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Prison for man who conned pensioner out of cash

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A convicted sex offender will serve one year in prison for coercing a charitable and trusting 82-year-old woman into giving him large sums of cash over a twelve-month period.

Ethan Ward (25), 27 Lui na Greine, Western Distributor Road, Knocknacarra, is currently serving one year or a two-year prison sentence, imposed on him on May 12 last, for sexually assaulting a vulnerable 16-year- old schoolgirl in a fast-food restaurant toilet.

That sentence is due to expire on January 4 next, Galway Circuit Criminal Court heard this week.

Meanwhile, Ward pleaded guilty at Galway Circuit Criminal Court two weeks after the May sentence hearing, to inducing the elderly woman to give him €1630 cash on dates between April and December 2015.

He pleaded guilty also to stealing a €1,000 cheque from the woman and lodging it in his own account on a date between January 2015 and January of this year and to inducing the woman to give him a further €250 on January 8 last.

He further pleaded guilty to inducing the woman to give him €90 cash on January 6 last.

The theft and fraud offences were committed while Ward was out on bail, awaiting sentence for the sexual assault on the schoolgirl.

Prosecuting barrister, Conor Fahy said at the time that the pleas to the above charges were acceptable on the basis that Ward was admitting his guilt to three other similar charges of deception.

Sentence was adjourned to July for the preparation of a probation report on Ward and an impact statement from the victim. The court in July heard Ward had not bothered to attend his probation appointments in the prison, so he could not be assessed.

Garda Karen Higgins told the sentence hearing at the time that it would never be known exactly how much money Ward took, but the woman had estimated it was at least €3,000.

The woman told Garda Higgins last January she had been giving money to Ward for a year and she had just realised he had been lying to her about his circumstances.

The woman first encountered Ward begging outside various churches around the city a year ago and he told her his name was Ethan O’Leary and he needed money to stay in hostels.  She took pity on him and gave him money on a few occasions.

He then turned up at her home and she was concerned about that because she had not told him where she lived.

Garda Higgins said the victim was a very kind person and she felt sorry for Ward.  She regularly gave him money when he called to her home and if she did not have any cash in the house, Ward would accompany her to the ATM machine, walking a few meters behind her.

“She used to give him cups of tea and things to eat when he’d call to her home. As it went on, she felt pressured into giving him money and he started calling more regularly to her home.”

On one occasion the woman wrote a cheque to “Ethan O’Leary” but her suspicions were aroused when it was never cashed.

She wrote another cheque to the same name and went with food to a hostel where Ward told her he was staying, but staff there told her no one named O’Leary was staying there.

The woman finally confided in her local priest and the Gardai were contacted.

Garda Higgins said that on a previous occasion, Ward stole a blank cheque from the woman while in her house and later cashed it, to the value of €1,000.

Ward was arrested outside the woman’s home last January.

A roll of duct tape and three wire coat hangers were found when Gardaí searched his rucksack.

“He never showed any remorse and he denied defrauding this 82-year-old woman. She’s too scared to come to court,” Garda Higgins said in July.

“She knows she gave him a lot of money and she feels very gullible.

“He always had a story she believed.  She didn’t know at the time that he was a con artist and a criminal.  She thinks she may have given him €3,000.

“She now finds it hard to trust people and is more cautious answering the door.

“Being an educated woman, she feels hurt and annoyed she let someone like him con her,” Garda Higgins added.

The court heard Ward was using the money taken from the woman to feed his €100-a-day heroin addiction.

Before that he was living off his wife and two children’s welfare allowances.

Garda Higgins said he had 19 previous convictions, the latest being for defilement of a child for which he was currently serving one-year of a two-year sentence imposed in May.

He had other convictions for thefts, burglaries, possession of drugs, knives and public order offences.

Judge Rory McCabe said at the time that the maximum sentence for the crime of deception was five years, while the maximum for theft was ten.

He said the deception charges before the court merited a three-year sentence while the theft of the cheque merited five years.

“This man engaged in a nasty campaign of ‘milking’ money from this lady and she eventually became afraid not to give him money.

“She finally went to the Gardaí and it emerged that, not only had he pressured her for cash, but he stole a cheque and cashed it for €1,000 too,” the judge said.

Judge McCabe noted Ward had previous convictions for crimes of dishonesty while his victim was vulnerable, decent and defenceless.

Sentence was adjourned to this week to give Ward another chance to engage with the probation service and a mixed, up-to-date report was handed into court.

Judge McCabe said that while the probation report which was now before the court, was positive in places, there were negatives too, not least the fact that Ward thought his offending was not too serious as he had not used violence or threatened to use violence against the woman.

He sentenced Ward to three years in prison for the theft of the cheque and imposed concurrent two-year sentences for the deception charges.

He said he wanted Ward to spend another year in prison for the offences and to that end, he suspended the final two years of the three-year sentence and the final year of each two-year sentence, for three years.

Ward’s year in prison will begin on January 4 next, the Judge said.

Judge McCabe said he wanted the suspended portion of the sentences to act as a deterrent to Ward to not reoffend and the suspensions were granted, he said, on condition Ward come under the supervision of the probation service for twelve months on his release from prison, attend addiction counselling, abstain from drugs, and provide regular urine analysis tests – to be paid for by himself – to the probation service.

