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Connacht Tribune

Plan could bring hundreds of vacant homes back to life



A new system aimed at bringing empty homes back into use for social housing – which could be refurbished and ‘turned around’ in a matter of weeks – has identified more than 130 such properties in Galway. – a portal which allows people to anonymously log possible vacant properties which can then be inspected by local authorities – has identified 93 ‘empties’ in Co Galway and a further 41 in Galway City. They are amongst around 2,000 nationally.

Tom Gilligan, the architect of the website and a Director of Services with Mayo County Council, told the Connacht Tribune that it would be much faster to bring empties back into use than delivering new builds, due to the lengthy planning process.

“The planning process can take months, but it would be possible with an empty to bring it back in weeks.

“What we’re doing is providing information to housing associations and local authorities that these are vacant homes and could be brought back into use,” said Mr Gilligan.

While the website has recorded more than 130 empties in Galway, these would appear to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ – Census 2016 recorded 10,279 empty homes in County Galway and a further 3,681 empty holiday homes (which equates to around one in every five homes). In Galway City, the Census recorded 3,671 empties, of which 193 were holiday homes.

Michael Owens, Director of Services for Housing with Galway County Council said other local authorities have found the Census figures to be “overstated”.

Tom Gilligan pointed out that the Census is just a snapshot of a particular moment in time, and the figures are now two-and-a-half years old.

“We firmly believe that local people have the local knowledge and we are using technology in order to provide a solution to vacant homes. Vacant housing stock is one of the best ways to address [social housing] needs, the potential there cannot be ignored.

“What we’re trying to do is tap into the local knowledge and try to get homes back into use. This isn’t just a housing issue – there is a climate, economic, social and community aspect to it, in terms of dereliction and anti-social behaviour and local jobs,” said Mr Gilligan.

He said that vacant houses could be used to deliver social housing faster than new builds.

“A vacant house could be brought back in weeks,” he said.

See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Marine Institute expresses concerns over outbreak on fish farm



A power outage, and deadly disease, killed tens of thousands of fish in separate incidents on two County Galway salmon farms last year, new reports show.

Among the diseases killing farmed salmon in Galway in 2022 was salmonid rickettsial septicaemia (SRS), which both the Marine Institute and Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages both agree is a cause of concern.

The entire stock of smolts held by Salmon Springs Limited at Bunatubber, Corrandulla, were wiped out during an incident on February 11 and 12 last year.

According to a mortality report submitted by the company to the Fish Health Unit of the Marine Institute, 100% of stock was killed due to a system failure. They died by asphyxia, although the total number of mortalities was not included.

The Marine Institute clarified to the Connacht Tribune that these mortalities “were associated with a power outage resulting in the loss of otherwise healthy fish on site”.

Meanwhile, disease killed 30% of stock at Bradan Beo Teoranta fish farm at Ardmore in Cill Chiaráin Bay in Conamara.

There was a stock level of 680,000 salmon there in October and November of 2021, but two disease incidents wiped out 204,000 of them, according to a veterinary inspection form.

The first disease problem of 2022 at that site hit in May and June, when Amoebic gill disease affected the livestock.

Then in August, a disease known as Piscirickettsia also impacted on the level of stock at the site. The reports did not say which of the two diseases was responsible for the greater mortalities at Ardmore last year.

The mortality and veterinary reports were obtained by the campaign group Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages (GBASC) under Access to Information on the Environment Regulations, which is similar to Freedom of Information.

GBASC said that this was the first occasion Piscirickettsia had been indentified on a salmon or trout farm in Ireland.

It said the bacterial disease, also called salmonid rickettsial septicaemia (SRS), was a “cause of high mortalities” on Irish salmon farms.

“We fear this new fish disease, on top of the ones that are already endemic on Irish salmon farms, will have further devastating effect on our wild salmon and sea trout stocks,” said Billy Smyth, chairperson of GBASC.

SRS is not a notifiable disease, and so records of mortalities and outbreaks are voluntarily recorded. GBASC said it fears that the true extent of the losses associated with SRS is higher due to under-reporting of mortalities.

The Marine Institute confirmed to the Connacht Tribune that it was addressing concerns about SRS, which is affecting salmon farms here and around the world.

It is caused by the bacteria Piscirickettsia salmonis and can lead to significant mortality rates in farmed salmon if not diagnosed and treated early.

A spokesperson said SRS was not new, was first reported in Chile in the 1980s and has since become a significant cause of mortality in salmon farms worldwide. In Ireland, SRS was first observed in 1991 and “has recently become increasingly associated with disease and mortality on Irish salmon farms”. Antibiotic treatment can be effective if the disease is diagnosed early, and it poses no risk to human health.

