Following the threat of legal action from Europe, the final step in the formal designation of Galway’s Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) has begun.
From this week landowners are being notified by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs that each of the 15 SACs spread over 2,300 acres are to be designated by statutory instrument.
Formal designation does not place any additional requirements on landowners or users than already applied from the time these sites were first identified and proposed as SACs. The process does not create any additional SAC.
“Landowners were given the opportunity to lodge an objection at the initial time of the proposed designation.
“The boundary of the sites is now finalised and there is no appeal option at this stage,” explained a Department spokesman.
“Landowners who have queries in relation to the designation may speak to the local conservation ranger who will advise and allay some of their concerns or they can contact the Department’s office for further information.”
The Habitats Directive gave member states six years to designate protected areas under their national law – turning them from “Sites of Community Interest” (SCIs) into “Special Areas of Conservation” (SACs), and to adopt the required measures for improving the status of habitats and species present on these sites.
Last April the EU Commission issued a statement, pointing out Ireland had formally designated only a minor proportion of its SCIs as SACs following the expiration of the six-year period and had not established the required conservation objectives and conservation measures for all of the remaining sites.
“This significant gap in the compliance with the key obligations under the Habitats Directive prevents the sound protection and management of the sites and constitutes a major threat to an appropriate functioning and the coherence of the Natura 2000 network as a whole,” the statement read.
Giving Ireland two months to reply, the statement added that “if Ireland fails to act, the Commission may take the matter to the Court of Justice of the EU.”
Stretching over 18% of the EU’s land area and almost 6% of its marine territory, Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world.
These fifteen sites are spread across County Galway and cover turloughs, woods, nature reserves and caves.
A map of each area has been sent to landowners or those renting the land.
They are Croaghill Turlough, Derrycrag Wood Nature Reserve in Woodford, Kiltartan Cave in Coole, Levally Lough in Kilgarriff, Pollnaknockaun Wood Nature Reserve in Woodford, Ballymaglancy Cave in Cong, Rosturra Wood in Ballynagar, Barnahallia Lough in Sillerna, Lough Nageeron, Tully Lough, Gortacarnaun Wood in Kilbeacanty, Drummin Wood in Kilbeacanty, Glenloughaun Esker, Cahermore Turlough and Carrowbaun, Newhall and Ballylee Turloughs in Kiltartan.
In most cases where lands are included in a SAC, farmers will not have to change their farming methods but will be requested to carry on in the traditional way.
Dúchas, the agency with responsibility for the designated sites, consults with farmers and advises them on the appropriate changes that may need to be made.
A landowner considering making changes on the farm that might affect wildlife habitat in a designated area must consult Dúchas beforehand.
But developments considered likely to cause significant damage to the wildlife importance of a designated site will not be allowed, except for “reasons of over-riding public interest, in the absence of any realistic alternative”, according to a department briefing document.
The farmer must notify the Department if using fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides near a protected water source, altering the river flow or removing trees or vegetation from within 30 metres of the riverbank.
Community fights back on hospital ‘downgrade by stealth’
Raw emotion, sadness and some anger filled the air at Clifden Town Hall on Sky Road last Sunday afternoon as a shaken community gave honest, personal accounts of the impact the closure by stealth of Clifden District Hospital would have on the people of North Connemara.
The public meeting was hastily organised after fears emerged on Friday that the HSE may transfer respite services from Clifden to Merlin Park Hospital, 50-plus miles away in Galway City.
Families were told their loved ones in Clifden Hospital may have to move home, or go to Merlin Park the following Monday, due to ‘issues with staffing’.
An axe has hung over Clifden Hospital for some years, but this latest move stirred the community to fight back to retain services locally.
Galway County Councillor Eileen Mannion (FG), who organised the public meeting with Senator Sean Kyne, said 625 people signed the attendance sheets and an estimated 650 people attended.
“The community effort spreading the word was unbelievable; the turnout was unbelievable,” she said.
“It wasn’t just anger; it was raw emotion in the room. Sadness. Family members spoke about the calls they got on Friday. The feeling that their elderly person was being rejected; that they weren’t being respected.
“One man stood up, three years waiting for respite care for a family member, and then to be told after a few days in there that she’d have to be taken home or to Merlin Park.
“We’re 50 miles from Galway. If there’s no traffic you might get to the outskirts in an hour but with the traffic in Galway, you could be another hour to get to Merlin Park. Not everyone has transport either and they’ve to rely on buses.
“A young woman stood up at the meeting and said her dad was dying in Galway. And she had to go to Saint Vincent de Paul to get money to pay for a B&B so that the family would be close to him when the end came. People gave their personal stories, and it was just heart-breaking.”
(Photo by Carmel Lyden: Teresa Conneely from Roundstone addresses people at the public meeting in Clifden Town Hall).
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the Clifden Hospital story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Pilgrim took to his feet to realise dream!
Clifden man Breandan O Scanaill, who is on a pilgrimage from his home town of Clifden to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, received a Mayoral welcome and a memorial crest when he arrived at the Asturian town of Navia last week.
Breandan, whose walk from his home outside Clifden to the reputed burial place of St James in Santiago, began in April, was walking through Navia in Spain when a local man came over to chat to him.
“He asked me about my journey and was interested in the fact that an Irish man had turned up in the town,” says Breandan, who had been admiring the Chapel of San Roque at the time.
The local man outlined the history of the building and the town to Breandan and they began chatting more generally about history and architecture – topics dear to the pilgrim’s heart.
Breandán’s new friend introduced himself as the Mayor of Navia, lgnacio Garcia Palacios, who invited the visitor from Clifden to visit the Town Hall.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Local Property Tax rate to stay unchanged despite Council chief’s plea
Councillors have agreed to keep the Local Property Tax (LPT) rate unchanged – despite pleas from management that Galway County Council is predicted to spend at least €22 million more than it brings in for the next two years.
County Chief Executive Jim Cullen had recommended an increase of 15% on the LPT rate for 2023 and 2024 – amounting to €2.1m extra in the coffers annually – which would bolster its case when it came to pleading for a greater share of funding from central government.
In an estimation of income and expenditure for the Council, taking into account “unavoidable” expenditure and income changes set to hit, the Council would run a deficit of €9.04m in 2023 and 13.2m in 2024 – well over €22m unless there was a change in finances.
“I am hopeful of an uplift in baseline [funding] levels . . . we cannot continue to ignore the fact that other councils have raised LPT and their citizens enjoy a better standard of services that in Galway,” he stressed.
He told a meeting this week that €9m would be needed to maintain services next year at the same level as 2022. This was due to significant cost increases given that inflation is reaching 9.6% currently. Pensions, gratuities and payroll increases from the national pay agreement, increments and additional staff were all adding to bigger outgoings.
Without that extra funding, it will be necessary to reduce spending by that amount with a negative impact on service and staffing levels, he said.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the story, including the councillors’ discussions, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.