An unofficial embargo on staff recruitment is underway at Galway City Council – because money earmarked for more front-line workers has been diverted to deal with the local homelessness crisis and housing shortage.
All 18 city councillors voted in favour of taking some €280,000 from City Hall’s revenue budget in 2019, to put towards city homeless services.
Dermot Mahon, acting Director of Services for Housing, told elected members, in response to a query from Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind), that the cutbacks to pay for additional homeless funds would come from the “payroll sector”. He said that there would be a delay in recruiting Council staff that had been earmarked for certain areas.
“No frontline projects or services will be affected,” said Mr Mahon, whose report said the money would be sourced from “saving across the revenue budget”.
He explained that the approved budget for homeless services in the West this year was €5.822m. By July, some 91% of it (€5.2m) had been spent.
“It is envisaged that an additional €4m is required to fund homeless services to the end of 2019,” he said, adding that 90% of this extra spend was recoupable from Government.
The remaining 10% is to be paid by local authorities in the West, and €280,000 was Galway City Council’s share of that.
Cllr Niall McNelis said the City Council was spending €350,000 per month on housing homeless people in city hotels and hostels. “It’s getting worse,” he said.
Cllr Collette Connolly (Ind) said families are being split up by the homeless crisis. “Women are told to go to COPE, the men go to the Fairgreen,” she said. “I know one mother who three weeks after giving birth had to change hotels. Children aren’t within schools’ catchment. That’s the reality of this,” she said.
Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) said he was aware of one family who have been living in emergency accommodation for three years.
Cllr John Connolly (FF) said the Fine Gael-led Government, which is being kept in power by his party, was completely out of touch on the issue of housing and homelessness; and he urged party leader Micheál Martin to collapse the Coalition and spark a general election.
Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said the Government had taken steps to rectify the problem, including introducing Rent Pressure Zones. He said many landlords are fleeing the market because it’s not worth their while once mortgages are paid and the taxman takes his share of the profits.
Budget money set aside for study into tidal pools
Councillors have agreed to provide funding for a feasibility study into reopening the tidal pools in Salthill.
During the Galway City Council budget meeting this week, a balanced budget of €103 million for next year was passed by councillors.
Included in this was €44,000 for a feasibility study to be carried out to reopen the tidal pools at Ladies’ beach, which has been described as a “a huge asset to the city” by Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.
Support for the reviving of the pools grew legs after an online petition attracted over 4,500 signatures.
Up to 100 of the 518 submissions made under the City Development Plan currently being drafted supported reopening the pools which have been out of action since the late 1970s.
Meanwhile, the four biggest allocations in the budget for 2022 were nearly €39m set to be spent on housing and building; €17m on recreation and amenity and €14m on road, transport and safety and €13m on environmental services.
There was broad welcome from around the table for plans to employ three more community wardens; six additional permanent general operative posts; four seasonal outdoor workers and two housing maintenance staff.
The two key projects earmarked for Council-owned land at the Dyke Road and Sandy Road to create “affordable, residential-led and mixed used development” will also get nine specialists to progress them with the Land Development Agency.
But there was widespread criticism that the City Council continues to be the poor relation when compared to other cities around the country.
Because it has been categorised in ‘Band 5’ since 1991 – along with rural local authorities such as Carlow, Leitrim and Monaghan – its workforce is meant to be capped at 487. Last May it was at 524, with plans to increase that by 30 more next year due to increased projects and pressure on services. But these posts will have to undergo rigorous assessment by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
The ‘controlling pact’ of councillors made adjustments of €423,000 to stump up for their own projects. They achieved these savings by cutting the IT budget by €60,000, culling €220,000 earmarked to create a new project management unit to oversee large projects and €50,000 for a tourism promotion fund.
City Hall’s plan to increase grave opening charges to reap €15,000 was overturned as was their recommendation to up the price of using public toilets from 20c to 50c, creating revenue of €23,000.
Their proposal of an €8 per day charge to park in the Dyke Road, Cathedral and College Road car parks was also scaled back to €6.50, which will bring in extra income of €149,000 instead of €298,000. A monthly €100 parking ticket will also now be available for daily users, which will reduce the charge to just over €3 per day.
