Ireland must examine new alternatives to lockdowns
World of Politics with Harry McGee
As of this week, Ireland had the lowest 14-day rate of Covid-19 in the EU. Our rate of 88.5 cases per 100,000 people beats the next lowest, Finland, which is at 96 cases. Iceland, which is not in the EU, is lower but there are extenuating circumstances there, given that it’s a little like New Zealand and Australia – literally places apart.
Being an island nation is certainly a help to us. But being a small mixed economy, and a huge base for global pharma, agriculture and technology, we had some of the busiest sea and air routes in Europe.
A lot of people come in and leave the country each day in normal times, tens of millions of journeys in and out each year.
Of course, that traffic has subsided greatly. We still have flights and sailings, but the great bulk is freight or essential journeys.
The air industry has claimed there is little connection between travel and Covid-19, as most of the transmission was community. But community transmission must start somewhere.
The first cases in Ireland came mainly from people coming back from skiing holidays in Austria and northern Italy. Many thousands of Irish people went on holidays to the Continent during the Summer – including a substantial number who went to countries like Spain, which were not on the ill-fated green list.
Some of the cases identified here in the Autumn came from a particular Spanish strain of the virus.
It remains to be seen if the new EU traffic light system works and if people take the (relatively expensive) tests before flying – or just ignore it, knowing there will be little chance of being sanctioned.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Galway grandmother’s added bonus as she heads for World Transplant Games
A Galway grandmother off to represent Ireland at the World Transplant Games in Australia is onto a winner before she even leaves home. Because Teresa Smyth’s trip Down Under coincides with her daughter’s pregnancy – and it gives her the chance to be close at hand for the birth of her sixth grandchild.
Teresa, from Williamstown, will take part in three events in Perth – darts, table tennis and Petanque doubles in the 60 to 69 age category – and she is doing it as a tribute to the donor who has given her 22 years of a new life.
But when the Games are over, Teresa will stay on for a month with her younest daughter Rachel who has lived in Australia for some years. Rachel is due to give birth in May – so Teresa won’t return to Ireland until towards the end of June, whereas most of the rest of the team with be returning home directly after the Games.
The widowed mother of five and grandmother of five – soon to be six – received a kidney transplant in 2001, but this will be her first time to represent Ireland at the World Transplant Games.
“I am doing this in honour of my donor and their family who have given me a wonderful 22 years of good health,” she said.
Teresa was on dialysis for two years before her transplant, and she is forever grateful to her deceased kidney donor and the 22 years of successful transplantation she has enjoyed since then.
Teresa is part of the 14 strong Transplant Team Ireland all off to the World Transplant Games in Perth next month. Ranging in age from 36 right up to 75, the ten men and four women have all received organ transplants – including two liver, two bone marrow, and ten kidney.
They will be among over 1,200 participants from over 50 countries, all embracing their gift of life and honoring their donors in this celebration of life through sport.
Each of the athletes is funding their participation in the Games – including registration, flights, accommodation, and meals – through fundraising in the name of the Irish Kidney Association/Transplant Team Ireland, as well as using their own funds.
The Irish squad gathered at the ALSAA Sports Complex at Dublin Airport on Sunday, joined by family, friends and other members of the Transplant Team Ireland programme, to receive their official team kit.
They also enjoyed an inspirational talk by former Olympian triathlete Gavin Noble, the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s Chef de Mission for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and 2023 European Games.
The Galway woman said she was simply looking forward to meeting new people, enjoying the competition and experiencing the travel – and being there to greet the latest arrival when they make their debut!
“I’m just looking forward to meeting my new grandchild and seeing all the different sports venues in Perth,” she said.
The World Transplant Games take place from April 15 to 21, following a four-year hiatus for the biennial event, as the previous Games planned for 2021 had to be cancelled due to the global pandemic.
(Photo: Transplant Team Ireland member Teresa Smyth with former Olympian triathlete Gavin Noble).
Local Improvement Schemes completely oversubscribed for at least two years
Community groups in County Galway who held out hope that funding would be provided to improve their local roads have been told that they cannot apply for another two years at least.
