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New halting site in the pipeline for Travellers

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A new halting site and houses for Travellers will be built in the city within the next two years, Galway City Council is proposing.

The local authority’s Traveller Accommodation Plan identifies sites in Ballybane, Doughiska and Knocknacarra to meet the needs of the city’s Traveller population.

The plan wasn’t discussed as planned at last week’s Council meeting, but a local senator and General Election candidate issued a statement which forced the issue of Traveller accommodation onto the political agenda.

Independent Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has questioned the logic of spending €11 million on one of the sites earmarked for Traveller housing.

The Traveller accommodation issue came to prominence again in recent weeks when several families moved to an unauthorised site in Knocknacarra, before camping outside City Hall and now to Ballyloughane Beach in Renmore.

The families, including about 15 adults and 20 children, brought their caravan cavalcade to Millar’s Lane following their eviction from outside the Barna Waste facility on the Headford Road on January 22.

In a briefing circulated to councillors, Director of Services, Tom Connell said the housing needs of the families would be addressed through homeless services.

“The families concerned have relatively recently come onto the housing waiting list . . . the City Council will continue to seek and find suitable accommodation for the families through the current social housing measures that are available.

“It should be noted that there are existing members of the Travelling community who have been on the Council’s waiting list for a considerable period and there must be fairness and equality in addressing and meeting their needs and in respecting their position on the waiting list. There is no one solution to deal with the housing needs of the Travelling community. It will require an integrated approach with a variety of housing measures and this will require time to deliver,” said Mr Connell.

He outlined plans for the development of a six or eight bay halting site at land recently acquired by the Council at Ballybane will be advanced.

He said the Council will also prepare and advance plans for a mix of social and voluntary houses along with Traveller-specific accommodation on the Doughiska Road, opposite the existing halting site.

Mr Connell said an objective of the Council’s is the development of a “Traveller-specific group housing scheme” on land it owns at Keeraun on the Ballymoneen Road. Existing halting sites will also be refurbished, he said.

The fresh plans for the Knocknacarra site have drawn the ire of Senator Healy Eames who has questioned the Council’s competence to deliver value for money for taxpayers, and a “fair outcome” to the 4,500 households on the city’s housing waiting list.

She said the Keeraun site was purchased by the Council in 2008 for €11 million, which equates to €1.4 million per acre.

“A portion of the land can’t be developed at all because of its environmental status and the proposed route of the city bypass cuts through this land, which means only between 10 and 13 houses can be developed at this site,” she said.

Senator Healy Eames it was a “laudable purpose” to purchase the land but the emerging picture is that if the site is developed, each of the new homes will cost “in excess of €1 million each”.

This would be a “flagrant abuse of taxpayers’ money and very poor planning”.

She has called on the City Council to clarify the price paid for the land, whether it is in a Special Area of Conservation and whether the bypass will cut through it.

“We need answers now in fairness to the ratepayers and taxpayers who paid for it,” she added.

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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