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Connacht Tribune

Love of music has Amy reaching for the stars

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Amy Harman

Lifestyle – Bassoonist Amy Harman grew up surrounded by politics as her mother Harriet Harman was deputy leader of the British Labour Party and her father Jack Dromey is also a Labour MP. But from childhood, music was her passion. As Amy prepares to perform at Music for Galway’s Midwinter Festival, she discusses performance, politics and Brexit with JUDY MURPHY.

Classical musicians often have a reputation for being formal and bound by the conventions of their profession, but Amy Harman is part of a new generation who believes in opening up the genre to a wider audience. She’s so dedicated to the cause that, for one production with the Birmingham Opera, the acclaimed bassoonist played her instrument flying high on a trapeze.

That was a few years ago, but London-born Amy says, “I’m delighted to be forever associated with being a flying soloist”.  And she will be bringing that attitude to Galway from January 17-19 when she’ll be taking part in the annual Music for Galway Midwinter Festival

The Birmingham gig was no easy task. It involved spending all day in a trapeze on the roof of a factory for a performance of an opera by the 20th Century German composer Stockhausen.

Stockhausen is a notoriously difficult composer, and “to memorise 45 minutes of his music is no easy feat”, Amy observes. Never mind performing it while flying high above the audience.

“It was nothing like anything anyone had seen before,” she recalls. But Amy points to her father as an example how this unusual approach attracted new fans to music that isn’t exactly regarded as easy listening.

“My dad said it was the best thing he’d ever seen.”

Amy’s dad is Labour MP Jack Dromey, who was raised in Kilburn in London but whose family roots are in Cashel, County Tipperary.

As a child, Amy holidayed regularly in Ireland and has previously visited Galway in a professional capacity, performing in a Music for Galway concert three years ago.

As she’s talking, her 18-month-old daughter, who “is very vocal”, is in the background vying for her attention, so Amy moves to another room, leaving the child in the care of her father, who’s also a musician.

“He’s a horn player and we met sitting next to each other as most people do in our line of work,” she says.

It was never a given that Amy would follow this line of work, because politics rather than music dominated her childhood.

Her mother Harriet Harman has been a leading light in the British Labour Party for decades, having served as its acting leader, deputy leader and as a minister under Tony Blair.  Harriet Harman is also a former Solicitor General for England and Wales and holds the title Mother of the House of Commons, as she’s its longest continuously-serving female MP.

In a Labour party riven by divided loyalties over Brexit, Amy’s parents were Remainers and her mother especially got a lot of flak in the right-wing UK media. Now that it’s all over and the date of Brexit is looming ever closer, Amy says “it’s all pretty dismal. It’s a real shame”.

But when it comes to politics, she prefers to observe rather than participate and much prefers music.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Minister rebuffs calls to lower air fares for islanders

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Efforts to extend reduced public transport fares to Galway’s offshore islands have been rebuffed again.

Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív (FF) has been campaigning for months to have reduced passenger fares that apply to public transport on the mainland, introduced to the islands.

The former Gaeltacht Minister had lobbied Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys on several occasions to extend the reduced fares to the Aran Islands and Inishbofin.

In the latest response to a Parliamentary Question tabled by Deputy Ó Cuív, Minister Humphreys has again resisted calls to extend the discounted fares to islanders.

In the reply she said that residents of Ireland’s 19 offshore islands already enjoy ferry fares that are at least 20% cheaper than visitors.

Minister Humphreys said, “any unilateral action to alter the terms of the existing contracts could represent a breach of contract and bring the entire procurement process into disrepute”. This, she argued, “could have a detrimental impact on the ongoing operation of these vital services”.

Minister Humphreys said that her Department, “will continue to examine ways of ensuring affordability and sustainability of island transport, both within existing contracts and in future”.

Deputy Ó Cuív suggested he had been led on a merry dance over the past few months and said the Minister never intended to reduce fares for islanders.

“It is now clear from this reply that the Minister, on advice from the Department, never intended reducing the passenger fares to the islands in line with the reduction in the rest of the country and that all the replies I got were just a push off without basis.  One of the things mentioned in previous replies was that subsidised services could not be in direct competition with non-subsidised services.  It is clear from the reply that the Department do not even know if such a situation exists,” Deputy Ó Cuív added.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway must ‘sort itself out on the tourism front’

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Galway risks losing its reputation as a go-to destination for Irish tourists unless the city’s ‘overall package’ is revitalised.

That’s according to a local councillor who says sky-high hotel prices and anti-social behaviour problems in the city were serving as a deterrent for would-be visitors.