The Marine Institute said it has taken several steps to support the control of SRS.

This includes “a molecular method for the rapid and specific detection” of the bacteria, allowing vets to make early diagnoses; it is also developing this method to allow accurate quantification of levels of bacteria.

“The Marine Institute is proposing further work in collaboration with academic partners and industry to develop more rapid and informative diagnoses, as well as the potential development of a vaccine. The Marine Institute recognises SRS as a significant health challenge for the Irish salmon industry.

“The Institute has a long track record of working with industry to address such challenges and will continue to do so to minimise the risks and impacts of SRS on Irish salmon farms,” a spokesperson said.

It said treatment is by two specific antibiotics, authorised by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), depending on the life stage of the fish.

“These are administered by medicated feed and are generally effective,” a Marine Institute spokesperson added.

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Connacht Tribune

Safety fears abound over Aran Island’s top attraction



There appears to be no resolution in sight to address serious safety concerns at Inis Mór’s leading tourist attraction.

Galway West Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív told the Connacht Tribune that an issue related to parking for various modes of transport continued to frustrate residents and visitors to Inis Mór – and a solution must be found.

“This issue seems to be going on forever,” said Deputy Ó Cuív of the issues at Dún Aonghasa.

“There is a real danger given the large number of people that visit the area and what’s required is improved parking spaces for buses, horse carriages and bicycles at the entrance to the Dún Aonghasa site.

“It also needs to be taken into account that we need to separate horses from buses, and to separate those from cyclists and pedestrians,” said the Fianna Fáil TD.

The lack of sufficient parking was creating gridlock and posing a risk to people travelling the route, continued Deputy Ó Cuív who has called on the Minster of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) to bring the interested parties together to hammer out a solution.

“I am calling on the Minister to convene a roundtable meeting between the island representatives, the OPW and the County Council together with the Department of Rural and Community Development to see how the matter might be addressed.

“I welcome that the present Minister visited the site last year and is aware of the issues, because everyone is very anxious that we get this sorted,” he said.

In a parliamentary question, Deputy Ó Cuív sought an assurance from the Minister of State, Patrick O’Donovan, that he would “organise a roundtable of people with the local authority and the local state-funded development organisation” to address safety concerns on the island.

Responding, Minister O’Donovan said the OPW was progressing a refurbishment of the visitor centre at Dún Aonghasa, while discussions were ongoing relating to traffic management outside the centre.

“I can assure the Deputy that the Office of Public Works will continue such engagement with local stakeholders, including the local authority, and to this end, a meeting will be convened in the coming months as previously agreed,” he said.

Deputy Ó Cuív said it was unfortunate that despite repeated calls for action, the Minister’s response suggested little progress had been made.

“There is a danger here to locals and tourists alike. It is a bad advertisement for the island the way it is at the moment, particularly as this is at one of the premier tourist sites in the country,” he said.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway Gardaí on high alert for Presidential visit



Gardaí in Galway are on high alert for a visit to the West from the US President next month.

And while there has been no confirmation of dates yet, garda planning for a mid-April arrival is in full swing.

Cases at Derrynea District Court’s April sitting are being kept to a minimum as it is expected that gardaí will be otherwise detained, a sitting of the court heard this week.

Sergeant Damien Prendergast told Judge Mary Fahy that cases were being put out to May as it was anticipated there would be a “potential visit” from Joe Biden.

“I have been instructed to keep April free as there is a possible presidential visit,” said Sgt Prendergast.

The Connacht Tribune has learned that Galway gardaí are preparing for the visit to take place the week after Easter, with Derrynea Court due to sit on April 18.

The President’s itinerary is being kept under wraps, but a visit to his ancestral home in Co Mayo is highly likely – and the high degree of security required for such a visit is well underway.

It is understood that while there has been no indication that Galway will be on Mr Biden’s schedule, the county’s gardaí would likely be required to bolster security in the neighbouring county.

Judge Fahy, meanwhile, expressed concern about putting court cases back as a result.

“We’re then landed with a huge, big, long list then,” she said.

The US President’s visit was confirmed earlier this month. Mr Biden is expected to spend five days in the country, travelling north during the visit to mark 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

A Galway Garda spokesperson told the Tribune they were not in a position to confirm any details of their role at this point, nor could they indicate if the visit would take in any part of Galway.

“It’s very much an internal matter for the moment,” they said.

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