department overcrowding, but added that this “missed” what was happening in the west and north-west of Ireland, where services lagged behind the rest of the country.

“A capacity review carried out by the Saolta University Health Care Group [which operates Galway’s public hospitals] in 2019 found that almost two thirds, or 64%, of the infrastructure at the region’s biggest hospital, UHG, was classified as either not satisfactory or unacceptable. In the case of its sister hospital at Merlin Park in the city, the figure increased to a shocking 95%.

“During 2022, waiting lists for inpatient and outpatient pain relief treatment in Galway increased by 75%, while the rest of the country only saw a tiny increase of just 1% in such waiting lists.

“The numbers in Galway waiting for 18 months or more, many in severe pain, are now more than three times greater than this time last year, while the rates in the rest of the country dropped by almost one fifth. In specialties such as orthopaedics, the experience of the patients in Galway falls well short of what is happening in the rest of the country,” said Deputy Grealish.

He went on to say that the West of Ireland currently has the lowest survival rate in Ireland for breast and lung cancer.

The Independent TD called for a task force to be set up to assess health services in the region.

“Experts in the field point out that late diagnosis leads to poorer patient outcomes. The facilities for the treatment of cancer in Galway are not fit for purpose. Cancer patients are competing with elective and emergency patients for vital life-saving treatment. I welcome the recent announcement that a new cancer care centre at UHG is to be included in the HSE’s national service plan this year.

“We need similarly urgent action to be taken in relation to the rest of the health services in Galway and the West. At the very least, we must bring them up to a standard that is fit for purpose.

“The West is starved of proper services and I am calling for a task force to look at what is going wrong with the health services in the region and what needs to be done to improve them,” said Deputy Grealish.

He added that the Taoiseach may point out that a new elective hospital is to be built on the grounds of Merlin Park.

“Realistically, it could take 15 years or more, given that the recently-opened radiotherapy unit in Galway took over 14 years to deliver. There are many instances in the provision of health services where Galway and the West are falling well behind the rest of the country,” he said.

The Taoiseach responded that the spend for the Saolta Hospital Group – which covers six hospitals in the west and north-west – has a budget this year of €1 billion, which is an increase of 24% in five years.

He added that cancer survival rates have increased significantly in the past two decades.

“Almost all regions of the country would say they are underfunded or under-resourced when it comes to healthcare. The Deputy has made the case very strongly today for the West,” said the Taoiseach.

He added that the Government is committed to its plan to build elective hospitals, “but we are realistic that it will be 2027 or 2028 before patients will be seen in those hospitals and we need interim measures”.

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Connacht Tribune

Father Ted ‘TedFest’ returns to Inis Mór next month

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After years of staging TedFest on Inis Mór, the event’s co-founder says his absolute favourite part of the mayhem is watching an occasional unknowing tourist react when they find themselves plonked in the middle of the surreal universe of Craggy Island.

“There’s always some hardcore Scandinavian or American visitor who researched the hell out of Dún Aonghasa but didn’t know it was Tedfest weekend,” reveals Peter Phillips.

“Then they see all these priests, nuns playing five-a-side football on the beach, people dressed as Mrs Doyle, My Lovely Horse playing on repeat.”

The festival sells out every year early due to the limited accommodation open in the first weekend of March. It missed out on one year during the Covid lockdowns and was one of the few festivals to be held in the country in 2020.

Originally attracting around 100 fans of the Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted, it now boasts 300 revellers, thanks to the addition of glamping pods at the campsite in Kilronan and the chalets behind the Aran Islands Hotel.

Described one year by a criminal psychiatrist who attended with her husband as ‘Lord of the Flies on crack’, events will largely follow the same format as when it first began in 2007.

Returning will be the ‘Lovely Girls Competition’; King of the Sheep; Pat Mustard Lip Sync Showdown; Ted’s Got Talent; The Screeching Competition in a Very Dark Cave; Matchmaking with Nellie, The Priests’ Dance Off; The Reverse Wheel of Death and Hide a Nun and Seek.

The cult favourite originally ran for three seasons between 1995 and 1998 with two of the lead actors no longer alive – Dermot Morgan played Father Ted and Frank Kelly starred as the inimitable Father Jack.

The show won a Bafta for best comedy and Dermot Morgan and Pauline McLynn were awarded Baftas for best actor and actress.

Dermot Morgan died from a heart attack aged 45 on February 28, 1998, just 24 hours after he had finished recording the last episode.

Original cast member Patrick McDonnell will travel to Inis Mór to host Blind Date with Eoin McLove and Joe Rooney will return as Fr Damo.

But after that don’t expect to see Ardal O’Hanlon, who played Fr Dougal, or Pauline McLynn as Mrs Doyle pouring copious cups of tea.

“It’s the opposite of a cheesy TV fan convention. The idea was always about giving people the chance to live on Craggy Island, to experience the madness,” reflects Peter.

“People might think that it’s quite cliquey and it’s the same people year on year. We have 20-30 hardcore fans but what I find is they come back every five years. They say it was the weekend of their lives, but it takes five years to get over it.

“People genuinely have trouble going home, they just get absorbed in this surreal life. In the beginning it’s a novelty dressing up but by Saturday afternoon nobody is batting an eyelid when they see Darth Vader buying a pint of milk in the shop.”

The organiser of the biggest Elvis festival in the world in Porthcawl, Wales, Peter has moved the antics to other locations such as the Irish Centre in Camden, London and Parks, NSW, Australia. The latter was a disaster when the local police closed the bar following noise complaints.

After the inaugural festival, there were complaints from neighbouring Inis Oirr that they were in fact the true Craggy Island because of the show’s opening sequence capturing its shipwreck.

That dispute was settled in true Fr Ted Crilly form with a five-a-side football match on the beach between teams managed by Ireland football legends Tony Cascarino and John Aldridge. Inis Mór won 2-1.

“There’s a certain type of person who fights their way to Inis Mór for three days in the middle of March. It’s just not the same going to Camden. I’d question how those who do the trek to the Aran Islands function for the other 362 days of the year.”

The story of how the whole thing was conceived could well be a Father Ted episode.

The native of Cardiff had lived in Roundstone for a year writing a biography on Connemara politician ‘Humanity Dick’ Martin, who is regarded as the father of animal rights. Peter found himself in a Sri Lankan war zone organising the charity donation of a bus following the devastating tsunami the year before.

He got chatting in a beach bar to Galwegian Fergal McGrath, who was an ardent fan of the sitcom. He was intrigued by the Elvis festival and they agreed to meet up in Neachtain’s pub in Galway City to explore the idea of a similar event celebrating Father Ted.

Inis Mór was the chosen location because they knew publican PJ O’Flaherty, who ran a hotel there.

The island is bracing itself for an influx of visitors keen to visit the spectacular scenes in the Banshees of Inisherin. There is still the possibility of “a seven-fingered throwing contest” in TedFest in a nod to Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy.

Revellers are advised not to buy a ticket for the festival unless they have sourced accommodation “or permission from another ticket holder to sleep with them”.

There is space to pitch a tent which can be booked at irelandglamping.ie. TedFest takes place from March 2-5.

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