Among the biggest winners in the revised budget was a feasibility study for the Salthill tidal pools (€44,000); Westside running track lights (€40,000); Greenfields walking path (€32,000) and €30,000 each for the castles restoration project and repairing roads and footpaths in Old Mervue.
The ‘pact’ projects were slammed by out-voted councillors as discriminating against residents on the east side of the city, who make up one third of the population, but allegedly only attracted 10 per cent of these adjustments.
This was rejected by the councillor leading the ruling pact’s budget, Cllr Frank Fahy (FG), who said in fact €105,000 would go to projects on the east side out of the €423,000 even though just one councillor in the pact was from that ward – Cllr Terry O’Flaherty (Ind).
Slamming the cut of €60,000 to ICT, Cllr Mike Crowe said never in the history of the City Council had technology been so important at it facilitated staff to work from home and in an era where cyberattacks had paralysed the Health Service Executive (HSE) and NUI Galway.
He also said the monthly parking charge would effectively take advantage of people who were only worked in the office two or three days.
“Galway City East has one third of the population but the adjustments by the pact equate to 10.5% – €49,000 – that’s 10-11% to be spent on the east. The rest is Galway City West and Galway City Centre [wards]. That’s a reflection of the pact. Last year the east got 18% of adjustments and 31-33% went to other wards…some of these adjustments are at the least very questionable and should be reconsidered.”
Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) said he found the adjustments “very parochial”. There was nothing to fund improvements in Doughiska, Roscam, Headford Road and Tuam Road.
“We’re elected to represent the people of the city so I believe we should allocate it fairly.”
The budget passed, with just one councillor, Mike Crowe, voting against it. Another vote to alter the 2009 Parking Bylaws to allow for a monthly parking ticket was passed 11 votes to seven.
Salthill will NOT have one-way traffic under new cycleway plans
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Salthill will not be reduced to one-way traffic under plans for the new cycleway along the Promenade, following the intervention of the National Transport Authority in the controversy.
It was confirmed yesterday (Thursday) that a design is now being considered to “ensure the widest support possible”.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council – which recently created cycleways in Dublin – will now be involved in the design process.
Last September, city councillors voted in favour of creating a two-way segregated cycle lane along the coastal side of the Prom from Grattan Road to Blackrock as a six-month trial.
However, it subsequently emerged that this would involve introducing one-way traffic along the Prom, with the outbound lane closed to make way for bicycles – this information has not been presented to councillors as they decided to vote on the cycle lane without any prior discussion.
Galway West TD and Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton, subsequently asked the National Transport Authority (NTA) to intervene in the row.
“As a result of a meeting held last week between the NTA and the City Council, I can confirm that both parties are working to review proposals that will meet the objectives of the [City Council] motion while also looking to retain two-way traffic,” she said.
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.
Criminal Assets Bureau targets two Galway families
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Garda raids at seven locations on the east side of the city earlier this week were aimed at ‘hitting in the pocket’ two families alleged to be heavily involved in the drugs trade, the Galway City Tribune has learned.
Close to 100 personnel from different Garda and Customs specialist units were involved in the searches of residences in the Castle Park and Radharc na Gréine estates early on Tuesday morning.
According to Garda sources, they are confident that the raids – which also involved the seizure of a 191 Audi car worth an estimated €45,000+ in the Garryowen area of Limerick – will lead to arrests over the coming weeks and months.
Files have already started to be prepared for forwarding to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) in relation to the seizures on Tuesday which included €22,000 in cash; £4,450 in sterling; a range of high-value designer goods, as well as the freezing of €17,000 in a bank account.
Searches carried out prior to this week’s operation by specialist Garda units had resulted in the seizure of €18,680 in cash and the freezing of bank accounts to the value of €66,000. Two Rolex watches were also seized – these items have a value which can range between €10,000 and €100,000 each.
The strategy behind the CAB/Garda crackdown on illegal drugs gangs is based on striking at the finances of the local drug barons – as well as the seizure of cash/goods and the freezing of bank accounts, Revenue are closely involved in the ‘monitoring of income’ of the gang members with a view to issuing substantial tax bills.
Detective Superintendent Shane Cummins, who is in charge of crime operations in the Galway Garda Division, said this week’s searches were part of an ongoing operation aimed at tackling the sale and supply of illegal drugs across the city and county.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read more on the raids and Garda Asset Profilers, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.