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Records reveal war of words over jinxed cinema project

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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.

CITY TRIBUNE

Former hotel won’t be ring-fenced for college

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No designation....Corrib Great Southern during demolition.

The site of the former Corrib Great Southern will no longer be ring-fenced for educational purposes if a clause removed in a draft of the next development plan is eventually adopted.

A motion by Mayor Colette Connolly proposed earmarking one-third of the six-acre Dublin Road site for educational use as well as research or collaborative ventures between third level colleges and industry.

Mayor Connolly said her proposal reinstates the text of the current plan reserving a portion of any planned development for education.

Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) was supportive of the motion, the Independent councillor she told a planning meeting convened to collate a draft of the plan.

Councillor Declan McDonell (Ind) said GMIT had recently purchased the home of the Galwegians Rugby Club at Glenina for €9 million and were progressing developments at the Cluain Mhuire site and a proposed Centre of Excellence for Health, Sport, and Marine Science at Murrough.

The former hotel had been offered to GMIT for €3.75m by NAMA (National Asset Management Agency) but they had to pass because they could not come up with the money.

“So I fail to see how they could come up with the money to buy two acres for educational purposes – therefore we could be left with a derelict site for years,” he warned.

Cllr Noel Larkin (Ind) told the meeting he was in favour of an expanding GMIT but agreed the site which only recently saw the demolition of a major eyesore could be left derelict for another decade if developers were hamstrung by what could be built.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Multi-storey car park proposal still on the table

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No multi-storey...the existing Dyke Road car park.

A proposal to remove from the Draft City Development Plan an objective to replace the existing car park at Dyke Road with a multi-storey alternative has been voted down by councillors.

Those opposing the motion argued that regardless of improved public transport and cycle networks, there would always be a requirement for parking in the city centre.

The motion, proposed by Cllr Niall Murphy (Green) and seconded by Mayor Colette Connolly (Ind), sought to take out a line in the plan which stated the replacement of the 550-space car park with a multi-storey “would enable more efficient use of the land”.

This forms part of the planned redevelopment of the area which is to be led by the Land Development Agency (LDA) and is mooted to include residential units, retail space and potentially a hotel.

Cllr Murphy said as improved public transport came on stream, the requirement for parking in the centre of the city should reduce, with the long-awaited Park and Ride rollout the ‘preferred option’.

“It is prejudicial to state [in the development plan] that some of that area will be used by multi-storey parking – that should be decided as part of our negotiations with the LDA,” said Cllr Murphy.

Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind) opposed the motion and said long-term parking, such as that currently provided for on the Dyke Road, should be maintained as there would be a continued demand for it.

“We need a certain amount of parking for people working in town. Park and Ride will not be available for all, like those who come in on the Headford Road and the Tuam Road,” he said.

Cllr Terry O’Flaherty agreed and said workers from areas such as Annaghdown and Corrandulla had no access to public transport and required their car to get to work.

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said the population of the city was set to double in the coming years and even by maintaining the existing number of spaces in Dyke Road, the Council would be in effect halving the overall availability.

“People need to get to town and not everybody can hop on a bike – not everybody has that luxury,” he said.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway’s vacant homes and shops

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Councillor Níall McNelis (Lab)

There were in excess of 1,100 vacant commercial and residential properties in Galway City in 2020, a new report has found – a ‘staggering figure’ which one local representative described as ‘frightening’.

The Northern and Western Regional Assembly’s (NWRA) report on Regional Vacancy and Dereliction has revealed a worsening problem in the city – highlighting a 15% increase in the level of commercial vacancy since 2015 and a 5% increase in the number of empty homes.

Some 690 commercial properties were lying idle in the city in September 2020 – many of which could be used to increase the housing stock according to the report.

The West has more than double the national average of vacant commercial space, something that is “undermining the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of the region while exasperating attempts to deliver sustainable settlement patterns”.

“Many of our towns and villages continue to experience high vacancy and dereliction rates along their main streets, with these empty residential and commercial properties providing extensive opportunities to improve housing supply, ensure our residents live closer to key public services and workplaces,” states the report.

A further 444 residential units were also vacant, despite the city experiencing a homelessness crisis and a severe shortage of housing.

Local Councillor Níall McNelis (Lab) said these figures were ‘staggering’ – particularly as the situation is likely to have worsened due to the impact of Covid-19 on businesses.

“A lot of these commercial units would probably be better used as residential units and I believe that is something local government could sort out – if it was given the power to do so.

“Instead, national government has far too much of a hold on it. It would require national legislation but I think we need to look at taxing vacant units if no effort is being made to fill them,” said Cllr McNelis.

There were several cases where ‘very large investors’ had bought up these properties for ‘half nothing’ and left them to rot while there were people in the city crying out for living space, he continued.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from

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