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Parents under pressure as schools plead for ‘voluntary contributions’

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Little more than one-third of hard-pressed parents across the county have coughed up the ‘voluntary contributions’ that schools claim they desperately need to make up for the shortfall in State funding.

That has forced schools to issue pre-Christmas begging letters – many of them asking for sums of €250 and over in order to qualify for a tax break of €174 from the State.

But households already reeling from demands from the Revenue for early payment the Local Property Tax are ignoring the requests in greater numbers than ever.

One leading Galway school confirmed to parents that just 36% have paid the contribution – another estimated their compliance percentage was even marginally lower.

Other schools are insisting on ‘administrative fees’ of up to €300 for first year students as a way of preventing parents from applying to numerous schools and then deciding at the last minute, leaving their other choices with lower student numbers after the academic year had already started.

Last year the National Parents Council (NPC) advised parents to concentrate on their children’s education and ignore the begging letters from schools.

Parents are feeling braver about resisting the charge in the wake of consistent comments from Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn.

As recently as September in answer to a question tabled by Galway West TD Seán Kyne, Minister Quinn reiterated that voluntary contributions by parents are permissible “provided it is made absolutely clear to parents that there is no question of compulsion to pay and that, in making a contribution, they are doing so of their own volition”.

He has stated several times that schools are not allowed to ask parents to pay voluntary contributions up front before their child has been allocated a place.

“Their collection should be such as not to create a situation where either parents or pupils could reasonably infer that the contributions take on a compulsory character,” he insisted in his written answer.

However parents still feel an enormous pressure to pay. Parents report in some cases that letters are being handed to students in the classroom which is drawing unwanted attention in front of their peers.

A survey by the NPC last year showed 42% of parents felt pressurised to pay the contributions.

The NPC’s Áine Lynch said the council is trying to send out a message to parents to dedicate their attention to their children’s education and ignore any pressure schools may put on them.

“It’s very important for parents to do this, not just buying their books and uniforms, but the psychological side of things, encouraging their children and preparing them for starting school. It can be difficult to do this if they’re struggling to cope with the anxiety of paying contributions.”

See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Passers-by save church from burning down

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The quick reaction of passers-by saved a Connemara church from being razed to the ground by fire.

Hill walkers who stopped off at St Joseph’s Church in Letterfrack on their way to climb Diamond Hill noticed a fire and smoke billowing from inside the building.

They immediately raised the alarm and alerted workers from Connemara National Park. They in turn rang Clifden Fire Brigade, who attended the scene and quenched the blaze.

Parish priest, Fr Anthaiah Pudota told the Connacht Tribune that the fire was started accidentally, possibly by a fallen candle in the church which was built in 1922.

He praised the people who raised the alarm quickly and thanked the workers for their bravery during efforts to bring the fire under control.

“My information was people who visited Connemara National Park raised the alarm. They were on the way to climb Diamond Hill and parked their cars to visit the church.

“I think it was a family who were visiting the area. It was an accidental fire. There is definitely significant damage. Wood was burned, and there was significant smoke damage, but it could have been worse.

“According to the CCTV footage, it happened around 1pm. Clifden Fire Brigade and workers from the National Park were very brave. The smoke inside was like a huge thick fog.

“It took them a while before they could enter. They had to break one of the doors, because the main door was closed. It was definitely very brave of them,” Fr Anathaiah said.

The fire was discovered quite quickly, he said, and so while the church was significantly damaged most of it centred on the candelabra area.

Ballinakill Parish Secretary in Letterfrack, Ann Cooke, thanked the local community and neighbouring parishes for good wishes and support.

“A very special note of thanks to the kind passer-by who raised the alarm, the National Park workers, and the emergency services, for their fast action and bravery, without all of whom the unfortunate event could have been much worse,” she said.

“Thank you all again for your support. Please God we will be able to come together in Letterfrack Church before long,” Ms Cooke added.

Fr Anathaiah, from India, will be two years in the rural Connemara parish of Ballinakill next month. He said that his parishioners have strong faith and are looking forward to the church reopening, but he could not confirm a date as yet.

