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CITY TRIBUNE

Senior manager questions rebrand decision at GMIT as deficit mounts

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The College of Tourism and Arts at GMIT has a deficit of €2.3 million that is “getting worse”, staff have been told.

The financial plight of that particular wing of the college was laid bare at a meeting of around 40 staff that was addressed by Jim Fennell, GMIT financial Controller, and Cáit Noone, Head of the College of Tourism and Arts.

Some €800,000 of the €2.3 deficit related to the art and design section of the school at its Cluain Mhuire campus, the meeting heard.

It was explained that student enrolment was at around 600 but that particular part of the college had capacity for roughly 1,000 students.

The college was “losing market share since 2013”, Mr Fennell said.

Hotel and catering management was one of the original degree courses offered at GMIT in the 1970s, when it was known as an RTC (Regional Technical College); and it became synonymous with excellence in hotel and catering.

However, Mr Fennell told the meeting that it was a “mistake” to rebrand the GMIT Hotel and Catering School – a well-known brand – into the College of Tourism and Arts or CTA for short.

Mr Fennell mentioned that there were 30 administrative staff working within the CTA.

Though it was not explicitly said at the meeting, some staff took it as an indication that retiring admin staff will not be replaced, or may be moved to other departments.

Staff are to be divided into ‘working groups’ to see if they can come up with ways of reducing the deficit, the meeting was told.

“It’s typical, management mess it up, and they come looking to staff for solutions, to spread the load,” said one senior employee based at the Dublin Road campus.

Earlier this year, the Galway City Tribune revealed the contents of a report, which questioned the future economic viability of GMIT.

Michael O’Connell – a former financial controller at Limerick IT, when he was a colleague of Dr Fergal Barry, GMIT President – compiled the report that recommended cost reductions and income generation totalling €5 million for 2015-2020. The report called into question the future sustainability of the institute, and warned that drastic cutbacks are necessary to arrest the perilous financial decline faced by GMIT.

In May, Dr Barry said the college was implementing an action plan to correct their finances.

“As a result, GMIT’s deficit will be less than €1m at the end of this academic year (2016/2017) and the Institute will be returning to surplus on the September 1, 2017 for the Academic Year 2017/2018.

“GMIT will be using its considerable reserves to support the implementation of its academic plan. To date planned staffing level reductions have been and continue to be achieved through non-replacement of retirements and the reassignment of staff to areas of growth,” he said.

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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