The company behind the city’s jinxed arthouse cinema signed a €4.1 million public works contract with a construction firm without departmental consent, placing taxpayers on the hook for a budget overrun of up to €2 million.
The project has been plagued by setbacks and controversy since work first began on a site donated by Galway City Council at Lower Merchants Road in 2009.
The development of the three-screen cultural cinema has been overseen by Solas Galway Picture Palace Limited, a private company afforded charitable status, with government funding provided through five separate public bodies.
The Galway City Tribune has obtained correspondence between Solas, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and other stakeholders under the Freedom of Information Act; providing a new insight into the chaotic events surrounding the project.
It reveals that Solas signed a binding contract for the completion of the cinema with JJ Rhatigan & Co in March 2012 without seeking the consent of the Department and without having funds in place to cover the cost.
The issue was raised in a letter from then-Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan to the Solas Chairperson Lelia Doolan on June 21, 2012.
“The Board of Solas did not have this Department’s consent to sign the contract with JJ Rhatigan & Co as it was required to and… funding has not been set aside to cover payments,” wrote Minister Deenihan.
In her response issued the following day, Ms Doolan replied: “I understand and appreciate the points you make. I would, however, wish to reiterate that we acted in good faith in the matter of issuing the binding letter of consent and in going to contract.”
Solas was advised that the Department would refuse to release additional funding of €2.1 million unless the company could demonstrate that it had sufficient resources to bring the project to completion without further recourse to public funds.
Ms Doolan wrote to public representatives in Galway two weeks later, warning them in an email on July 5, 2012 that “to discontinue now will involve the loss of over €4 million of public monies with ancillary consequences”.
The following day, Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended the construction site during a visit to Galway. Ms Doolan wrote to public representatives again later that day, advising them that she had issued a similar warning to Mr Kenny.
“We conveyed to him the urgency of the situation and our belief that . . . were a termination to occur now, the employment, political, financial and legal consequences would be severe and far more costly than finishing the job,” she wrote.
“That €4m of public monies spent and nothing to show for it but a hole in the ground . . . is an unacceptable prospect.”
Ms Doolan noted in her email that the Taoiseach had raised the question of Solas having signed a contract with the construction firm without departmental consent during his visit.
“That canard that we had proceeded without permission may have some shaky legal legs but is morally unsound,” she stated.
Relations with Minister Deenihan appear to have deteriorated in the following months, however, as Ms Doolan described in an email to Solas Project Manager Tracy Geraghty on August 17 how he “flew into a rage” and shouted at her during a telephone conversation.
“He flew into a rage and accused me of misrepresenting him and shouted at length about wanting the work to succeed, his being good enough to take phone calls, never again meeting without an official present etc – no word in edgeways from me was possible,” she wrote.
The same email reveals that the Department had expressed a desire to impose a new project manager representing the funders as early as 2012. This was resisted by Ms Doolan, but project management was ultimately taken over by Galway City Council last year.
She stated in her email that the imposition of a project manager “would be a sticking point for us” and claimed that Solas were “being treated as though we were major transgressors”.
The matter of signing the contract with JJ Rhatigan & Co without consent again arose, with Ms Doolan observing that “they criticised us for going to contract without their approval and yet thought nothing of spending our contracted monies without notifying us”.
The budget for the development of the Picture Palace was originally set at €6.2 million, which was sourced in full from the Department, Galway City Council, the Irish Film Board, the Western Development Commission and the Arts Council.
The original contract for the building project was awarded to Cordil Construction in 2009. However, the company went into receivership in May 2011 and work on the cinema ceased.
Ms Doolan noted in correspondence with public representatives that, at this point, the site was “relatively untouched, the piling for the first stage of building scarcely begun”.
A house neighbouring the construction site was accidentally damaged during this period and Solas agreed to knock and rebuild the residence at a cost of €500,000, which was included in the contract with JJ Rhatigan & Co.
Last August, it was announced that the Department would provide an additional €735,000 for the completion of the project, along with a further investment of €232,000 by Galway City Council.
The correspondence obtained by the Galway City Tribune reveals that the departmental funding was made conditional on Galway City Council assuming responsibility for project management.
Solas indicated that it would provide a comment in relation to the correspondence two weeks ago but had not done so at the time of publication.
Gang leader jailed for racially-motivated assault
The leader of a gang of youths who were involved in muggings and sometimes racially-motivated assaults around the city over the last number of years has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.
