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Man walks free after victim loses sense of taste and smell in assault

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A man who caused a car salesman to lose his sense of taste and smell following a one-punch assault, walked free from court after paying his victim a substantial, undisclosed sum of money.

Judge Rory McCabe said he would not record a conviction against Erwin O’Toole (36), from Menlo, but instead bound him to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for 18 months in lieu of an 18-month prison sentence.

O’Toole pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court in March to assaulting Adrian Fahy (36), from Ballindooley, causing him harm at 4 Aces Casino, Dominick Street, on July 20, 2014.

Defence barrister, John Hogan BL, who represented O’Toole under the Free Legal Aid scheme, said at the time that while his client was pleading guilty to the assault he wanted an independent medical assessment of the injured party’s injuries.

Mr Hogan said two medical reports for the prosecution stated the victim had lost his sense of taste and smell due to the attack and had also suffered irreparable nerve damage to the affected area.

The barrister applied to the court for an extension of the Free Legal Aid certificate so that his client could have another surgeon examine the victim’s scans after contending that the complaint of a loss of taste and smell was of a very subjective nature and based solely on one consultant reading a scan.

Prosecuting barrister, Conor Fahy objected to the application at the time. saying there were no grounds for the application apart from suspicion. He said the victim’s GP had confirmed he had perfect taste and smell prior to the assault.

Judge McCabe disagreed and he extended the Free Legal Aid certificate to cover the cost of getting another surgeon to examine the scan and provide a report.

Sentence was adjourned to June and then again to last week to await the outcome of the medical findings.

Mr Hogan informed the court that the defence would not be pursuing the medical reports any further.

He said his client had accepted his culpability “100%”, and was truly sorry for what he did.

Garda Evan McKenna told the hearing O’Toole came up behind Mr Fahy in the casino’s smoking area around 6am on the morning in question and struck him one blow on the back of the head with his fist.

The victim was rendered unconscious and was taken to UHG. He was treated for his injury and was released a few hours later.

He felt disorientated for a few days and went back to his GP complaining of headaches and difficulty chewing his food. It later transpired he had lost his sense of taste and smell as a result of the blow.

Garda McKenna confirmed a CT scan was normal. There was no evidence of a fracture or damage to the sinuses.

It did indicate, however, that the victim had suffered a brain trauma as the nerves which provide the sense of taste and smell were torn by the punch and would never recover.

Mr Fahy’s victim impact statement was read to the court.

It stated he remembered waking up in hospital and felt dazed and confused for a couple of days. He had lost his sense of taste and smell following the attack.

“I know he didn’t intend to cause the serious injury I received from the blow. I feel he has learnt his lesson and I do not want to see him go to jail,” the victim said in his statement.

Mr Hogan said the assault occurred following a complete misunderstanding on his client’s part about the sale of a car between the parties.

The barrister handed references from Councillor Padraig Conneely and David O’Donnell from Cancer Care West and from a building contractor into court.

He said his client came from a very decent family. He lived at home and had recently started a job in research and development. He had written a letter of apology to the victim last April in which he had expressed his deep remorse.

Mr Hogan informed the court his client had taken out a loan and had also received a loan from his mother in order to pay a substantial sum of money to the victim.

He asked the court not to reveal the amount involved in open court.

In reply to Judge McCabe, Mr Hogan said the compensation was already paid over to Mr Fahy and no further (civil) proceedings would issue against his client.

A very positive probation report on O’Toole was handed into court.

Judge McCabe said this was a drink-fuelled, unanticipated assault which may have had a foundation in some dispute or dissatisfaction over the purchase of a car.

Such disputes, he said, are usually resolved in civil courts and do not result in life-changing injury, as had happened in this case.

This, he said, had been a one-punch incident and there was little doubt O’Toole had no intention of harming his victim in the way he did.

He said O’Toole may have felt provoked but that was no defence and it was probably fuelled by alcohol.

The judge said the victim’s impact statement was “extraordinarily fair” towards the accused.

He noted O’Toole was genuinely remorseful and posed a low risk of reoffending.

The judge said the accused had compensated the victim to the satisfaction of the victim and taking his previous good record and genuine remorse into account, he said he would not record a conviction against him.

In lieu of an 18-month sentence, Judge McCabe gave O’Toole a conditional discharge, binding him to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for 18 months

Connacht Tribune

More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway

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More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.

Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.

Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996.  Both men remain in custody.

A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.

A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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Connacht Tribune

Joint move by Galway councils to Crown Square ruled out

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A senior Department of Housing official floated the idea of Galway County Council workers moving to Galway City Council’s newly-acquired Crown Square office building if a merger of the two local authorities was to proceed.