Cllr Mike Crowe (FF) said as people became more prudent with their spending amid a cost-of-living crisis, few would be willing to fork out €500 for a weekend in Galway.

“People want to feel that they are getting some value and they’re certainly not feeling it this year.

“While it’s not only Galway where this is an issue, the prices are too high and people are more concerned with what they’re spending at the moment,” said Cllr Crowe.

A survey of available hotel rooms carried out by the Connacht Tribune this week showed that for two adults to share a double room in Galway City for the weekend of August 26 to 28, the average cost was €560.

The cheapest room available was at a hotel 7km outside the city centre, at a cost of €409 for the same two nights.

By comparison, the average room cost for the same weekend in Limerick was €450 – including a stay at a five-star hotel.

Dublin prices remain way above any of the regional cities, with punters expected to come up with more than €700 for even the most basic property for the last weekend in August.

However, Cllr Crowe said Galway had to stop the rot before the good work done to attract tourists prior to the pandemic was lost for good.

“The vast majority of people are not going to stay in any city where an ordinary weekend in August will cost them more than €300, not to mind €400 and €500.

“Put simply, people want to get a fair product for a fair price,” he said.

A proportion of hotel rooms were facilitating refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere, he said, which was reducing the overall number available and this was having an impact on supply, said Cllr Crowe.

In addition, the city had struggled to compete with the on-course entertainment provided for racegoers in July, with city centre businesses struggling as a result, he continued.

“What we’re offering here at the moment is not at the level it needs to be at. Ultimately, the rooms are too dear but that is just one factor – the city is too dirty as well.

“From an experience point of view, if you’re walking from Bohermore or College Road down through the spine of the city as far as Salmon Weir Bridge, the city is dirty. There are neglected buildings, gangs are drinking at various corners, there are issues with begging and all of that is acting as a deterrent,” said the Fianna Fáil councillor.

Galway was fortunate that representatives had worked for years to protect the business element in the city centre core, said Cllr Crowe, avoiding the problems faced by cities like Limerick and Cork where their shopping core was now located outside the city at suburban shopping centres.

“We have been lobbied for decades to ensure that the shopping experience was kept in town and we have done, but now all business owners need to step up and do their bit to keep the areas around their premises.

“The Environment Section in Galway City Council also needs to get the finger out and make sure the city is clean,” he said.

Cllr Crowe called for a joined-up approach, to include city councillors and the Council Executive, Gardaí, the tourism industry and local businesses.

“We all need to come together and look at what we’re offering as a city and I think if everyone was honest, they would say what we’re offering at the moment is not up to standard.

“We need to do it because if we don’t, the great progress that was made in the past will be lost,” he said.

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Connacht Tribune

Tesco urged to go for full Irish on new supermarket

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British retail giant Tesco has been urged to provide Irish-language self-service checkout tills at its new Galway Gaeltacht store.

The company acquired nine Joyce’s Supermarkets across Galway earlier this year and is in the process of rebranding and redesigning them as Tesco stores.

Among the supermarkets is ‘Siopa an Phobail’ in Indreabhán, in the Conamara Gaeltacht.

Conradh na Gaeilge this week urged Tesco to provide an Irish language self-service checkout at its Indreabhán store, which is the first-ever Tesco in the Gaeltacht.

Bearna-based Irish language news agency, Tuairisc.ie reported that Conradh na Gaeilge has recommended Irish-language self-service checkouts be installed in Indreabhán, similar to those available in Welsh-speaking areas of Wales.

Tesco has bilingual signs at its Galway City stores and issues bilingual press releases.

A spokesperson for Tesco Ireland confirmed to the Connacht Tribune that it has engaged with Údarás na Gaeltachta about taking over the Indreabhán shop and petrol station.

“We have begun the process to rebrand and redesign the Joyce’s Supermarkets as Tesco stores across Galway which will take place on a phased basis over the coming months. We’re delighted to confirm that in line with our community ethos, we will continue to operate Siopa an Phobail at Indreabhán.

“We are engaged with Údarás na Gaeltachta to ensure we’re responding to the needs of the Gaeltacht community and how best to support our new colleagues and customers as our integration begins,” a Tesco Ireland spokesperson said.

She said that services provided at Indreabhán, including the petrol filling station will be retained.

“During the transition process, we will be delighted to welcome employees from Joyce’s stores to the Tesco team.

We will continue to keep customers and communities updated on the impact of refurbishment on store operations. We look forward to opening our Tesco store at Indreabhán later this year and thank the customers and communities for their patience while refurbishment works are carried out. We look forward to serving the community for many years to come,” she added.

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