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Jewellery worth €1.1m hidden under bush, trial hears



Two hold-all bags, containing over €1.1 million worth of diamond rings and Rolex watches, were discovered under a bush on the banks of Lough Atalia in Galway City shortly after an armed robbery had taken place in a city centre jewellers, a trial in Galway heard today.

Members of the public assisted Gardai in catching two of four men arrested shortly before midday on February 11, 2015, in connection with a robbery which had taken place a short time earlier at Hartmann Jewellers in the heart of the city.

One of the four men, Irmantas Paulauskas (38), pleaded not guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court today to the robbery of diamond rings and Rolex watches from Richard Hartmann, 29 William Street.

Irmantas Paulauskas: pleaded not guilty.

Irmantas Paulauskas: pleaded not guilty.

He also denied a second charge of having a imitation pistol with a silencer fitted, in his possession with intent to commit robbery on the same date.

Prosecuting barrister, Conor Fahy BL, told the jury of eleven men and one woman that Mr Hartmann was in his office upstairs at 10.42a.m., viewing the CCTV cameras when he saw men, wearing dark clothing, gloves and with their faces partially covered, enter the shop downstairs.  He heard a loud bang and immediately dialled 999, alerting Gardai at Galway Garda Station to the robbery in progress.

Garda street cameras were trained on the front of the premises and the men were observed exiting the building 90 seconds later.

They were carrying two hold-all bags, which contained 16 trays of diamond rings – with each tray holding 13 rings – along with 32 Rolex watches, all worth €1.139,653.

Passers-by noticed the men, walking quickly in single, military-style formation down Shop Street.

Garda cameras tracked the men as they turned left onto Abbeygate Street, heading towards Middle Street.

Det. Sgt. John McElroy and Det. Gerry Carroll, who happened to be in the area, gave chase.

Two members of the public helped both Gardai restrain two of the suspects at Middle Street, following a violent struggle.

Mr Fahy told the jury that one of the two men caught at Middle Street was the accused, and he advised jurors they need not be concerned with the other three men.

He said members of the public saw the men walk in military-style formation and some people tracked them into Abbeygate Street and onto Middle Street, where two of them were apprehended.

The other two men were arrested, he said, at 11.30a.m. at the bus station at Fairgreen Road as they waited to catch a bus to Dublin.

A lump hammer and one of two imitation guns used during the robbery, were found on the  shop floor by Gardai afterwards, Mr Fahy said.

The second imitation firearm was found on the other man caught in Middle Street with the accused, he added.

The accused, Mr Fahy said, was wearing glasses and these glasses were found at Middle Street later on.

Gardai searched the area along Fairgreen Road, past the bus station, and found the two hold-alls concealed under a low bush, near the water’s edge at Lough Atalia, about a mile away on the Dublin road approach to the city.

All of the jewellery, except for one diamond ring, was found in the hold-alls, along with some clothing, believed to have been used during the robbery.

Mr Fahy said a woman found the ring that evening with the €6,550 price tag still on it at Dock Road, and she handed it in to the Garda Station.

The jewellery, he said, was taken from the front window display area of the shop which was near the front door.  A lump hammer was used to smash the glass to get to the displays, he added.

Crime Scene Investigator, Sgt. Seamus Philips, told the trial he observed the jewellery in the hold-all bags which were found at Lough Atalia and said one Rolex watch still had its €5,950 price tag on it.

Ballistics expert, Det. Sharon Langan gave evidence she examined both imitation guns and said they were 6mm calibre air pistols, which contained magazines full of white plastic ‘BB’ ball bearings.

“The guns were made to resemble 9mm semiautomatic pistols which are used by police forces and the military,” she explained.

She said that while the guns were imitations, they could be classified as offensive weapons if used to intimidate people in a public place and they could also be classified as real weapons if used to make members of the public believe they were real.

Mr Bernard Madden SC, defending, said nothing to link the accused to this crime was found on any of the items which were forensically examined by Gardai.

The trial continues tomorrow.


Community volunteers out in force for planathons on banks of Lough Atalia



Planters…the group of community volunteers after their Lough Atalia Plantathon.

Student volunteers and community activists were out in force throughout the month of December to push back against the climate crisis – taking part in a series of ‘plantathons’ on the banks of Lough Atalia.

Planting bulbs and trees, the programme was led by Galway Community College which owns the lands involved – and aims to rewild another portion of the city, following in the footsteps of Terryland Forest Park.

While a much smaller area by size, those behind the initiative say it shows what’s possible when the community comes together.

Supported by the National Park City initiative, the creation of this woods and wildflower meadow on what were, until now pasture lands, also had the backing of several other voluntary organisation in the city as well as Scoil Chaitríona Senior, Dominican College Taylor’s Hill, Galway Education Centre and Galway Science and Technology Festival.

With the bulbs provided by the Newcastle-based multinational Aerogen, Convenor of the Galway National Park City Brendan Smith said the project epitomised how the initiative brings interested parties together to do good.

He said efforts such as those on Lough Atalia showed the determination of young people and locals to continue the great work of those who carried out the very first plantathon in Terryland almost 22 years ago.

Those efforts were required now more than ever as the impact of the climate emergency was being acutely felt.

