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CITY TRIBUNE

Senator poses ‘awkward’ questions on 2020 spending

Dara Bradley

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Galway’s year-long designation as Capital of Culture in 2020 could turn into another ‘arthouse cinema debacle’ without proper checks and balances being put in place, a senator has cautioned.

Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has again warned about a “lack of oversight and lack of transparency” with regard management of the project now and into the future.

The Sinn Féin politician has posed ‘awkward’ questions of Galway City Council this week in relation to a possible €800,000 overspend so far on the City of Culture and the proposed €230,000 annual salaries of two staff who are to be recruited.

The Connemara-based senator has also queried if the Council has followed proper tender procedures when choosing a company for recruitment, and questioned whether a finance and audit subcommittee of Galway 2020 has been established, as was promised.

The City Council has acknowledged his series of questions and has promised to revert with answers as soon as possible.

“It is important that public representatives ask tough questions now to ensure the success of this designation. I am worried now that there is a complete lack of transparency and a lack of oversight, which could lead to another arthouse cinema debacle,” said Senator Ó Clochartaigh, who fears the City of Culture could turn sour like the ill-fated and long-delayed cinema project.

There are four strands to his questioning, with the first two involving money.

He has asked Galway 2020 to publish a breakdown of the costs associated with the bid. The bid book said expenditure would amount to €1 million in 2016, “but we are told the bid process cost €1.8 million, so does that mean a budget overrun of €800,000 and where will that shortfall be funded from?”

The Council has acknowledged that €27 million from European, state and regional sources will not be available until 2019 or 2020. “The €1.4 million prize for winning the designation isn’t guaranteed either and is only paid if the city delivers on what it said it would in its bid book. Even then it won’t be paid until after 2020, so where is the money coming from in the meantime,” he said.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh has also questioned the advertised salaries of CEO and creative director of the project, which amount to €120,000 and €110,000.

“That’s the guts of a quarter of a million. It’s a lot of money, especially when the City and County Councils are totally strapped for cash. That type of money seems very high to me, especially when there are expenses on top of that.

“I’ve been speaking with artists in Galway who are very concerned that artists will see little financial benefit from the City of Culture because all the money will be spent on managers and administrators. How many more people do Galway 2020 plan to hire in addition to a CEO and creative director? And how does the advertised salaries compare to those of the Galway Arts Festival, Babaró, Cúirt and other cultural and artistic events, because what I’m hearing from people in the industry is close-on €250,000 is quite high?”

Derry company Connected Talent has been chosen to run the recruitment process and Senator Ó Clochartaigh has asked for clarification on whether this was a position that was advertised and given through a public tender process.

“I have also asked the project promoters to clarify what role Connected Talent, or its employees, played in the Derry City of Culture 2013 project, because it seems that this has been key to them securing the contract of recruiting the Galway 2020 team. The company, according to its own PR, was only set up two years ago, after the Derry project was finished.

“I would also like to know who the members of the finance and audit subcommittee of Galway 2020 are; when and how they were appointed; and details on who is carrying out the independent monitoring and evaluation that is outlined in the bid book,” he said.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh said his ‘unpopular’ questions are ones that must be asked if Galway 2020 is to be a success.

“There is a sense out there that Galway 2020 is going to be brilliant and great for the city, and it can be, but from speaking with local artists, there is also a very real fear that it could turn into a debacle, without proper oversight and transparency and monitoring. Now is the time to ask the questions, not when it’s over,” he added.

CITY TRIBUNE

Designated drinking zones in city centre are ‘only solution’

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Properly staffed designated areas are the only solution to out-of-control outdoor boozing, according to the city councillor who drafted the city’s drinking bylaws.

Cllr Peter Keane told the Galway City Tribune it was likely that councillors would seek to ‘tweak’ the existing bylaws in the near future to find a long-term solution that would enable young people to ‘enjoy a drink outdoors in a safe and controlled environment’, not just now, but in the future too.

To avoid a repeat of scenes around Spanish Arch over recent weekends, the Fianna Fáil councillor said providing areas where the consumption of alcohol was allowed would enable Gardaí to properly enforce the drinking bylaws throughout the rest of the city.

He said he could ‘absolutely appreciate the concerns of residents’ in the Claddagh and elsewhere where anti-social behaviour including urinating in gardens ‘and worse’ had been a blight in recent weeks, but said with proper control, those worst excesses could be avoided.

In the first ten days of June, 83 on-the-spot fines were issued in the city for drinking in a public place.

And last Saturday night, Gardaí closed off the Quincentenary Bridge after hundreds of young people gathered on the carriageway and turned it into a “highly-dangerous road traffic risk situation”.

“Control is the key word for me. Gardaí don’t have the resources, nor do they have the appetite as far as I can see, to deal with the lack of control there has been during the recent good weather.
“If you were to designate, say for example the Spanish Arch or a green area in Salthill, where the bylaws didn’t apply, you could put a number of wardens in place there to control the situation. You could provide adequate bins and toilets, and enough bodies to staff it, and that would allow gardaí to police the bylaws elsewhere,” said Cllr Keane.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and coverage of the re-opening of the hospitality sector and outdoor dining, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Dispute simmers between businesses and Council over outdoor spaces

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Friction between businesses and local government over the reclaiming of public space to facilitate outside hospitality marred the beginning of the city’s ‘outdoor summer’.

Galway City Council has come under fire over its handling of plans by bars and restaurants to use street furniture to facilitate outdoor dining and drinking.

Most city watering holes and eateries resumed trading on Bank Holiday Monday – serving outdoors only – for the first time since Christmas, and the authorities reported that it was successful for the most part, although it needed time to ‘bed in’.

The city vintners’ group said its members with adequate outdoor space were happy to be back and described the mood as ‘euphoric’ in places.

But several outlets expressed disappointment with the Council.

In Eyre Square, the Skeff Late Bar and Kitchen claimed it had to cancel 200 advance bookings – up to 800 people – for this week, after the Council refused permission for “extended outdoor seating”.

On Middle Street, Sangria Tapas Restaurant lashed the Council for refusing it permission to use certain types of awning and windbreakers to facilitate outdoor dining. “Surely the powers that be can take time to support the industry that supports the city?” its proprietor said in a complaint to City Hall.

‘Back the West’, businesses criticised the Council for rowing back on promises to provide additional outdoor space on Dominick Street Lower and Dominick Street Upper, in time for outdoor hospitality’s reopening on June 7.
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.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council chief: ‘landlords see 4% rent increase cap as a target’

Enda Cunningham

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said that the 4% annual cap on residential rent increases is now seen as a target by many landlords.

Brendan McGrath said that affordability continues to be a major problem for renters in the city and that an increasing number of people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme have to pay ‘top ups’ to their landlords.

The HAP scheme replaces rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need – the individual finds a private rented accommodation within specific rent caps and the Council pays the landlord directly. The tenant then pays a rent to the Council based on their weekly household income.

The maximum monthly rents under the scheme range from €330 for an adult in shared accommodation to €900 for a single parent or couple with three kids.

Based on their household size, tenants can also apply for a 20% extra ‘discretionary’ payment on top of their HAP payment.

However, Mr McGrath said many on the HAP scheme in Galway have to pay top ups to their landlords.

“Rents as a percentage of income is increasing and affordability remains a major problem for the city’s renters. The majority of HAP tenants require additional discretionary payments to assist them in maintaining their tenancies, particularly single person households.

“An increasing number of HAP tenants now have to pay top ups to their landlords even with the 20% extra HAP discretionary payment applied for their particular household size,” Mr McGrath said in a report to councillors.
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.

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