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CITY TRIBUNE

Judge bites back at ‘vampire’ taxi passenger

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A back-seat passenger bit a taxi driver on the neck before telling him she was a vampire who loved blood.

Polish national, Alexandra Kruzel (38), was living in an apartment at Cuan na Coille, Bishop O’Donnell Road, at the time of the attack five years ago before moving to Germany.

The shocked taxi driver drove to Galway Garda Station and reported the incident immediately after he had dropped Kruzel at her address on March 22, 2014.

She was subsequently charged with two counts of assaulting the man as he drove along Seamus Quirke Road in the early hours of the morning.

A bench warrant was issued for Kruzel’s arrest when she subsequently failed to show up in court to answer the charges.

The warrant was executed last month on her return to Galway when she was arrested while intoxicated at Spanish Arch.

She appeared on bail before Galway District Court this week where she pleaded guilty to one of the assault charges.

Sergeant Cathal Rodgers, prosecuting, withdrew the second assault charge following the plea to the first.

He said the taxi driver had picked up the woman outside Karma nightclub around 1.30am and while driving along, she leaned forward and bit him on the left side of his neck, holding on for 30 seconds.

He pulled over and pleaded with her to let go and not break the skin.

“Eventually, she let go after 30 seconds, sat back and started laughing,” Sergeant Rodgers told the court.

The accused, he said, told the driver: “I am a vampire and I love blood.”

A black and white photo was handed into court, faintly showing a mark on the man’s neck, just under his left ear.  The skin was not broken.

Defence solicitor, Valerie Corcoran, said Kruzel’s instructions to her were that she didn’t want to hurt or cause harm to the man.

“She had a lot of drink taken.  I don’t know why, but she thought he liked her. She says she did what she did in an affectionate manner,” Ms Corcoran submitted.

“That’s a new one. Are you saying she intended to give him a love bite?” Judge Fahy asked.

Sgt Rodgers discounted this, observing the taxi driver was a middle-aged man.

Ms Corcoran put her client’s action down to the level of her inebriation on the night.

Judge Fahy became concerned that the taxi driver’s identity might become known though the media.

“The impression is that she was giving him a love bite, but that is not accepted by this court or by the State. The fact that he was a middle-aged man doesn’t matter,” the judge said.

Ms Corcoran agreed.

“The man was giving a service and acting completely professionally. My client lunged at the man and bit his neck, completely inappropriately. I can understand why he’s not in court. The man is completely innocent.

“He dropped her home and correctly went to the Garda Station to report the incident because it was clearly inappropriate.  I do not think there was any badness intended,” the solicitor said.

Kruzel, she said, is a Polish national now living and working in Germany for the last five years.

“She can’t understand why she did this and she forgot about it after moving to Germany. It came to light when she returned here to visit a friend.”

Sgt Rodgers confirmed there had been no conversation between the taxi driver and Kruzel before the attack happened.

Judge Fahy said it was important to note that, as there had been cases before the court in the past where inappropriate conversations had taken place, that was not the case here.

Judge Fahy said she would apply a monetary penalty and the taxi driver should be contacted to see if he was interested in getting compensation from his attacker.

Ms Corcoran informed the court her client’s phone and wallet had been stolen from her on the evening she was arrested at the Spanish Arch and she had no money on her.

Kruzel said a friend would have to send her money to pay for her fare back to Germany.

She admitted she had not reported the phone or wallet stolen to Gardai.

Judge Fahy said she didn’t believe Kruzel and in light of her comments, she said she didn’t believe the taxi driver would be interested in compensation either.

Taking into account the fact Kruzel had no previous convictions, Judge Fahy sentenced her to three months in prison for the assault and suspended the sentence for 12 months on condition she be of good behaviour and remain sober in public.  Leave to appeal was granted.

Ms Corcoran assured the court her client would be going back to Germany.

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Ring Road could open in stages

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A proposed bridge over the River Corrib as part of the Galway City Ring Road plan.

With the required additional information submitted to An Bord Pleanála by Galway County Council, the Chief Executive of the City Council said the decades-long saga of a Ring Road for Galway has crossed another significant hurdle – with the next to be a public oral hearing.

