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Connacht Tribune

President Michael D returns to campaign in Galway



He might be facing a barrage of criticism over the lack of transparency over how he spends a €317,000 Áras allowance, but Michael D Higgins is anything but contrite in defence of his presidency.

The presidential incumbent campaigned on home turf this week amid claims by fellow candidate Peter Casey that the only memorable encounter during his seven-year term was with the British Queen and he was guilty of a 42% fall-off in engagements since his first year in office.

Dressed impeccably in a black three-piece suit and paisley tie, Michael D dismisses the Dragons’ Den businessman with a wry smile and a perfectly controlled lashing of the tongue when asked his reaction to such a harsh assessment.

“It isn’t only harsh, but I don’t really get involved in that kind of stuff . . . I’ve made an appeal for respect and for a positive campaign,” he starts off, before launching into a counter attack.

In the first two years of his term, Ireland was a very broken country, he recalls. He was out and about meeting with communities where all the young people were emigrating.

“Each year of the seven years was a different . . . context. For the return visit to the United Kingdom, I spent a lot of time preparing, not just the speech that I gave in reply to Her Majesty, but also the ones I gave in several different parts. One of the most moving was the one I gave in Coventry.

“That figure he’s using is one that is in the printed diary to which the Press are invited, but I wasn’t inviting the Press to come and see me going to Richmond Park and St Pats or to go to Dalymont Park to see Bohs, but even more importantly, then there were people producing important books and then they would come and visit with seven or eight people.

“There were special groups that would come, people with achievement in the voluntary sector, and we wouldn’t have put that in. It was really we became more informal in relation to the more we were doing.”

In relation to what he calls “the famous €317,000 fund”, he has promised to release details of the spending in November when his term is officially up – and when the October 26 election has passed.

He insists that he has spent it in the same way as his predecessors.

“If I was to make any change to suit the electoral purposes in my view it would not be proper. I have said I’m going to put the presidency above everything else. That’s why I don’t change the president’s commitments in the diary to facilitate me to do more campaigning,” he argues, referring to his non-attendance at some of the campaign debates.

When asked whether he has followed the debate about Galway 2020 and the schism that has developed between organisers and the arts community, Ireland’s first Minister for the Arts recalls how in the European Parliament, he used to sit beside the Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, who first conceived the European Capital of Culture programme.

“In running something like the city of culture in Europe . . . you have to try and achieve an integration with what is local in the city and you have to be conscious that people will be looking for legacy when it’s over.

“It’s a wire that’s very high in the air in relation to choosing between satisfying those issues and also having an event that would be of international standing. If you in fact would fall on the event side to a greater extent, you might lose capacity in relation to some of the others. I want to wish Galway well. It is possible to solve it – these high-wire balancing acts. I appreciate it’s a very particular kind of management skill. And people should realise that every euro spent will come back tenfold when it’s cultural spend, that’s how it is.”

International investment and employment is something his three Dragons’ Den opponents constantly talk about wooing if they took up office.

But the 77-year-old – who has spent a lifetime in politics and academia – is adamant his lack of business experience does nothing to detract from the role of president.

He cites examples of leading delegations to Vietnam, Australia and China, where hundreds of contracts were signed.

“The reason I did a trip to China at the request of the Irish Government was they had been waiting three years for an appointment. President Xi Jinping had visited the Áras as Vice President from China and he said he wanted to meet this President, we changed it around and I took off to China and there Bord Bia made 200 food companies get projects.”

He believes that over the next seven years, when the president will be dealing with the consequences of Brexit, personal contacts will prove crucial.

He recalls a private lunch he had with the presidents of Italy, Portugal and Greece following an academic conference.

“These folk – we were all about the same age – we were there, we discussed what was happening in Europe, both in terms of racism and migration and social Europe and was there a disconnect between the institutions and the people and how could it be repaired. How did we see Brexit? These contacts are invaluable and contacts abroad in relation to Asia are very, very valuable.

“You don’t turn yourself into the IDA or Enterprise Ireland. You help them in opening doors and you help them by making the contacts that are valuable. And you help them by putting on a good performance.

“It means you stay attuned to what is happening economically both in Ireland and in Europe so you can talk with authenticity and what the people want in this election frankly is authenticity.”

There’s no doubt that Michael D can put on a formidable performance. And with the aid of regular yoga teaching and a right knee much improved from the last time he was on the campaign trail, it’s hard to see anything stopping him.