“The frequency and severity of storms is becoming more characteristic of Ireland as a result of unstable destructive global warm weather caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of nature’s ‘carbon sinks’ such as forests and bogs.

“Storm Barra was the latest in a long list of storms to hit our shores over the last decade. But one key way to tackle the climate emergency is to plant trees – and lots of them. The Irish Government wants to have 22 million trees planted annually.

“This planting also happens to tackle the other great global crisis of our modern era, namely Biodiversity loss,” says Brendan.

“One million out of five million known species on the planet are threatened with extinction. Global populations of fauna have declined by nearly 70% since 1970.

“A forest is probably Earth’s most diverse biodiversity rich mix of ecosystems with an oak tree being able to be home to over 400 species of flora, fungi and fauna.

“Planting trees is a necessary action in helping to save the planet from humanity’s errors.”



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City’s newest Salmon Weir crossing will be in place before end of year



An artist's impression of the new Salmon Weir crossing

Galway city’s newest pedestrian bridge – costing €5m – is expected to be installed before December of this year.

The new cycle and pedestrian bridge over the Lower River Corrib will be located 25 metres downstream of the existing Salmon Weir Bridge.

An Bórd Pleanála granted planning permission for the bridge last August, and work is expected to begin on the project in the coming months.

Galway City Council, in conjunction with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), North Western Regional Assembly and the National Transport Authority, has sought tenders from contractors to carry out the work.

The City Council is co-funding the project under ERDF with matched funding from the NTA.

The project must be completed by November 30, 2022, to comply with EU funding drawdown.

In the planning application, the City Council said 9,000 pedestrians and cyclists who currently use the Salmon Weir Bridge would use the new bridge once it’s opened.

The bridge will link Gaol Road to Newtownsmith. The scheme includes three span pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Lower River Corrib (main channel), Mill Race (Persse’s Distillery River) and Waterside Canal (Friar’s River).

The vision is that it would facilitate the BusConnects project, which will use the existing bridge, and also open up opportunities for a civic plaza at the Council owned car park at Galway Cathedral.

According to the tender documents, the “bridge substructure will be reinforced concrete construction, founded on sleeved reinforced concrete bored cast in place piles at the abutments and spread footings founded on and anchored to rock at the piers”.

Traffic management will need to be put in place during works and due to the environmentally sensitive site location “no temporary or permanent works will be permitted to be undertaken from the watercourses”.

Contractors have until January 21 to respond to the competition.





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CPO could trigger major development of housing



Aerial view of Bothar an Chóiste - Pic. Google Maps.

Just one submission has been received in relation to a Compulsory Purchase Order on a section of a hugely busy rat run between the Tuam and Headford Roads that could open up a large tranche of land for development if approved.

Galway City Council has applied to An Bord Pleanála to compulsorily purchase over 500 metres of land along Bother an Chóiste in Castlegar adjacent to land it already owns where a previous application to build 48 homes failed due to the width of the road around 2007.

That land is on the same side of the road as the Cluain Riocaird estate. There is another privately-owned land bank of over six hectares on the other side of Bothar an Chóiste also zoned residential that could accommodate up on 400 units which would also benefit from the road widening.

No application has been lodged for that development, but any approval would be dependent on an upgrade of the road which is widely used by motorists to avoid tailbacks at the two busiest traffic junctions in the city.

A spokesman for the Council told the Galway City Tribune that the purpose of the CPO is not to upgrade the through road between the Headford Road and the Tuam Road but to facilitate access to a parcel of its own land for housing development.

“The land take is not designed to be a transport measure. Bothar an Chóiste is not intended to serve as anything other than an access and egress point for local residents. The extent that we’re upgrading is the extent of residentially zoned land,” he stated.

One valid submission was received by the end of December deadline and has been forwarded by the board to the Council for consideration.

If the CPO is approved by an Bord Pleanála, the Council would prepare a design for housing and the road widening and seek funding from the Department of Housing. It would also be obliged to seek approval from Galway City Councillors for a part 8 development.

An application to build 74 homes a short distance away on the school Road was turned down by An Bord Pleanála after being rejected by the Council which had asked the developer, Altitude Distribution, to increase the housing density. The appeals board found the development would constitute a traffic hazard due to the width of the road and shortcomings with the layout because of site constraints.

A Bothar an Chóiste resident told the Galway City Tribune there were no details of what measures would be implemented to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety on what was already a highly-trafficked road.

“From a road safety stand point, marginally widening the road will only add to the already endemic ‘rat run’ culture as cars will be have a straighter road on which they can travel faster, with more danger for pedestrians, cyclists, families with buggies and small children getting to and from housing units to local shops, the Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre, schools and other amenities,” she predicted.

“Making this road easier for cars to travel by widening means that even bigger, heavier vehicles that currently avoid it as it is narrow and bendy will make it even more detrimental to vulnerable road users.

“Housing units are welcome, but these builds should have the essential services and safe interconnected infrastructure for most vulnerable road users at the heart of the road widening proposals. It’s counter-productive to propose road widening without thoughtful footpaths and cyclepaths that will further lock local residents into car culture.”

The Council spokesperson said the design would facilitate pedestrian movements and public lighting to encourage active travel.

An Bord Pleanála is scheduled to hand down its decision by May.

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