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CITY TRIBUNE

Separate Dáil controversies put Galway TDs in spotlight

Dara Bradley

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Noel Grealish: has a pairing arrangement with Fine Gael. Hildegarde Naughton: Voted 'on less than a handful of occasions' for colleagues who were in the Dáil chamber.

A Galway TD frequently missed votes in Dáil Éireann on days he had clocked-in and claimed expenses. The revelation comes as another Galway TD became embroiled in the Dáil voting controversy.

Galway West TD, Noel Grealish, has been named among a cohort of deputies who recorded their attendance in Leinster House, which they must do to claim travel and accommodation expenses, on days when there are votes in the Dáil, but they did not take part in those votes.

The RTÉ Investigates unit analysed TDs’ official attendance and voting records published by the Houses of the Oireachtas and reconciled the attendance-days released under the Freedom of Information Act. In order to claim the TAA (Travel and Accommodation Allowance) scheme, TDs must record their attendance in the Dáil.

According to the analysis by RTÉ, Independent Deputy Grealish was recorded as being present on 66 days in which he missed all the votes, between March 2016 and July 2019. He had signed in for 145 voting days in total during that period, meaning he missed the full day’s votes 45.5% of the time. RTÉ found that between March 2016 and the end of 2018, Deputy Grealish claimed €87,000 in TAA expenses.

Deputy Grealish, in a statement to Galway City Tribune, said he had a pairing arrangement with Fine Gael, which facilitates Ministers to be absent from votes to conduct Government business.

“In previous Dáil terms, the main opposition party provided pairs for the Government to enable them to carry out official duties. As part of the current Dáil, Fianna Fáil are in a confidence and supply situation and cannot provide pairs. I provide pairs when asked by Ministers to enable them to carry out crucial Brexit negotiations and EU business,” he said.

Pairing is an arrangement where a TD from one party agrees with a TD of an opposing party not to vote in a particular division, giving both TDs the opportunity to be elsewhere. Deputy Grealish was fourth in the list of TDs who recorded attendance but missed votes and he followed Kerry brothers Michael Healy-Rae and Danny Healy-Rae, and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Outpatients’ concerns over reduced services at Merlin Park

Dara Bradley

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Patients who use ‘Hospital 1’ at Merlin Park face uncertainty over services after nurses were re-deployed to University Hospital Galway.

The hospital unit carries out infusion and transfusion services, as well as oncology and haematology.

Saolta University Hospital Group – which operates the public hospitals –has transferred nurses from Hospital 1 in recent weeks, so that it had sufficient staff available to reopen St Anthony’s Ward at UHG.

St Anthony’s is a 28-bed ward that had been closed all during Covid-19. It has now been re-opened, using redeployed nurses from Hospital 1, to cater for the return of essential procedures at UHG.

Saolta has argued that it is trying to maintain core services at UHG and it is re-deploying staff from elective areas in Merlin Park.

Merlin Park and UHG combined is Galway University Hospital – essentially the same workplace for industrial relations purposes – and is part of the same umbrella of hospitals in the West and North West run by Saolta.

A number of outpatients who have used Hospital 1 have told the Galway City Tribune they are concerned with the change, and the implications it might have on the services they receive.

Hospital 1 is a medical ward that offers a Monday to Friday service on the first floor of the main building on Merlin Park grounds.

They do infusions and transfusions and treat patients with MS, those who are anaemic, as well as oncology and haematology.

Those impacted by the reduced service at Hospital 1 also include people with blood disorders; people with blood cancers or leukaemia; and people with conditions such as myelodysplasia.

“Neurologists use it to observe patients who’ve had seizures. There’s a multitude of consultants who would’ve used Hospital 1 for various investigative procedures. Rather than going into hospital in UHG, occupying a bed, Hospital 1 is used for infusions, and you could be in and out in a day, or stay a couple of nights,” a source said.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has called on Saolta to put in place a contingency plan.

Anne Burke, INMO, Industrial Relations Officer, Western Region, confirmed to the Galway City Tribune that some of her members have been re-deployed from Merlin Park to UHG, because of a massive shortage of nurses at the Newcastle site.

“If they pulled the Hospital 1 nursing staff out of UHG today, St Anthony’s would have to close and that’s the nub of it. They simply do not have the staff to do it,” explained Ms Burke.

“The staff have redeployed. They were initially told it would be for two weeks. But clearly, that won’t be sustainable in the context of massive vacancies at the UHG site.

“There’s bound to be a very definitive impact on the service. We have members already working overtime, and part-time workers who have upped their hours. But you are only flogging a dead horse if you’re asking people to work over and above. There’s only so much overtime you can do – no matter what money is offered – in the context of the conditions on the wards,” she said.

Asked when Hospital 1 might return to ‘normal’ staffing levels, Ms Burke said: “When is it likely to revert? There’s a big question mark over it, and our position is that it’s an unanswered question in the context of the deficit of nurses at UHG site and the attempt by management to maintain core services.

“That might be of cold comfort to those who depend on transfusions in Hospital 1. But they are going to have to put in a contingency plan about all of this and how it’s going to be managed and how Joe and Mary Bloggs who is looking for an infusion or transfusion, how are they going to get that. They cannot just be left in abeyance. They have to receive some element of treatment. Whether that is done through engagement with the private hospitals again, we don’t know.”