“Truthfully, I’m in much better shape than in 2011,” he says, flashing a very authentic smile at the mention of yoga.

Connacht Tribune

Nurses call in Chief Fire Officer on ED overcrowding



UHG's Emergency Department.

The nurses’ union has formally urged the Chief Fire Officer to investigate 17 alleged breaches of the fire regulations as a result of chronic overcrowding in the emergency department at University Hospital Galway.

It’s the second time the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has done so since Christmas, fearing the lives of staff and patients are being put in grave danger.

The emergency department was busier than normal last week, with between 222 and 251 patients turning up to be seen per day. On Wednesday of last week there were 53 patients waiting on trolleys, according to figures released by the Saolta Hospital group. That went down to 47 on Thursday and Friday.

This week has seen little let up. On Monday and Tuesday the number of people who could only get a trolley was down to 36 and 38 respectively.

Local area representative of the INMO, Anne Burke, said as a result of very high attendances at the temporary emergency department, management had opened a transit area where between 12 and 14 people could be accommodated in cubicles.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Comer has eyes on the prize



Damien Comer undergoing an eye test at Specsavers; the Galway star is encouraging all to look after their eyesight and hearing.

If you Google Damien Comer, the first entry the search returns is a dedicated Wikipedia page, which declares: “He’s better than David Clifford”.

And while Wikipedia as a source of fact isn’t necessarily always reliable, who are we to argue with it?

But whatever about comparisons with Kerry greats, the Annaghdown clubman is certainly up there among Galway’s finest ever footballers.

Winning a first All-Star last season, from his third nomination, was proof of that. It was a special personal accolade, but he’d trade it in a shot for a Celtic Cross.

“It was nice to get but if I finish my career not having won an All-Ireland, I’ll be very disappointed,” he declared.

Comer hints that the 2022 All-Ireland final loss to Kerry last July was not one of his better games in maroon, and it’s one he thinks about regularly.

“Yeah, I would yeah, I’d think about it a bit. But I try to forget it as well, because it wasn’t a good day for me, personally, anyway.

“You try to forget about it and yet you have to try to learn from it and improve on the mistakes you made, and stuff you didn’t do that you should’ve done, and different things that you can bring to this season.

“It’s one that’s hard to forget about really because we were there for so long. Sixty minutes in, neck-and-neck, and then they just pulled away, so it was disappointing,” he said.

Damien Comer has teamed up with Specsavers to encourage people to take a more proactive approach to their eye and hearing health. There’s a full interview with him ahead of Sunday’s National Football League Final, is in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway publican reflects on traumatic journey that ended with his abuser in jail



Paul Grealish. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Galway businessman Paul Grealish remembers the moment back in 2000 when he was given a sheet of paper and asked to write about his life. He was on weekend-long self-development course that he’d been sent on by his brother John. At the time, John was managing director of their family business for which Paul and their sister, Joan, also worked.

“The course was probably done in an attempt to make it easier to manage me,” says Paul with a laugh, adding that he “was tough to manage” back then.

He was enjoying the course – until he received that blank sheet.

“I got about four or five sentences in, writing about my early life. Until I got to the primary school part . . . I was in tears,” he remembers. “I was so used to compartmentalising things, I didn’t see the danger.”

In the early 1970s, aged nine and ten years, Paul had been beaten and sexually abused by his teacher, Brother Thomas Caulfield, at Tuam CBS primary school.

He had repressed those memories for nearly three decades.

“You bury the memory, and you bury it as deep as you can. There’s an awareness of something terrible there but it’s too frightening for you to actively remember.”

Paul was so terrified of those memories that he’d lost all recollection of his childhood. He couldn’t tell his story.

He was meant to show it to one of the course leaders – a counsellor, he thinks. Instead, Paul put the nearly-blank sheet before the man and explained what had happened.

Realising Paul’s plight, that man gave him a list of phone numbers for counsellors in Galway.

“Every now and again, I’d look at it and think about ringing them but I didn’t,” Paul says.

However, the abuse that had robbed Paul of his childhood and blighted his adulthood with feelings of guilt and self-hatred refused to stay buried. Finally, he knew he had to deal with it. That journey began in the early 2000s and Paul finally got closure earlier this month when Caulfield was sentenced to 27 months in prison – with the final seven suspended – for his crime.

Read Paul’s full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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