Should planning be approved for the Ring Road, Brendan McGrath said he believed it was possible to have the €650 million project completed by 2025 – and said it would be possible to open it in stages.

“One of the good things about the Ring Road is it can potentially be delivered in phases. It doesn’t have to wait for the entire road to be built for part of it to open,” he said.

Director of Services Ruth McNally said this incremental approach would be important in several projects – not just the Ring Road.

“You might look at that and think it’s very piecemeal – a bit here and a bit there. But we are conscious that the city is very busy and even the smallest intervention is going to cause traffic. That is why we are doing things incrementally in different places,” said Ms McNally.

As reported in the Galway City Tribune last week, Cosain, the Community Road Safety and Information Network, obtained documentation which revealed a predicted 37% increase in CO2 emissions as a result of the new road – a figure from the Government-approved business case for the Ring Road.

However, Mr McGrath refuted this claim, arguing that the shift to electric vehicles would reduce this figure.

“Galway Transportation Strategy, the overarching strategy, is predicated on a principle of climate sustainability. It’s about giving Galway’s streets back to its citizens and getting rid of congestion. Getting people onto high-frequency, sustainable and green public transport.

“Under the Government’s Climate Change Plan, launched a couple of months ago, it envisages there will be 900,000 electric vehicles on Ireland’s roads by the year 2030. That’s the Government’s target, so when the Ring Road is built, most of those will be electric cars,” he claimed.

“The city centre becomes a safe place to walk, to cycle – a place where you will get your bus to wherever you need. Where you don’t have to be car dependent and where the parallel works around reducing flooding, greening the city and the dividend from 2020 – I talk about transforming transport, but’s about transforming the city and how we live in the city,” he continued.

One area where works were already underway was the regeneration of the pedestrian centre, said Ms McNally.

“Phase two of Shop Street is going to be starting at the end of this month. That’s Eason’s to Lynch’s Castle. As well as that, we’ll shortly be starting an automated bollard contract as well. It will be a separate contract,” she said.

Phase two will be completed by early December, with another phase to be complete in quarter one of 2020, said Mr McGrath. The bollards will be completed at the same time, he added.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Plans progress for Traveller-specific housing in Galway City

Dara Bradley

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The halting site on Circular Road.

Plans for new Traveller-specific homes in the city will be progressed before the year’s end.

And Galway City Council is also proposing the upgrade of halting sites in Westside and Headford Road in the coming months.

Elected members will be asked to vote on a Part 8 planning application this Autumn for a new housing scheme in Doughiska. Costing €1.2 million, housing agency Respond is planning to build 23 social homes in total, with four of them earmarked as Traveller-specific.

Separately, a City Council spokesperson said more Traveller housing schemes are in the pipeline.

“Two other proposals for new Traveller schemes are being progressed in discussion with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and I would anticipate that funding approval and planning will be sought towards the end of the year with construction to commence in 2020,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the Council expects to make progress on the redevelopment of halting sites at Circular Road and Carrowbrowne.

“The planned redevelopment of the Circular Road halting site is also progressing through design stage and again will come before City councillors later this year for planning approval. No funding approval has been sought just yet. Construction will commence in 2020. Replacement of welfare units at Carrowbrowne will commence later this year and will be funded through Council’s own internal receipts,” a spokesperson said.

In relation to Carrowbrowne, the Council has invited tenders to provide 13 new welfare units at the site. “All welfare units must be robust, made of galvanised steel construction for long-life durability and must be secure with a heavy-duty walls, doors and roof and must be vandal proof. The units incorporate a kitchen with a sink, built in presses and drawers, a bathroom with a wash-hand basin, toilet and shower and a service room for plant,” the specifications state. They must also comply with current fire and safety regulations.

The Council said that other standard social housing schemes are being proposed and constructed that will include provision of standard local authority accommodation for Traveller families. Travellers are also being housed through RAS (Rental Accommodation Scheme) and HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) and in emergency accommodation.

The Council was responding to figures obtained by Galway TD Anne Rabbitte (FF) for the Galway City Tribune, which revealed the local authority was not drawing down its allocation of Traveller Accommodation Programmes (TAP) funding.