Tom Williams (20), Cluain Fada, Headford Road, actually received sentences totalling seven-and-a-half years at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week, but the final four years were suspended on condition he keep the peace and be of good behaviour for five years on his release from prison.
Williams pleaded guilty at a previous court hearing to a charge of violent disorder, in that he along with three others acting together used or threatened to use violence in Eyre Square on May 4, 2018.
He also pleaded guilty to assaulting an Afghan national, causing him harm, on the same date.
Williams further pleaded guilty to robbing a mobile phone from another youth on March 14, 2018, and to assaulting the victim’s father when he asked Williams to return his son’s phone.
Sergeant Paul McNulty told the sentence hearing Williams was the leader of a gang which had no regard for law or order.
He said Williams and three others assaulted two young Afghan asylum seekers outside Cafe Express in Eyre Square at around 1.30pm on May 4, 2018.
“Tom Williams instigated the assault and oversaw it as his gang members carried it out,” Sgt McNulty said.
The victims later told Gardai they noticed a group of black males staring at them. The males called them terrorists and asked them what were they doing in this country.
One of the males, later identified from CCTV as Tom Williams, suddenly stuck one of the Afghan youths into the side of his head using his mobile phone as a weapon. The victim fell to the ground where he was punched and kicked by the gang. A member of staff from a nearby cafe, who came to the victim’s aid, was punched into the face by another gang member.
Sgt McNulty said Eyre Square was packed with people at the time this vicious, unprovoked assault took place.
Garda Neil Lydon gave evidence Williams robbed a young boy of his mobile phone and rucksack in the Eyre Square shopping centre on March 14, 2018.
The victim was put in fear and he ran to the taxi rank where his father worked.
Garda Lydon said the victim’s father knew Williams’ father, who is also a taxi driver.
Later that evening the man went to a house where Williams was staying and asked for his son’s belongings.
Williams punched him a number of times in the head, face and body before hitting him across the head with a large salt shaker.
Garda Lydon said the man made an official complaint to him the next day.
“He was quite upset because in his culture, it’s very insulting for a young person to attack a man of his age,” Garda Lydon explained.
Garda Lydon said that neither the man nor his son wanted to give a victim impact statement. He said the son continued to live in fear of the accused and the robbery and subsequent attack on his father had totally changed his life.
In reply to defence barrister, Conal McCarthy, Garda Lydon said he was not aware of Williams having any drink or drug problem. He said the accused lived with his father in Cluain Fada, while his mother lived in Knocknacarra.
Sgt McNulty confirmed Williams had 33 previous convictions and was out on two separate sets of High Court bail for 18 other offences at the time he committed the offences before the court.
He said the accused had two convictions for robberies, one for affray, one for the production of a weapon in the course of a dispute, four for assaults, and the rest for deception, possession of stolen property and drugs.
Sgt McNulty said he knew Williams since he was convicted of assaulting a Polish national when he was 13.
He said Williams was of Nigerian origin and was the leader of a gang of youths in the city who had no regard for the law.
Mr McCarthy said his client had been abusing alcohol and drugs for many years and he was intoxicated at the time of the assault on the taxi driver.
Sgt McNulty said that while he knew Williams for several years he was not aware he had a drink or drug addiction, as suggested by counsel.
Mr McCarthy said his client had also been the victim of racial abuse while in school.
Sgt McNulty was sceptical of this, pointing out that Williams was well over six feet tall since he was 13. “He’s a big lad,” he added.
Judge Rory McCabe said the latest probation report on Williams was very bleak, placing him at a high risk of reoffending and it left him with no option when imposing sentence but to discount any hope of rehabilitation.
For their role in the Eyre Square attacks, other gang members, Goodnews Onyenweson, received a four-year sentence with the final nine months suspended in May of last year, while Mourthadha Badiane received a suspended three-year sentence. A juvenile, who cannot be named, also received a suspended sentence.
Covid-19 drives car sales slump in Galway
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the sales of new cars and used imports in Galway slump by almost 80% over the past three months.
The coronavirus has also impacted the commercial sector, with the sale of small goods vehicles down 75% and the number of new HGVs drop to just two.
Between the beginning of April and the end of June this year, just 100 new cars were registered in Galway City and county – a massive drop of almost 79% from the 470 registered in the same period last year.
In fact, April saw a virtual collapse of the market in Galway, with just seven new cars registered – down more than 97% from 264 in April of 2019.
Data from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) also shows that secondhand imports in the second quarter of this year were down 78% to 331 (from 1,525).
