Dozens of parking summonses have been either struck out or adjourned at Galway District Court due to a glitch in the legislation.
Judge Alan Mitchell gave lawyers for Galway City Council the opportunity to prove him wrong on this matter, but they were unable to do so.
“There is a potentially appalling vista, until this is rectified,” he said of this issue of legislation, which is badly affecting local councils when they attempt to prosecute.
The issue relates to pay-and-display prosecutions, brought before the court either because a person ‘over stayed their welcome’ or had no ticket displayed; this did not affect other types of parking fines, however, which went ahead as normal.
In cases where the defendant was in court, the Judge struck out their summons – although this does not stop the local authority from bringing a prosecution in the future. For those who were absent, their cases were adjourned to a date in April.
“What is important in the law is that there is some consistencies,” Judge Mitchell said.
The issue arose over the awarding of costs to the prosecutors, which the Judge said he does not allow unless there is a statutory provision for it.
Solicitor for Galway City Council, Edward Molloy, asked the Judge to reconsider.
“The court might take into account the considerable level of work involved, and the number of opportunities given to resolve the cases. It is a big effort to organise this on behalf of Galway City Council, ourselves, and the court services, to make sure it goes smoothly.”
The Judge acknowledged this, and said that while the District Court rules allowed for discretion, his view was that if it was not specifically provided for in Statute he would not award costs.
He requested a copy of the specific by-laws that the Council intended to rely on for the purpose of prosecution.
“They don’t comply with the law,” the Judge replied.
“It has to be proved under documentary evidence or printed by the Statutory office…. There is a fundamental difficulty by the Oireachtas passing the 2004 Act and having to prove under documentary evidence, which is providing difficulty for the City Council.”
Judge Mitchell allowed Mr Molloy and his colleague time to verify or dispute his point of view.
“On a previous occasion I struck-out all summonses, and I was judicially reviewed. I want to allow the City Council to engage with me that my understanding of the Road Traffic by-laws is correct. I will allow time to see if they can address this.
“When I saw the lacunae I checked, and it seems to be something that local authorities may be having difficulty with. If the law is as is, then it is not for me to award costs. I would rather not be judicially reviewed, as this would cause everything to grind to a halt.”
He explained the delay to the large number of people waiting for their cases to be heard that a previous court had struck-out all cases where the prosecution was unable to produce the relevant document they were relying on.
“The Court of Appeal, however, said that they should have been allowed time to produce it,” he said.
Mr Molloy was unable to satisfy the Judge in this regard, and he proceeded to go through the list of hundreds of names – adjourning the relevant cases of those who did not attend, and striking-out those who were there.
“They will be struck out today, but if the local authority decides or the High Court decides that I’m wrong, they may be re-issued,” Judge Mitchell said.
“This is definitely not the end of it. That’s a matter for the City Council and how it decides to deal with it.”
Pedestrians and cyclists ‘do not trust traffic lights’
Cyclists and pedestrians can no longer trust traffic lights in Galway City because motorists continue to drive through on red, a local senator has said.
Senator Pauline O’Reilly told a Galway City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting that enforcement was needed to change the behaviour of drivers who were driving through red traffic lights.
The Green Party senator said that the traffic light at the Aldi junction in Westside, along the Seamus Quirke Road (pictured), was well known for motorists driving through on red lights.
Cyclists and pedestrian had no confidence or trust that motorists would stop at red lights, she said.
Councillor Frank Fahy (FG), a taxi driver, agreed and said that motorists were not just travelling through lights that were amber or turning red, they were speeding up and going through red lights seconds after they had turned red, he said.
He said that the former Headford Road roundabout junction with the Quincentenary Bridge was particularly bad for that type of dangerous behaviour.
Tommy Flaherty, community member of the JPC, again asked if CCTV technology could be used at certain junctions to detect motorists driving through red lights.
He said if the JPC and Gardaí gave the green light for this technology, it would deter those skipping red lights.
There were 52 incidents of drivers failing to stop at traffic lights up to the end of May. It represented no change on the same period last year.
Speeding offences had increased by 4% to 2,129 during that period, and there were 319 parking offences, up 8%.
There were 17 pedal cycle offences up to the end of May, compared with 26 during the same period last year.
Private security for Galway hospitals cost €34,000 per week
The HSE has confirmed it is now using in-house security again at Galway University Hospitals after it was confirmed it was spending €34,000 on average per week on private security guards.
More than €4m was spent on private security companies at University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park in the past two and a half years.
That includes €1.7m in 2020; €1.9m in 2021; and more than €800,000 this year up to the end of May.
Among the services offered by the private security guards was “close supervision of patients where required”.
The security guards were on duty at the main entrance to the public hospital at UHG, as well as in the Emergency Department.
They security companies provided services such as static officers, key holding, CCTV and alarm monitoring, mobile patrols on hospital grounds, and production of staff ID badges.
