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Connacht Tribune

Merger of City and County Council ‘makes no sense’

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Catherine Connolly

The proposed amalgamation of Galway City and County Councils will not save any money – because the local authorities are operating on a very limited budget already.

That’s what Deputy Catherine Connolly told the Dáil last week, adding that the last review saw the Government increase the number of city councillors to 18 and to 39 on the County Council.

“As I understand it and I am open to correction on this, not one of the 18 councillors, who are very important stakeholders, was in support of this proposal,” she said.

“I went forward and made a verbal submission. I regretted having to go to a private hotel to do that – which is an instance of what happens – rather than that taking place in a public building.

“I raised my concerns. I do not believe any one of those 18 councillors said this was good and each and every one of them engaged with the process.

“If the Government is going to have a consultation process and 99% of the combined councillors are saying not to do this, and the Government goes ahead and does it, what kind of democracy is that?” she asked.

Independent Deputy Noel Grealish said if the Bill was railroaded through this House and the merger of the two local authorities goes ahead, Galway will lose its status and the mayoral position.

“A mayor is one of the most important positions that a city can have and the mayoral position in Galway is truly historic,” he said.

“When important visitors come to Galway, including prospective investors brought to the county by the IDA, they always meet the mayor.

“How will it be possible to have a chairman of a super local authority with up to 57 members, as well as a municipal district of Galway city and a mayor for the city? That is not going to work. It is not working in Limerick or Waterford,” he added.

Deputy Grealish said the Bill made no reference to the crucial issues of funding or staffing, which will directly impact on the success or failure of any amalgamation of Galway city and county councils.

“In 2018, Galway City Council had a budget of €994 per person, down from €1,312 in 2008, while Galway County Council had a budget of €626 per person, down from €1,004 in 2008/ An amalgamated authority would have a budget of €738 per capita, which compares poorly with the €1,000 per capita available in other comparable local authorities,” he said.

Galway, he said, is a unique county, with a big city as well as rural and sparsely populated areas.

“Connemara and the areas stretching from Glenamaddy to Portumna are so different. There is a wealth of history in the city itself, with Christopher Columbus numbered among visitors in the past.

“Galway City Council currently collects significant revenue through business rates and funds services differently from the county council.”

However, Minister of State Seán Kyne said there is existing co-operation between city and county, including libraries and fire services, and there is very easy potential to be realised on roads and the arts.

“These include the Galway city ring road, which would be a joint effort between the councils, although there is agreement that it is being led by the County Council. The sewerage system on Mutton Island is serving some of the county as well in Barna and Oranmore, where there are connections,” he said.

“We must ensure in any amalgamation, if it happens, that there would be stronger municipal districts with power and a set budget. In an amalgamation, there should be a dispersal of funding to the peripheral areas as well.”

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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