Applications under the Local Improvement Scheme (LIS) are at saturation level – so much so that Galway County Council is not accepting anymore until 2025 at the earliest.
The Local Improvement Scheme provides funding to help local authorities carry out improvement works on private and non-publicly maintained roads.
But Director of Services Derek Pender told a meeting of Galway County Council while that they have received funding to the tune of €954,000 but this has allowed them to facilitate just 21 projects for which offers have gone out.
However, he pointed out that this meant that 116 further applicants from local groups would not be considered during 2023 and this was why the Council was refusing to accept any fresh applications for the time being.
Mr Pender did say that a fund had been ring-fenced for the off-shore islands and at least one project would be carried out on each of them during the year.
The decision to refuse any further applications has infuriated the elected members of the local authority who made the argument that if local and unfunded roads were allowed to deteriorate any further, the costs would escalate.
According to Cllr Michael Connolly in Moylough, there was a multitude of schemes in the North Galway area that needed funding before they got “out of hand”.
“The funding allocated under the LIS scheme is miniscule when one considers the amount of applicants that there are and the number that want to get onto the list.
“By not taking on any new applicants is not the way to address this crisis and this decision should be reversed – even if it was to give communities some hope that their situation was being addressed,” said Cllr Connolly.
He said that rural roads were deteriorating rapidly and to get them back to any reasonable state would cost more in the long run if they were being ignored at the moment.
His colleague Cllr Martina Kinane (FF) said that the funding for LIS schemes was welcome but she urged the Council not to close applications.
“It is important for local communities to at least get on a list and maybe the extent of this list might indicate to the Department of Rural Affairs the extent of the need for additional funding,” said Cllr Kinane.
In response, Mr Pender said that they were not refusing applications but it would take until 2027 to clear the current volume of applications. He explained that this was why they were closing applications until 2025 before taking on fresh ones.
Cllr Declan Kelly (Ind) said that these were vital schemes that kept rural roads intact. He asked what the Galway Oireachtas members were doing to ensure that the county got the funding it required to clear the backlog of applicants.
Free parking in County Galway towns is not a runner
A proposal to grant parking permits to businesses would prove a disaster for trade in County Galway towns, it was claimed this week.
Councillor Shane Curley proposed giving a limited number of parking permits to business owners in towns and villages where paid parking exists at this month’s Loughrea Municipal District meeting.
He said business owners provide employment, pay commercial rates as well as taxes and deserved a break.
Galway County Council said it was against the proposal as it would mean less parking availability for customers spending money – and less money for the Council due to the impact on parking fees.
It would also have an impact on active travel as it may discourage people from walking or cycling to town centres if they could avail of free parking.
Cllr Joe Byrne (FG) said he was opposed to the move as one of the biggest complaints when the Council brought in free parking in December to encourage Christmas shoppers was that workers were taking parking prime spaces all day.
That was the reason that proposal change to make parking free from 11am so that commuters would park elsewhere.
Cllr Jimmy McClearn said Roscommon town had free parking and it was now very difficult to get parking on the town’s main street.
He told the meeting that it was an example of a well-intentioned proposal having unforeseen consequences.
“Do you make free parking available to all people who work in a shop? Do you have it at a particular location? If you did it, you have to not do it on the main street.”
Cllr Michael ‘Moegie’ Maher said the proposal would “absolutely choke our town”, which was one of the locations in the county currently thriving.
“There are car spaces in Loughrea – there are car parks in Barrack Street, Corry’s, businesses were against free parking before as they couldn’t get customers in.”
Engineer Gerard Haugh said there was a proposal to create another car park on the southern side of the town.
Parking fees were subject to bylaws and could not be adjusted at municipal district level, Cllr Byrne pointed out. Cllr Curley said he would submit the proposal to a full meeting of Galway County Council.
In relation to a second proposal by Cllr Curley to erect trial speed bumps at three locations in the town frequented by hundreds of school children, Mr Haugh said there was no funding available for temporary measures in advance of a traffic management plan currently being created for Loughrea.
No other councillor supported the motion.