Redundancies at Galway City Council as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have been ruled out by Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.
The local authority has imposed a temporary ban on recruitment, but is not planning to lay off any of its 520-strong workforce.
Mr McGrath said that down the road, if this crisis continues for a prolonged period, replacing staff who retire may not be possible. But for now, Council workers are ‘flat out’ maintaining essential services across a range of departments.
“No, we’re not planning that (lay offs). We will endeavour to keep our workforce fully employed. We’ve built up our team since the recession, a lot of our team and the additional bodies we’ve taken on are related to specific projects, for which there was various forms of grant aid available so I think we’d be confident that we will try to be able to retain the entire staff resource,” he said.
Nearly 150 members of staff have been set up to work from home, thanks to the ICT Department at City Hall.
Outdoor staff, and other office staff who must be at City Hall, are observing social distancing guidelines. Offices that used to be packed with people now have one or two workers, spaced in accordance with the guidelines.
As with the private sector, there have been changes to the ‘normal’ working week for Council staff, and some have been redeployed to other areas.
The Council has a statutory obligation to maintain essential services.
“Essential services are anything to do with homelessness; urgent housing repairs like plumbing and electrical; work on houses that were nearly complete to bring back into beneficial use and to bring back into use for self-isolation; public lighting is essential; burst water mains; maintaining traffic lights for road safety; and anything to do with water supply and waste water and treating effluent,” said Mr McGrath.
Street cleaning is classed as ‘necessary but not absolutely essential’, and is a slightly lower category than ‘essential services’.
The rota for street cleaning has been cut back to a number of times a week rather than every day, and this reflects the quieter streets due to people staying at home.
The city’s burial grounds are closed, but graves still need to be opened, and the Planning Department continues to operate.
Annaghdown pull it off in a gripping finale to group tie
Ivan Smyth at Duggan Park
Well, that was dramatic. Annaghdown squeezed through to the quarter finals of the seniotrchampionship in the most nailbiting 12 point win one will witness at Duggan Park on Tuesday night.
Annaghdown entered this game needing to win by 12 points or more if they were to reach the quarter finals at the expense of Milltown. With Annaghdown leading by 11 points and the clock ticking into the second and final minute of injury time, the winners engineered a free which goalkeeper James Healy fired over from 50m out to break Milltown hearts.
The men in maroon and white can now look forward to a quarter final with St. Michael’s, one which both sides will feel is winnable. Realistically their fate shouldn’t have been decided with the final kick of the game. Annaghdown led by the required margin at half time, 1-12 to 0-3, as a hammering appeared much more of a realistic option than a tense finale. However, Bearna certainly played the role of spoilers to a tee in the final half as they retained possession far better than in the opening half.
Annaghdown’s level also dropped but despite Frankie Burke seeing a penalty saved by James Keane, Galway’s sub goalkeeper in this year’s championship, they had managed to move 14 points in front after 55 minutes. Bearna’s resistance appeared to have broken but in a campaign which has seen them take successive heavy defeats, the city side hit back with points from Donal and Ryan Folan.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Cyclists and disability groups don’t feel the love for ‘kissing gate’ barriers
From the Galway City Tribune – Cyclists and disability groups long campaigning for the removal of ‘kissing gates’ on popular routes were overjoyed to see the one at ‘the Swamp’ in the Claddagh removed last week.
But their joy quickly turned to anger when it was returned a few days later. They learned that it had only been taken out to facilitate a private company. Grant Thornton had organised a 5K run along the Salthill Promenade for corporate staff and sports teams.
Gráinne Faller, who organises the Sundays4Safety awareness campaigns in Salthill, said she could not believe how quickly the Council could act to remove, then replace the barrier when bike groups have been calling for their removal for years, only to be met with inaction.
“These gates lock so many people out of our parks and playgrounds. How can we justify blocking access to public spaces? They are ableist, ageist and they block people with buggies and bikes. They really discriminate against parents. And then we learn that the Council is claiming that this isn’t a problem? We wait. And wait. It is not okay. It’s Council-sanctioned discrimination.”
