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Connacht Tribune

Long-awaited ‘Bish’ relocation takes step forward

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The long-awaited move of St Joseph’s College (the Bish) from Nuns’ Island took a step forward this week as a design team was appointed to draw up plans for what will be a 1,000-pupil school on a site in Dangan, adjacent to the NUI Galway campus – with the move expected to take place by 2025.

Principal John Madden said this was the first step in a long journey, but all at the school were “absolutely delighted” that plans to move to a site big enough for its 760 pupils were moving forward.

“The design team is talking about probably five years [before a new school opens] because it will take time to get everything in line – they must first identify a number of designs. They then have to be brought to the Department of Education to sanction it, and that could take up to a year.

“Then it must go for planning permission and that process takes time,” said Mr Madden.

The Bish was a flagship school for the Patrician Brothers worldwide, he said, and while it would be moving out of the city centre after 158 years, they would be ensuring to take the school’s long-held tradition of excellence in education with them.

The school had outgrown the 1970s-build in Nuns’ Island and in order to adapt to the needs of students in the future, by expanding subject choice and offering on-site sports facilities, a move was necessary, said Mr Madden.

“Because of a lack of space, we haven’t been able to offer our students practical subjects. We are awaiting temporary accommodation so we can offer Home Economics and Technology to our first years next year and we have been able to offer Art, Music, Spanish and Graphics for this years’ first years.

“It is great for students to get as broad an education as is possible and to enable them to make choices, rather than be confined to a limited number of subjects. That has worked well for us in the past, but we want to offer choice in the future,” he said.

Plans for the Bish to move to Dangan were first mooted 20 years ago and despite a major setback in 2005 – when city councillors voted not to rezone lands necessary for the development – a change to the City Development Plan in 2017 has enabled plans to progress.

A land-swap is understood to be the basis of proposals, with NUIG to take ownership of the site at Nuns’ Island if the move goes ahead. NUIG and Galway City Council are currently engaged in developing a regeneration masterplan for the wider Nuns’ Island area.

Meanwhile, Mr Madden said Covid-19 had put in focus the lack of space at their current site, with social distancing requiring the setting up of additional classrooms on- and off-site.

“Up to three weeks ago, we were operating from four buildings around the city. We’ve since been able to add four classrooms on-site by converting an old bus garage, a bike shed and a weights room. We’re also leasing the Presentation Building on Presentation Road for our sixth year students.

“We had Nuns’ Island theatre on the go for a few weeks too, and we have been using the monastery building across the road [from the school] for a number of years, which had allowed us to grow our student numbers up to 700. The building we’re in was built for about 500 students,” said Mr Madden.

Connacht Tribune

Unauthorised developments in County Galway go unchecked for months

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The Planning Enforcement Section of Galway County Council is so understaffed that complaints of unauthorised developments are not being investigated for months, the Connacht Tribune has learned.

In one case, a complaint alleging a house was under construction in a picturesque and environmentally sensitive part of Conamara without planning permission was not investigated by the Council for at least six months.

And it can be revealed that there is a ‘large’ backlog of complaints of unauthorised developments in the county, which the Planning Enforcement Section at County Hall has blamed on staff shortages, according to correspondence obtained by the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

In response to repeated requests by a concerned member of the public to intervene and investigate an allegation of unauthorised development in an environmentally protected area of Conamara, the Council’s Planning Department indicated it was too stretched.

“Unfortunately, the planning enforcement section is experiencing a period of prolonged staff shortages and consequently there are a large number of files awaiting investigation/review,” it said.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Access Centre provides pathways to University of Galway for the disadvantaged

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Photo of Imelda Byrne

Great leaps have been made in recent years to make access to tertiary level education a realistic prospect for once marginalised groups in society.

With the deadline for CAO applications approaching next week, the Access Centre at the University of Galway is aiming to reach as many underrepresented groups as possible ahead of next academic term.

Head of the Access Centre, Imelda Byrne (pictured), said research has shown that those who once felt third level ‘wasn’t for them’ are increasing their presence at UG, and bringing a richness to the sector that had for a long time been missing.

In the five years up to 2021, there was a 100% increase in the number of students registering for the Disability Support Service at the university, while those coming from Further Education and Training courses in institutes like GTI had surged by 211% over four years.

“The message that we really need to get out there is that the CAO is not the only route into third level. There are a number of pathways,” says Imelda.

“There are loads of places set aside for students coming from a place of disadvantage,” she continues, whether it’s national schemes such as the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) for socio-economic disadvantage; or the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE); or the university’s own programme for mature students.

Those places are there to ensure those from all backgrounds get an opportunity to reach their education potential, tapping into hugely talented groups that once may have missed that opportunity.

“What we have seen is that when they get that opportunity, they do just as well if not better than other students,” continues Imelda.

For HEAR and DARE scheme applicants, and for those hoping to begin higher education as a mature student, next Wednesday’s CAO deadline is critically important.

But beyond the CAO applications, the Access Programme will open up in March to guide prospective students, whatever challenges they are facing, into third level.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway County Council ‘missing out on millions’ in derelict sites levies

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Photo of Cloonabinnia House

Galway County Council is missing out on millions of euro in untapped revenue due to a failure to compile a complete Derelict Sites Register.

That’s according to Galway East Sinn Féin representative, Louis O’Hara, who this week blasted the news that just three properties across the whole county are currently listed on the register.

As a result, Mr O’Hara said the Derelict Sites Levy was not being utilised effectively as countless crumbling properties remained unregistered – the levy amounts to 7% of the market value of the derelict property annually.

The former general election candidate said Galway County Council was ill-equipped to compile a proper list of derelict sites and called on Government to provide the necessary resources to tackle the scourge of dereliction across.

“There are still only three properties listed on Galway County Council’s Derelict Sites Register . . . anyone in Galway knows that this does not reflect the reality on the ground and more must be done to identify properties, and penalise owners who fail to maintain them,” said Mr O’Hara.

The situation was compounded by the fact that the Council failed to collect any of the levies due to them in 2021.

“This is deeply concerning when we know that dereliction is a blight on our communities. Derelict sites attract rats, anti-social behaviour and dumping, and are an eyesore in many of our local towns and villages.”

“The Derelict Sites Levy should be used as a tool by local authorities to raise revenue that can then be utilised to tackle dereliction, but they are not adequately resourced to identify and pursue these property owners,” said Mr O’Hara.

(Photo: The former Cloonabinnia House Hotel is on the Derelict Sites Register).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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