From this week’s Galway City Tribune: Large-scale events set to take place as part of Galway 2020 could be under threat due to difficulties securing insurance.
Such is the urgency of the issue that the Government has established a cross-departmental committee to compile a report on its potential impact.
Green Party councillor Pauline O’Reilly said spiralling costs, coupled with significant changes to the insurance market due to Brexit, means local community and voluntary groups face the prospect of pulling events because of a lack of protection against public liability.
“I believe it is a concern for Galway 2020 and for the City Council,” said Cllr O’Reilly.
“I know lots of groups who perform and do classes with children that are unable to get insured. And there’s also an issue with Brexit; lots of these groups had insurance with UK insurance companies which are no longer operating in the Irish market.”
One group in Galway could still get cover from the UK-based company they were insured with, but the cost had trebled, added Cllr O’Reilly.
City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, said this issue was not unique to 2020, but had come about because of insurance providers withdrawing from the market.
“It has been highlighted at the highest possible level and has the potential to impact events across the country,” said Mr McGrath.
The Council had been in contact with Irish Public Bodies (IPB) insurance which provides public liability and buildings cover to local authorities to discuss the problem, he added.
Cllr O’Reilly said while it was a national problem, it was more significant for Galway due to the sheer number of public events due to be run by community and voluntary groups in 2020.
Teenager caught with €20,000 worth of cannabis
A teenager was stopped and searched by Gardaí in Eyre Square on Monday evening, and found in possession of an estimated €20,000 worth of cannabis.
Members of the Galway Divisional Drugs Unit stopped the man, aged in his late teens, at around 6pm and searched him under the Misuse of Drugs Act. During the search the man was found in possession of a €20,000 of suspected cannabis herb. The drugs seized will be sent for forensic analysis.
He was arrested and detained at Garda Headquarters in Renmore and was released from custody this morning. A file is now being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
‘Crass stupidity’ to allow Leisureland close
The looming threat of closure for Leisureland after Christmas amounts to “crass stupidity” and requires an urgent commitment for funding from Government, according to a local TD.
Deputy Catherine Connolly told the Galway City Tribune she had raised the issue in the Dáil with the Minister of State for Local Government and he had expressed an openness to meeting with a delegation from City Hall in relation to the City Council-owned facility’s dire financial situation.
“It’s simply not acceptable that a public swimming pool would close when we have the Minister for Finance announcing a budget of €18 billion this week – that’s Monopoly money.
“We have €18 billion to dispense and the challenge is to do that in a way that ensures a basic level of services below which we cannot go, and that requires funding the local authority. The local authority is fundamental in any civilised society, as are the services it provides,” said the Independent Deputy.
Raising the issue in Leinster House, Deputy Connolly said that Leisureland was an excellent public facility that had been open since 1973 and had broke even for the last number of years, but had run into major funding shortfalls as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It is a fantastic swimming pool. I must declare a conflict of interest as I use it every weekend, It helps to keep me semi-sane and semi-fit.
“No public swimming pool makes money and few of them break even. This pool needed money due to Covid-19 and the difficulties experienced by every public swimming pool in the country. The management in the City Council said it was not in a position to give it money and that the swimming pool would have to close,” said Deputy Connolly, adding that the decision had been made and staff were informed.
Due to public pressure and resistance from local councillors, the decision was reversed and €207,000 in funding had been provided by the Council Executive.
“However, it pointed out that the money was coming out of next year’s budget, so it could not continue, and it would not be in a position to fund it.
“I do not expect miracles, but I expect commitment from the Minister and the Government that, regardless of what happens, we are not going to close public swimming pools or public libraries. They are essential services,” said Deputy Connolly.
She said €2.5 million in funding had been made available for “swimming pools with public access” in the private sector as part of the Government’s July Stimulus package, but nothing for publicly-owned facilities.
“It is very ironic if we are going to keep private swimming pools open once they have some limited access to the public, while we close down the public swimming pools,” she added.
Responding, Minister Peter Burke said his Department was keeping spending and cash flow at local authorities under constant review and would continue to work with Galway City Council to address issues.
“My Department is engaging with representatives of the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the financial challenges facing local authorities as a direct consequence of the pandemic, in terms of additional costs incurred as part of the local government response and decline in local authority income streams.
“I will do my very best with regard to the Deputy’s ask. I would be willing to meet a delegation from the City Council in connection with this issue. However, there are going to be significant asks emanating from this crisis. We are doing our very best to make what we have go as far as it can. It presents a major challenge,” said Minister Burke.
HSE not paying rent to councils for use of Galway Airport
Galway Airport is being provided to the Health Service Executive (HSE) free of charge, the County Council has confirmed.
The Carnmore facility, jointly owned by Galway’s two local authorities, is being used as a drive through Covid-19 testing centre for the city and county.
It was confirmed to County Councillor Gabe Cronnelly (Ind) that neither the City nor County Council are benefiting financially from the HSE for the use of the facility. And he wasn’t happy.
He said Galway Airport was being given over to the HSE free-of-charge, at a time when the County Council budget was in deficit to the tune of €1.4 million at the latest count.
“The HSE isn’t paying anything to use the airport for testing. If it was the other way round, and the County Council was looking for something off the HSE, do you think that they would give it to the Council for nothing?” asked Cllr Cronnelly.
“They pay zero to us; yet we have a big deficit in the budget and Galway is the second-worst funded county council in Ireland. Why are we being so generous with our assets? Our budget is short again this year. We seem to have become a bit of a charity.”
Cllr Cronnelly said that not only was it not making money out of the airport, the County Council was actually spending money on holding meetings elsewhere, because County Hall cannot facilitate a socially distanced meeting.
He suggested that Galway Airport would be capable of facilitating a meeting of 39 councillors plus officials and media – and it would cost the local authority very little because it owns the site.
“It seems to me that there is an awful lot of waste of money going on,” he added.