Chairperson of the campaign group Cyclist.ie, Neasa Bheilbigh, said the gates excluded families and people with mobility impairments from using safe active travel routes to school and public amenities.
“To suggest quiet routes through housing estates and parks are not active travel routes, shows a lack of understanding about how people move in our city,” she insisted.
She highlighted the fact that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has committed to providing funding to remove barriers to promote universal access.
“I always feel safer cycling than walking at night, but having to dismount leaves me feeling vulnerable. The Council don’t seem to grasp the needs of people who use non-standard bikes as mobility aids and who cannot dismount or have the strength to navigate through these barriers.”
Liam Ferrie from Menlo said he was long past retirement age but he found his e-bike was a great way of getting around Galway.
“Last Sunday I cycled a total of 28km without any difficulty – apart from a very close pass by a motorist. However, if I had come to a kissing gate I’d have had to turn back as there is no way I could lift the bike through it.”
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the National Ambulance Service, Reg Turner, said his family cycles along the Terryland Forest park en route to school and they have to manoeuvre a large cargo bike carrying his baby son through a kissing gate.
“My seven-year-old calls them jail gates. She says she is sick of lifting her bike and asks when are they coming to remove the gates. The crazy thing is the forest can be accessed from various other exits and entrances which don’t have these gates.”
At a Galway City Council meeting last July, City Council Director of Services for Transport, Patrick Greene, told councillors the NTA had written to Councils acknowledging that kissing gates were problematic for some users.
He said the NTA was working to come up with a new design for gates that are more accessible for users such as people on cargo bikes, pram users and people in wheelchairs, and the Council would act on any recommendations from the NTA once an alternative was sourced.
He said the City Council was planning to do an audit of all kissing gates across Galway.
Cllr Noel Larkin stated that without kissing gates, housing estates and public parks would be more accessible to vehicles and could result in antisocial behaviour.
Cllr Donal Lyons said motorbikes and other vehicles could access public parks and amenity areas if they were removed and not replaced.
(Photo: A cargo bike stuck at a kissing gates. The City Council removed one in Claddagh recently for a road race but then reinstated it).
This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.
Council needs extra loans for home-buying scheme
From the Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council has had to draw down further loans to keep up with demand for the Local Authority Home Loan Scheme.
At a meeting of the City Council, Director of Services for Housing, Brian Barrett, said they had initially sought approval from councillors for a loan of €4.1 million but such was the demand that they required a further €1.4 million.
A renewed Local Authority Home Loan was announced in December last year and provides for Government-backed mortgages for first-time buyers and ‘fresh-start’ applicants – those who are divorced or separated, or who have undergone personal insolvency or bankruptcy.
The scheme was introduced to provide lower interest rate mortgages to those who are creditworthy but would otherwise find it difficult to access sufficient finance.
Mortgages up to 90% of the value of the property are available, with a limit of €320,000 applicable to Galway. An income ceiling of €65,000 applies to single applicants, or €75,000 in the case of a joint application.
Mr Barrett said since the original scheme was launched in February 2018, 277 applications had been received by Galway City Council and 120 had been approved.
Twenty-three of those loans applied to the Tenant Purchase Scheme for local authority tenants buying-out their homes.
“In February, councillors approved a loan of €4.1 million and we need another €1.4 million . . . we require €5.5 million,” said Mr Barrett, who explained this applied to 2022 applications only.
The funding would be borrowed by the Council from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) raised the issue of joint applications in the case of parents and an adult child who wished to buy out a local authority house under the Tenant Purchase Scheme.
“There is a situation arising where a parent with a son or a daughter in the house and the parent is in their 60s. After getting approved, they go to the Housing Finance Agency and they’re told they can only get a four-year mortgage – they waste five months getting approved to be told that,” he said, explaining that money would not be loaned for a period beyond when the parent turns 70.
“That information was not relayed to the Council,” added Cllr McDonnell.
Dermot Mahon of the Council’s Housing Department said he was aware of this issue, but it was part of the scheme.
“The loan scheme specifies that the maximum age of the eldest borrower is 70,” said Mr Mahon.
Councillors agreed to increase the loan, bringing it to €5.5 million.