Looking at the first half of the year, new cars recorded a 25.4% slump from 29,41 to 2,194 when compared to the same period last year.
This category of vehicles is called ‘new passenger vehicles’ and include cars, jeeps, people carriers and caravans.
The majority of the new registrations were diesel (49%); followed by petrol (30%); petrol electric (17%); electric (3%); petrol/plug-in hybrid (1%) and diesel electric (three vehicles).
Galway’s most popular new car so far this year is the Toyota Corolla (134 cars sold); followed by the Hyundai Tucson (87); Toyota Yaris (86); Ford Focus (82) and VW Tiguan (77).
The number of new Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) registered in Galway in the second quarter of this year slumped by 93% – from 28 last year to just two. For the year to date, HGV sales dropped 47% from 66 to 35 here.
For Light Commercial Vehicles (small goods vans), there were 32 registered in the second quarter, down 75% from 128 in the same period last year. For the year to date, sales were down 30% from 549 to 383.
Meanwhile, the number of used cars being imported from the UK into Galway slumped by more than half during the first six months of the year (down 55% from 3,104 to 1,396).
As with new cars, the majority of the imports registered here were diesel (74%); followed by petrol (17%); petrol electric (5%); petrol/plug-in hybrid (3%); electric (five vehicles); diesel electric (three vehicles) and gas (one vehicle).
The most popular imports were jointly the Hyundai Tucson and Ford Focus (68 cars each); followed by the Audi A6 (66 cars); VW Golf (63) and Nissan Qashqai (56).
In recent years, used imports outsold the volume of new cars being registered in Galway, as motorists looked to the UK for bargains and high-end cars with specifications that may not have been available or affordable in the Irish marketplace.
Imports of used small goods vehicles in the first six months of the year were down 30% from 549 to 383, while heavy commercial vehicles were down 47% from 66 to 35.
Galway City Council considers up to 14 cycle routes
Up to 14 routes – split almost evenly between the east and west sides of the city – have been earmarked for major revamps to accommodate more cycle and pedestrian traffic over the coming years.
According to a report presented to the City Council, there is existing funding of €5.8 million to progress the design stages of the schemes.
In a report presented by City Council Senior Executive Engineer, Colm Ó Ríordáin, he also outlined that there was ‘proposed funding’ of €24m for the tender and construction stages of the projects.
This ‘proposed funding’ would be sourced evenly between the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) and the National Transport Authority (NTA).
In a separate report by Atkins Consultants, they outlined six routes on the east side of the city which had been earmarked for adaption to facilitate better cycle and pedestrian facilities.
Those routes are: Ballybane Road, Doughiska Road (north), Doughiska Road (south), Ballyloughane Road, Castlepark Road and Monivea Road.
On the Ballybane Road, it is proposed to reduce the existing road carriageway from 10 metres to six metres with a two-metre raised cycle lane on either side as well as two-metre footpath.
Roadways are also to be narrowed on the two Doughiska routes with raised cycle lanes to be provided on either side of the road.
Ballyloughane will be a ‘shared street’ for bikes and vehicular traffic with footpaths widened to two metres on either side.
Raised cycle tracks will be provided on either side of a narrowed carriageway on the Castlepark Road with a similar set-up envisaged for the Monivea Road.
The Atkins report envisages construction works to begin on the Ballybane Road, Doughiska Road (south), Ballyloughane Road and Castle Park Road segments to begin by the end of this year or in the first quarter of 2021.
A Part 8 planning process will be required for Doughiska Road (north) and Monivea Road segments of the project.
Consultants Clifton Scannell Emerson Associates, presented the Galway Cycle Network Stage 2 to councillors outlining the cycle plans for the west side of the city.
The routes as outlined are: Clybaun Road, Bóthair Stíofáin, Bishop O’Donnell Road, Threadneedle Road, Dr Mannix Road, Devon Park, Salthill Road as well as the Eglinton Canal.
On the Clybaun Road, the existing carriageway will be narrowed with grass margins installed, while on Bótháir Stíofáin, the road will also be narrowed with more with a new cycle lane provided as well as footpaths on either side.
Cycle tracks are to be provided on either side of a narrowed Bishop O’Donnell Road with a similar arrangement to apply on Dr Mannix Road.
Better pedestrian facilities are to be provided at Devon Park while the Salthill Road will be narrowed from over 10 metres to six metres with wider paths and landscaping provided. Improvements are also to be made at the Eglinton Canal crossing at New Road.