Mass was said twice weekly, Sunday and Wednesday, at St Joseph’s up until the fire caused the damage at around 1pm on Friday July 22.

Fr Anathaiah said that services would now be said at Tullycross Church, about five kilometres away, for the foreseeable future.

“We are not quite sure at the moment (when it will reopen); we are waiting to see the extent of the damage. I can’t give an exact date, but we will definitely come back in the coming months,” Fr Anthaiah Pudota said.

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CITY TRIBUNE

GSPCA closes city centre charity shop permanently

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From the Galway City Tribune – It’s the end of an era for a popular animal charity shop that has shut up shop for good at its city centre base.

The Galway SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has confirmed that it has not renewed its lease on its premises at St Augustine Street, where its charity shop has been based for a number of years.

The popular shop that sold books, clothes and bric-a-brac closed in June due to a leak in the building. It was due to reopen within days, but it has not and will not be, according to the charity.

The GSPCA said they are looking for a new premises in the city.

A spokesperson confirmed that the lease on the building was due to finish soon anyway, but after a major leak, the GSPCA and the landlord mutually agreed to bring forward the lease termination by a number of months.

“We hope to be up and running at another location in due course,” a spokesperson said.

A register charity and not-for-profit organisation, GSPCA still has a retail presence in Athenry and Ballinasloe, which generate money to run the organisation.

Its fundamental aim for over 20 years has been to care for animals in need through neglect, abandonment, abuse or those at risk due to a change in circumstances.

Its main sanctuary is based in the county, between Killimor and Portumna; and its cattery is in Athenry.

The charity assisted over 700 cats, dogs and smaller animals during 2020. According to accounts filed with the Charity Regulator, the vast majority of its income comes from donations, but its shops are important income sources and the charity made over €86,000 income from “trading and commercial activities” in 2020.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Workers in Galway still waiting for ‘frontline’ payments

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From the Galway City Tribune – A number of workers in healthcare settings in Galway have yet to receive promised pandemic bonus payments for toiling on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Government had pledged each front-line worker would get a €1,000 payment as a thank you for contributing to the national effort during the pandemic.

But nine months on from when the Cabinet signed off on the payment, many local workers, including nurses and carers, particularly in private nursing homes, have received nothing.

Louis O’Hara, a general election candidate for Sinn Féin in Galway, labelled it as another broken promise by this Government.

“Workers here in Galway such as caterers, cleaners, security staff, agency staff and many more on the frontline in our local hospitals and healthcare settings have been contacting me to express their concern that they are still waiting for this payment,” he said.

“They are entitled to receive this payment, however the Government has failed to follow through on their promises and workers have been left in the lurch with no answers and no sense of urgency from the Government,” he said.

Mr O’Hara told the Galway City Tribune that the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, needed to clarify that the funding was still there to pay the staff.

He said a breakdown of figures for the number of staff in Galway that were not yet been paid was not available, but Sinn Féin has been inundated with complaints from workers – particularly agency staff and those in private nursing homes.

“Frontline workers in Galway have been let down badly by this Government’s failure to follow through on their promises. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Mr O’Hara said.

The party’s Health spokesperson has written to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, urging him to intervene directly to ensure this payment is paid promptly.

Minister Donnelly, in a recent reply to a Parliamentary Question in the Dáil, said priority was given to payment of eligible staff in hospital groups, such as Saolta, and community services within the HSE.

He said that the Department of Health was “examining progressing the rollout” to six groups of non-HSE and Non-Section 38 Agencies, who were included in the scheme.

These include eligible workers in private nursing homes and hospices; staff on-site in long-term residential care facilities for people with disabilities; agency staff working for the HSE; healthcare assistants such as home help, home care and home support staff contracted by the HSE; Defence Forces members redeployed to work “in front-line Covid-19 exposed environments in the HSE”; and paramedics employed by Dublin Fire Brigade.

This was a “complex task”, he said, because “these employees are not normally paid by the public health service, duplicate payments need to be avoided, and there are many organisations to be covered”.

This work was being given “priority attention” he said.

“Payment to eligible workers will be made as soon as possible,” Minister Donnelly added.

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