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Jewellery worth €1.1m hidden under bush, trial hears

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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.

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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