The judge warned Ward he was to contact the probation service himself and if he did not comply with all of the service’s requirements, he would be brought back before the court and made serve the suspended portion of the sentences.

Connacht Tribune

More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway

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More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.

Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.

Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996.  Both men remain in custody.

A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.

A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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Connacht Tribune

Joint move by Galway councils to Crown Square ruled out

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A senior Department of Housing official floated the idea of Galway County Council workers moving to Galway City Council’s newly-acquired Crown Square office building if a merger of the two local authorities was to proceed.

However, he was told the proposed merger of Galway’s two councils was not being pursued “at this stage”, and that it “should not be a consideration” when deliberating on the City Council’s application to the Department for a €45.5m loan approval to buy the offices in Mervue, on the eastern side of the city.

The discussion was contained in internal communications between officials in the Department of Housing and Local Government who were discussing Galway City Council’s loan sanction application. It was released to the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

Gary McGuinn, the Department’s Assistant Principal Officer for Local Government Governance and Elected Members – in a comprehensive memo about the Council’s loan application – raised the prospect of what would happen if a merger between the two councils proceeded.

“Over the years there have been merger proposals for Galway City Council and Galway County Council. These proposals ultimately never advanced but I believe that there has been incrementally closer coordination between both executives.

“Galway is now something of a holdout given that mergers have taken place in Limerick and Waterford, while the boundary issue was settled in Cork by extending it to encompass the city suburbs and outlying districts.

“Both Galway City Council and Galway County Council have office premises in Galway city centre. On a purely speculative note, one could ponder what would happen to the new City Hall building that they want to borrow to fund if there is an eventual merger?

“Possibly it would become the HQ for a ‘Galway Metropolitan District’ structure within a single ‘City and County’ type local authority. As there is no such proposal at this time though it’s probably not something that can be asked about or planned for,” Mr McGuinn said to his colleague, Tim Nuttall, an official in the Department’s Local Government Finance section.

His views were forwarded to another section within the Department of Housing last September, just before Minister Darragh O’Brien sanctioned the loan application last September.

In response, another civil servant in the Department of Housing, Áinle Ní Bhriain, said: “I can confirm there are no plans to pursue a merger of Galway City Council and Galway County Council, which was approved by Government in 2018, at this stage, and therefore should not be a consideration in relation to this loan.”

Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, confirmed two days before Christmas Eve last year, that the deal to buy the property from JJ Rhatigan was complete.

City Council workers are due to move to the new building by the end of this year.

In its loan application, the City Council said its College Road site, built 40 years ago, and refurbished and extended in the 2000s, had a number of “challenges”.

These included “limited capacity for additional headcount, lack of facilities within current infrastructure, building standard compliance and meeting our existing building climate targets for 2030”.

It pointed out to the Department that it leases two buildings in the city centre, to accommodate staff as well as City Hall, and buying Crown Square “will address the challenges outlined in the most efficient and cost-effective way and release our current City Hall, city centre site for regeneration”.

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Connacht Tribune

Hotel sector’s plea to retain lower VAT rate

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With overseas visitors down more than a quarter and increases of 300% in energy bills compared to before the pandemic, now is not the time to hike VAT rates for hospitality.

That is the plea from the chairperson of the Galway branch of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), John Ryan, who is urging the Government to keep the 9% VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sectors indefinitely.

The Government delayed the introduction of a 13.5% rate until March 1 at a cost of €250 million to help the sector get back on its feet after Covid.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohue referred to price gouging in hotels over the summer as one of the key reasons he was upping the rate.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin last week stated that it was no secret she had sought the retention of the 9% rate in negotiations for the 2023 Budget and “will continue to seek it”.

The lobby group for small to medium business, ISME, has called for the reduced VAT rate to be brought in for the entire services sector.

The owner of the Ardilaun Hotel in Taylor’s Hill said the average price of a hotel room was €167 last year. With 4,000 rooms in Dublin booked out to accommodate refugees, the price of the remaining stock was at a premium.

“You could find a couple of examples all over the country where people were charging unfair prices and were wrong. There were a few serious spikes – maybe 1% of overall accommodation stock in Dublin did that. If I was a customer I wouldn’t pay it,” Mr Ryan said.

“But they shouldn’t penalise the entire sector because of that 1%. The 9% is the right one. We would be the same as other countries where tourism is a key industry. If we went up to 13.5%, we’d be the second highest after Denmark.

“We couldn’t absorb that. We have already contracted our foreign business for 2024/25 – we’d have to go out and tell suppliers we are putting up rates. That’s just not on.”

With almost all key tourism markets experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, the last thing the industry can cope with is a tax jump.

Of 27 EU countries, the VAT rate on accommodation is 9% or lower in 16 countries.

Tourism supports 22,000 jobs throughout Galway, generating €910 million in tourism revenues annually for the local economy.

Last year the average room occupancy levels were 69% for the West, just 1% lower than national rates. Over the same period in 2019, however, room occupancy was at 78% nationally.

This is largely due to a shortfall in overseas visitors to Ireland, with numbers still down more than 25% last year compared to 2019.

A recent survey found that hotels and guesthouses were reporting reduced levels of forward bookings compared to the same time in 2019.

Some 57% report reduced bookings from Great Britain, 48% say bookings are down from Northern Ireland, while 37% record fewer bookings from the rest of Europe. US bookings are down 41%.

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