However, he was told the proposed merger of Galway’s two councils was not being pursued “at this stage”, and that it “should not be a consideration” when deliberating on the City Council’s application to the Department for a €45.5m loan approval to buy the offices in Mervue, on the eastern side of the city.

The discussion was contained in internal communications between officials in the Department of Housing and Local Government who were discussing Galway City Council’s loan sanction application. It was released to the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

Gary McGuinn, the Department’s Assistant Principal Officer for Local Government Governance and Elected Members – in a comprehensive memo about the Council’s loan application – raised the prospect of what would happen if a merger between the two councils proceeded.

“Over the years there have been merger proposals for Galway City Council and Galway County Council. These proposals ultimately never advanced but I believe that there has been incrementally closer coordination between both executives.

“Galway is now something of a holdout given that mergers have taken place in Limerick and Waterford, while the boundary issue was settled in Cork by extending it to encompass the city suburbs and outlying districts.

“Both Galway City Council and Galway County Council have office premises in Galway city centre. On a purely speculative note, one could ponder what would happen to the new City Hall building that they want to borrow to fund if there is an eventual merger?

“Possibly it would become the HQ for a ‘Galway Metropolitan District’ structure within a single ‘City and County’ type local authority. As there is no such proposal at this time though it’s probably not something that can be asked about or planned for,” Mr McGuinn said to his colleague, Tim Nuttall, an official in the Department’s Local Government Finance section.

His views were forwarded to another section within the Department of Housing last September, just before Minister Darragh O’Brien sanctioned the loan application last September.

In response, another civil servant in the Department of Housing, Áinle Ní Bhriain, said: “I can confirm there are no plans to pursue a merger of Galway City Council and Galway County Council, which was approved by Government in 2018, at this stage, and therefore should not be a consideration in relation to this loan.”

Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, confirmed two days before Christmas Eve last year, that the deal to buy the property from JJ Rhatigan was complete.

City Council workers are due to move to the new building by the end of this year.

In its loan application, the City Council said its College Road site, built 40 years ago, and refurbished and extended in the 2000s, had a number of “challenges”.

These included “limited capacity for additional headcount, lack of facilities within current infrastructure, building standard compliance and meeting our existing building climate targets for 2030”.

It pointed out to the Department that it leases two buildings in the city centre, to accommodate staff as well as City Hall, and buying Crown Square “will address the challenges outlined in the most efficient and cost-effective way and release our current City Hall, city centre site for regeneration”.

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Connacht Tribune

Hotel sector’s plea to retain lower VAT rate

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With overseas visitors down more than a quarter and increases of 300% in energy bills compared to before the pandemic, now is not the time to hike VAT rates for hospitality.

That is the plea from the chairperson of the Galway branch of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), John Ryan, who is urging the Government to keep the 9% VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sectors indefinitely.

The Government delayed the introduction of a 13.5% rate until March 1 at a cost of €250 million to help the sector get back on its feet after Covid.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohue referred to price gouging in hotels over the summer as one of the key reasons he was upping the rate.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin last week stated that it was no secret she had sought the retention of the 9% rate in negotiations for the 2023 Budget and “will continue to seek it”.

The lobby group for small to medium business, ISME, has called for the reduced VAT rate to be brought in for the entire services sector.

The owner of the Ardilaun Hotel in Taylor’s Hill said the average price of a hotel room was €167 last year. With 4,000 rooms in Dublin booked out to accommodate refugees, the price of the remaining stock was at a premium.

“You could find a couple of examples all over the country where people were charging unfair prices and were wrong. There were a few serious spikes – maybe 1% of overall accommodation stock in Dublin did that. If I was a customer I wouldn’t pay it,” Mr Ryan said.

“But they shouldn’t penalise the entire sector because of that 1%. The 9% is the right one. We would be the same as other countries where tourism is a key industry. If we went up to 13.5%, we’d be the second highest after Denmark.

“We couldn’t absorb that. We have already contracted our foreign business for 2024/25 – we’d have to go out and tell suppliers we are putting up rates. That’s just not on.”

With almost all key tourism markets experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, the last thing the industry can cope with is a tax jump.

Of 27 EU countries, the VAT rate on accommodation is 9% or lower in 16 countries.

Tourism supports 22,000 jobs throughout Galway, generating €910 million in tourism revenues annually for the local economy.

Last year the average room occupancy levels were 69% for the West, just 1% lower than national rates. Over the same period in 2019, however, room occupancy was at 78% nationally.

This is largely due to a shortfall in overseas visitors to Ireland, with numbers still down more than 25% last year compared to 2019.

A recent survey found that hotels and guesthouses were reporting reduced levels of forward bookings compared to the same time in 2019.

Some 57% report reduced bookings from Great Britain, 48% say bookings are down from Northern Ireland, while 37% record fewer bookings from the rest of Europe. US bookings are down 41%.

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