Ann Cosgrove, Chief Operations Officer of Saolta University Healthcare Group – which operates UHG and Merlin Park – said the company’s current contract was in its third year and there was an option to extend it for a further 12 months.
She said that there was a greater need for security at UHG but the figures also included Merlin Park.
County Councillor Daithí Ó Cualáin (FF) said on average the two hospitals were spending €34,000 on security per week.
He wondered whether they were trained and whether it was appropriate for security guards to be supervising patients.
Cllr Ó Cualáin said it might be cheaper and more appropriate to hire in-house security rather than to contract it out.
Ms Cosgrove said that the service provided was 24/7. She said that security guards are “not the first port of call” if a patient needs restraint – healthcare assistants would deal with those situations in the first instance. They were trained, however.
She confirmed that Saolta had hired about 14 full-time security guards for GUH in the past six to eight months to supplement the private security companies.
The savings made from these posts would be reviewed before a new contract for private security was tendered, she said.
‘Nitelink’ type service would be considered under review of Galway’s bus network
The National Transport Authority will consider a nighttime bus service as part of a review of bus services in Galway – branded the city “with the greatest transport problems” by the Minister for Transport.
Hugh Creegan, Deputy Chief Executive of the National Transport Authority (NTA), has confirmed that separate reviews will be carried out this year on the Galway bus network and also the Galway Transport Strategy.
“The public consultation process in respect of the Galway Bus Network Review will be undertaken separately from, and in advance of, any consultation associated with the planned review of the Galway Transport Strategy,” said Mr Creegan.
Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell said: “Galway is crying out for expanded bus services, particularly a night service.
“The people of Galway deserve a safe, affordable public transport option at night. People are coming and going from work, going home after a meal or a night out.
“The past year we have had a national conversation about women’s safety in public, and one thing that I have heard from women is that they feel unsafe getting around the city at night. Walking alone can be very intimidating and taxis are not always an option for everyone.
“A regular night bus service would alleviate this anxiety. It would also give an affordable option to those working in the night life sector.
“We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, and the price of fuel is a major contributor to that – people need real alternatives to using their car for every journey.
“We have seen bus services expanded in Dublin, with additional night routes being added. This commitment to providing a decent public transport service must be extended to the West.
“If we are ever going to start to tackle the climate crisis and the notorious traffic problems, we need to drastically improve the bus service in Galway, and give people a reliable, affordable, and frequent bus service,” the Sinn Féin TD said.
It comes as Minister Eamon Ryan again acknowledged the dire traffic situation in the city.
In the Dáil last week, Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív in the Dáil asked the Minister why the Transport Strategy was going to be reviewed before it was even implemented.
The programme for Government commits to implementing the Galway transport strategy, which was published as recently as 2016. My understanding is that the Minister has organised a review of this strategy before it is even implemented.
“Can the Minister outline why it was imperative that we would have a review of a strategy that was of recent gestation? Is the implementation of the existing strategy put on hold while we review this strategy and when will the review be completed?” asked the Fianna Fáil TD.
Those reviews are an ordinary statutory process. Those strategies tend to be reviewed every four years. That is a normal occurrence and it does not put on hold any existing plans within existing strategy. It is a normal process of assessing the latest information, including the census and other data material. I was in Galway recently to meet the local county council and city council.
“There is a recognition that of all our five cities, Galway is the one with the greatest transport problems and the greatest urgency. One of the things I said to Galway City Council was that it needs to come back on this and that we need acceleration projects that we can deliver in the next three years.
“Whatever about the big projects and long-term futures, the here and now is what is important to Galway. Advancing such things as BusConnects, active travel and other projects which we can deliver in a three-year time period is what I am keen to really push,” the Minister said.
Separately, Minister of State at the Department of Transport and Galway West TD, Hildegarde Naughton (FG), was told by constituency colleague Catherine Connolly (Ind) that she had “absolutely no confidence” that the NTA would carry out a feasibility study for light rail in Galway.
“The Minister of State will know that Galway is going under with traffic. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the country which is thriving in terms of employment but it is absolutely bogged down in traffic.
“There is no sense of urgency with the NTA. Absolutely none. It is 2022 and it is slowly looking at Park & Ride on one side of the city when in 2005 the elected members voted to roll out Park & Ride.
“A climate emergency was declared years ago now and then there is biodiversity yet we are still looking at unsustainable levels of traffic in Galway and no bold measures. I have absolutely no confidence that the NTA will carry out a feasibility study for light rail because it is clearly on record as saying that it will not suit Galway. Some 22,000 people signed a petition imploring the then-Minister to carry out a feasibility study.
“We cannot blame motorists if we do not offer them alternatives. We must lift the traffic off the road. I am a cyclist but we are getting bogged down in minutiae of small cycling, little stretches, without looking at the overall plan of a sustainable city with sustainable transport. People will move if we provide that,” said Deputy Connolly.
Minister Naughton said she shared the frustration about the progress on public transport options in Galway and that the NTA would present a strategy on Park & Ride to the city and county councils in July.