The recent cyber attack on the HSE has hampered INMO’s ability to communicate with hospital management.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Hundreds of new apartments in Galway will not be available to buy

Enda Cunningham

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The backer of the Crown Square scheme in Mervue is planning a massive ‘build to rent’ housing scheme as part of the development, with 345 apartments.

Padraic Rhatigan was previously granted permission for 288 apartments on the site but has now applied for a modified and higher-density development, with blocks ranging from four to nine storeys in height.

There will also be a neighbourhood facility with a gym, a primary care medical centre with pharmacy, a ‘working from home’ lounge, games room and a creche.

There will be 240 two-bed apartments, 86 one-beds and 19 three-beds, all of which will be specifically for the rental market and not available to purchase.

The plans include three blocks ranging from five to nine storeys in height, with garden courtyards.

To meet social housing requirements, the developer plans to transfer 35 of the apartments (20 two-bed, 10 one-bed and 5 three-bed) to Galway City Council.

A total of 138 car-parking spaces have been allocated on the lower basement levels of Crown Square for residents, and there will be 1,200 secure bicycle parking spaces across the development.

The planning application was made directly to An Bord Pleanála under ‘Strategic Housing Development’ legislation, which allows for the Board to decide on applications residential developments of more than 100 units following initial consultations with the local authority.

According to Rhatigans, the property market has changed since it was granted permission in November 2019 for 288 apartments in three blocks ranging from five to eight storeys in height.

“The rationale behind this proposal stems from the changes to market modelling and the demand for residential accommodation which have arisen since the previously approved application.

“These amendments … are being proposed following a review of the economic viability of the overall scheme,” the applicant previously said.

According to the new application, the scheme is intended to create a “distinctive new city quarter”.

“Important pedestrian and cyclist connections are also incorporated into the design by creating links between Monivea Road and Joyces Road providing an accessible street network for walkers and cyclists. It is considered that the proposed development would bring significant socio-economic benefits to the community,” the application reads.

The apartments constitute Phase 2 of the Crown Square development. The first phase is already under construction and includes a 180-bed hotel with bar, restaurant and conference facilities and five office blocks with space for up to 3,500 workers.

Mr Rhatigan recently told An Bord Pleanála that despite uncertainty in the market with hotels at the moment due to Covid-19, there is still a plan to proceed with the hotel in Phase 1 “and broadly with the masterplan for the overall scheme”.

He explained that the substructure of the hotel was currently being put in and that Rhatigans are in discussions with a few potential operators, but are not as far along in the discussions due to the delays brought about by Covid-19, however, it is believed to be still viable.

It remains the intention to be a high-quality hotel with a good-branded operator on board, he told the Board.

Two of the buildings in Phase 1 are expected to be completed with landscaping and occupiers moving in at the end of this year.

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CITY TRIBUNE

City Council ‘does not outbid’ private buyers in housing market

Dara Bradley

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Charities that buy houses in Galway for homeless people are not distorting the property market, a senior official at City Hall has said.

Dermot Mahon, Acting Director of Services for Housing at Galway City Council, insisted that Approved Housing Bodies (AHB), which provide and manage rented social houses, do not outbid private buyers in the housing market.

He was responding to queries from elected members before they approved a loan of almost €1 million to facilitate three AHBs to buy four city homes.

“We don’t engage in a bidding process,” Mr Mahon said. “We take a value, and we will not exceed that value. If there are other purchasers we will not engage, and we will not exceed it [valuation].”

He said that there is a cap in all local authority areas set by Government regarding the maximum amount that can be paid to purchase houses for use as social housing rental properties.

Councillors agreed to approve loans of €930,000 for the purchase of four homes.

The agreement included €202,355 to Galway Simon for a two-bed house off the Western Distributor Road in Knocknacarra; some €189,264 to Cope Galway for a one-bed apartment on Dominick Street; and €246,528 and €292,279 respectively to Peter McVerry Trust for two-bed and four-bed houses in Doughiska.

Funding is provided by way of a grant from the Department of the Housing to the local authority who provides the funding to the relevant AHB in the form of a 30-year mortgage. Loan charges are waived provided the terms of the scheme are complied with.

“All properties have been supported by an independent valuation and represent good value for money,” said Mr Mahon.

He said that Simon and Cope were two organisations that had “excellent records” in Galway.

Mr Mahon said that Peter McVerry Trust is “in the market for more property” in Galway.

The Trust already operates the Modular Family Hub in Westside on behalf of the Council, which is a temporary facility to house people who are homeless in accommodation other than hotels and B&Bs.

Two families from the Westside Hub will be relocated to the two new properties bought in Doughiska.

In response to several questions from councillors, Mr Mahon insisted that the method of allocating housing was “transparent”.

“There is no queue skipping – it is done in consultation with us,” he said. It is based on need and length of time on the housing waiting list.

Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) called on the Council to carry-out full surveys of houses before they are allocated to tenants.

He pointed to a recent situation in Doughiska where homes were allocated to tenants but the properties were ‘faulty from the get-go’, which was not acceptable. The issue was decided on in the courts, he said.

Mr Mahon said the four new properties being discussed were compliant with planning permission and had been assessed by engineers.

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