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HSE blasted for keeping charity funds

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The Health Service Executive (HSE) has been criticised for using legal technicalities to deprive of children’s cancer charity of a €300,000 donation made to it by another organisation.

Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton raised concerns over the controversial transaction earlier this month, when she asked the Minister for Health to establish how the charitable donation had been absorbed by the HSE.

The controversy relates to a donation made by another children’s charity, Boys Hope Girls Hope, which was in the process of winding up in 2009. It liquidated its assets and donated the proceeds to charities working in the same area.

It agreed to give €300,000 generated by the sale of a property to CD Helping Hands – now called Hand in Hand – to support the charity’s work in providing assistance to families affected by childhood cancer.

It was decided that the HSE would act as an intermediary to manage the funds and release it to Hand in Hand over a three-year period. However, no money was provided to the charity until 2011, when it received just €50,000 of the total amount.

A senior HSE official met with the charity last week and presented legal advice it had sought in respect of the funds, claiming that it was entitled to retain the money. No further meeting has been scheduled.

It is understood that the legal advice presented by the HSE referred to the possibility of using the Statute of Limitations to prevent Hand in Hand from asserting a legal right to the donation.

Deputy Naughton said that the manner of the HSE’s  engagement with the charity was shameful, and described its attempt to justify the appropriation of the donation with legal technicalities as morally bankrupt.

“Hand in Hand is an excellent charity doing incredible work, but it has struggled enormously in the absence of this funding. It is in a precarious financial position now, to the extent that its continued existence is threatened unless this situation can be resolved,” she said.

“I find it repugnant that the HSE’s response to my concerns has been to seek legal advice outlining how it can keep the money. The cost of that legal opinion alone could have been used to support the good work of Hand in Hand.

“Does the HSE really propose to explain to children and families affected by childhood cancer that they can no longer avail of a service because of the Statute of Limitations or some legal technicality?” asked the Galway West TD.

“They need to come back to the table with Hand in Hand and approach this situation from a moral perspective – not a legal one – and reach a solution that will support the vital services that the charity provides.”

In a letter dated 4 May 2009, former director of Boys Hope Girls Hope John MacNamara wrote to a HSE manager, referring to the terms of the donation and enclosing a cheque for €300,000.

“I attach a cheque for €300k payable to the HSE PCCC (Primary, Community and Continuing Care) as you requested,” he wrote.

“You will have received a copy of [another director’s] letter of March 6th setting out the terms of this donation to fund CD Helping Hands Charity. In particular these terms include a commitment by you to donate €50k per annum to this charity.”

A memorandum of understanding signed by the HSE and the children’s charity in 2009 refers to a fund of €450,000, of which up to €150,000 could be drawn down each year for three years until 2011.

CITY TRIBUNE

Cyclists and disability groups don’t feel the love for ‘kissing gate’ barriers

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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.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council needs extra loans for home-buying scheme

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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.

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CITY TRIBUNE

City councillors pack their bags for Dutch transport junket

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From the Galway City Tribune – A group of city councillors will be packing their bags for Holland in the coming weeks as part of an initiative to introduce them to revolutionary transport solutions.

A meeting of the Council heard that the National Transport Authority (NTA) was willing to fund a trip for councillors to an area similar to Galway – in order to highlight the possibilities in relation to sustainable travel.

Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath confirmed that the NTA “feel it would be beneficial for councillors to see some of the solutions implemented in other areas”.

“It would be to a town in Holland, similar in size to Galway, to see their active travel solutions,” said Mr McGrath.

There would be no cost to the City Council, he added.

The meeting heard the trip would last three days and would be open to nine councillors – half of the full Council – while two City Hall officials would accompany them.

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