In 2016, some €40,000 was allocated and there was no draw down; in 2017, some €209,000 was allocated and there was just €95,000 drawn down; and last year some €177,000 was the allocation and none of it has been drawn down.

In response, the Council said it had received funding under TAP in recent years for fire safety works at halting sites and for the completion of extensions to Traveller homes.

“There are numerous other sources of funding for Traveller accommodation including our own revenue budget, principally for maintenance services on existing sites and schemes, and waste management,” the Council said.

The spokesperson added: “In relation to new build schemes, the principle source is through the Department of Housing. The Council have not drawn down any funds over the past number of years as the various schemes now proposed are at planning stage. Single acquisitions of individual homes are also recouped from the Department, including homes for Travellers. Houses acquired for Traveller families are no longer recouped from the Traveller Accommodation Programme fund as was the case in the past.

“The Council did not request specific funding under the Traveller Accommodation Programme for 2019 because we were advised by the Department that fire safety works at halting sites were no longer eligible under that specific fund and because funding for extensions now comes from the general allocation for such works, without reference to whether the house is occupied by a Traveller family or otherwise.”

Galway Traveller Movement said that budget underspend has been an issue every year since 2000, even though it has only received attention recently.

“The fifth Traveller Accommodation Programme will be adopted by Galway City and County Councils later this year. These programmes are five years in duration. The targets within the previous four plans have not been met and there has been continual underspend since the beginning of the first plans in 2000. There has been a lack of action for 20 years and local authorities must take responsibility for their lack of provision,” said Bridget Kelly, Deputy Co-Ordinator of GTM.

She said that two monitoring reports produced by GTM have detailed the “unacceptable lack of progress in meeting the targets” of the Traveller Accommodation Programmes in both Galway City and County.

“Sadly, as a result of this lack of implementation, members of the Traveller community, including a large population of children, are living in substandard conditions. There has not been the political will for these plans to be implemented and as a result the Traveller accommodation crisis continues to worsen. It is disingenuous for Councils to posit the blame onto the Traveller community for the lack of delivery of Traveller accommodation,” added Ms Kelly.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Redirected City Council funds lead to recruitment ban

Dara Bradley

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An unofficial embargo on staff recruitment is underway at Galway City Council – because money earmarked for more front-line workers has been diverted to deal with the local homelessness crisis and housing shortage.

All 18 city councillors voted in favour of taking some €280,000 from City Hall’s revenue budget in 2019, to put towards city homeless services.

Dermot Mahon, acting Director of Services for Housing, told elected members, in response to a query from Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind), that the cutbacks to pay for additional homeless funds would come from the “payroll sector”. He said that there would be a delay in recruiting Council staff that had been earmarked for certain areas.

“No frontline projects or services will be affected,” said Mr Mahon, whose report said the money would be sourced from “saving across the revenue budget”.

He explained that the approved budget for homeless services in the West this year was €5.822m. By July, some 91% of it (€5.2m) had been spent.

“It is envisaged that an additional €4m is required to fund homeless services to the end of 2019,” he said, adding that 90% of this extra spend was recoupable from Government.

The remaining 10% is to be paid by local authorities in the West, and €280,000 was Galway City Council’s share of that.

Cllr Niall McNelis said the City Council was spending €350,000 per month on housing homeless people in city hotels and hostels. “It’s getting worse,” he said.

Cllr Collette Connolly (Ind) said families are being split up by the homeless crisis. “Women are told to go to COPE, the men go to the Fairgreen,” she said. “I know one mother who three weeks after giving birth had to change hotels. Children aren’t within schools’ catchment. That’s the reality of this,” she said.

Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) said he was aware of one family who have been living in emergency accommodation for three years.

Cllr John Connolly (FF) said the Fine Gael-led Government, which is being kept in power by his party, was completely out of touch on the issue of housing and homelessness; and he urged party leader Micheál Martin to collapse the Coalition and spark a general election.

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said the Government had taken steps to rectify the problem, including introducing Rent Pressure Zones. He said many landlords are fleeing the market because it’s not worth their while once mortgages are paid and the taxman takes his share of the profits.

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