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CITY TRIBUNE

Probe still ongoing into former Picture Palace company’s affairs

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An investigation is ongoing into the organisation that was set-up to deliver the city’s arthouse cinema.

The Charities Regulator has confirmed that its probe into Solas Galway Picture Palace is still live – more than a year on from when it was launched.

A liquidator was appointed to Solas last June, three months after it was confirmed by the Charities Regulator that it had launched an investigation into its affairs.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, a spokesperson for the watchdog said: “The Charities Regulator’s inspection into affairs of the Solas Galway Picture Palace is on-going. When it is complete it is intended to publish the inspectors’ report.”

The Charities Regulator in March 2017 ordered the investigation after an initial examination of its books, documents and other records relating to the controversial building.

The project was raised at the Public Accounts Committee last week by Independent Dáil Deputy Catherine Connolly, who described it as “an example of an utter failure of management”.

“This isn’t a public building, this is a private building; that’s the problem. We can’t think of a more inappropriate name than Solas (meaning light in Irish), in the context of the history of this building. There’s an absence of light really in the way this was handled,” she said.

Deputy Connolly said that when she was a City Councillor, she “struggled to ask questions” in relation to the cinema because Ireland is a small country and Galway a small city and “very often there is not a reward for asking questions”.

Noting that asking questions when public money is concerned was “extremely important”, Deputy Connolly added: “In relation to the arts, there’s a certain element that one is a philistine if one questions it. So let me just get that out of the way, as somebody who has promoted the arts at all levels in my different roles.”

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) late last year concluded that the cinema would be delivered nine years late and €2.1 million over-budget.

It was first proposed in 2006, and it was then envisaged that work would start in 2007 and be completed in two years. It only opened last month.

“The amount of public funds committed to the project increased by €2.1 million from the initial expected outlay of €6.3 million. The project has relied substantially on public investment to complete the development and to fund the increased project costs,” the C&AG said.

Vast amounts of funds from the public purse were poured into the project including millions from the Department of Arts, Galway City Council, the Irish Film Board, as well as Cultural; Cinema Consortium and Western Development Commission.

Element Pictures, which operates the Light House in Dublin, took over the running of the cinema from Solas Galway Picture Palace, on a 30-year lease, having invested around €800,000.

At the PAC last week, Katherine Licken, Secretary General of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, accepted the C&AG’s recommendations that the department should review its approach to all projects where the key risks were carried by the State.

She accepted mistakes were made and that the project could have been managed better but she denied Deputy Connolly’s assertion that “there was absolutely no supervision of this project”.

Ms Licken said: “I wouldn’t say there was a total absence of supervision; we did intervene at very critical moments. When Solas went out to contract without consulting with the Department, we actually refused to make any more payments to them until they came back with a business plan that brought in private sector funding, which they subsequently did.

“The Irish Film Board offered a project manager to Solas, they didn’t take up that offer. We did consider everything, including stopping the project, we worked very close with Galway City Council, and I do acknowledge the work of the Council, and we agreed the City Council would take over project management.”

CITY TRIBUNE

Mercury hit 30°C for Galway City’s hottest day in 45 years

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –

Wednesday was the hottest day in the city over the past 45 years when with a high of 30.1 Celsius being recorded at the NUI Galway Weather Station.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the city dates back to June 30, 1976, when the late Frank Gaffney had a reading of 30.5° Celsius at his weather station in Newcastle.

Pharmacists and doctors have reported a surge in people seeking treatment for sunburn.

A Status Yellow ‘high temperature warning’ from Met Éireann – issued on Tuesday – remains in place for Galway and the rest of the country until 9am on Saturday morning.

It will be even hotter in the North Midlands, where a Status Orange temperature warning is in place.

One of the more uncomfortable aspects of our current heatwave has been the above average night-time temperatures and the high humidity levels – presenting sleeping difficulties for a lot of people.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Property Tax hike voted down in Galway City

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A proposal to boost Galway City Council coffers by half a million euro every year by increasing Local Property Tax (LPT) did not receive the support of city councillors.

Councillor Peter Keane (FF) failed to get a seconder at this week’s local authority meeting for his motion to increase the LPT payable on Galway City houses by 5%.

Cllr Keane said that the increase would net the Council €500,000 every year, which could be spent evenly on services across all three electoral wards.

It would be used to fund services and projects city councillors are always looking for, including a proposal by his colleague Cllr Imelda Byrne for the local authority to hire additional staff for city parks.

The cost to the taxpayer – or property owner – would be minimal, he insisted.

“It would mean that 90% of households would pay 37 cent extra per week,” he said.

Not one of the 17 other elected members, including four party colleagues, would second his motion and so it fell.

Another motion recommending no change in the current rate of LPT in 2022 was passed by a majority.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Council needs 40 more workers to help deliver on projects

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Forty more workers are needed at City Hall ‘right away’, the Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said.

Brendan McGrath has warned city councillors that the local authority is understaffed and it needs to hire more staff immediately to deliver its plans and projects.

The total cost of the extra 40 workers, including salary, would be between €1.75 million and €1.95 million.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council had a workforce now that was below what it had in 2007, but the city’s population has grown and so too had the services the Council provides.

The population of Galway City grew by almost 11% in the 10 years to 2016, he said, and total staff numbers in the Council fell by 13.6% during that period.

Though more staff were hired in recent years, Mr McGrath said that the Council was at 2007 and 2008 staffing levels, even though the Census will record further increases in population since 2016.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council now provides 1,000 services across a range of departments, far more than during the 2000s.

He said that currently, 524 staff are employed at the City Council. This equated to 493 Whole Time Equivalents when part-time workers such as school wardens and Town Hall workers are included.

Mr McGrath said that 12% of all staff are in acting up positions, with many more in short-term or fixed-term contracts. There was a highly competitive jobs market and the Council was finding recruitment and retention of specialist staff difficult.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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