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Connacht Tribune

Stability fund saves Mna Tí after summer schools bite the dust

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Coláiste Lurgan in Indreabhán: one of the Irish colleges in Galway.

The Government has announced plans to bolster the income of the Irish summer colleges sector – unveiling a €4.7 million stability fund following the cancellation of this year’ courses due to Covid-19.

Minister of State for the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands Seán Kyne said the fund would provide a lifeline to over a dozen coláistí samhraidh in Galway, and the mná tí who provide care for visiting students in the Connemara Gaeltacht.

Under the scheme, €3.1 million has been allocated to colleges to enable them to refund parents who had deposits paid, while €1.6 million will be ring-fenced to offset the loss of income of host families.

Gaeltacht residents had expressed fear that one of their only sources of income would be cut off following the cancellation of courses – compounded by the fact that the April 20 cancellation was not accompanied by an announcement of financial support for those adversely affected.

However, Senator Kyne said the scheme had to get the approval of the Department of An Taoiseach and of Public Expenditure and Reform – with the almost €5 million scheme to be funded from within the Department’s existing budget.

“There was funding there in the Department’s Community and Language Supports Programme, but we had to get permission from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to repurpose that funding.

“There are obviously huge demands on budgets at the moment so I had to get permission before that money could be spent,” explained the former TD for Galway West.

This funding would be crucial, he said, to allow colleges to begin planning for 2021 courses and to ensure the sustainability of the sector which is worth in the region of €50 million to mostly rural Gaeltacht areas.

“It’s a very important sector and what’s most important at the moment is to prepare for 2021. Part of that task is to ensure that we leave the coláistí samhraidh viable for 2021 and that the mná tí would be willing to participate in 2021.

“The major challenge is getting through this year, but ensuring that we have it set-up for 2021, by providing stability for the sector. It’s also important that we provide this stimulus to the local economy,” said Senator Kyne.

While the funding announced was only a small portion of what would normally be generated by over 26,000 students travelling to the Gaeltacht each summer, it would go some way in ensuring that there was money circulating in these areas.

“Obviously, we won’t have the bonanza we normally have with parents coming from Dublin and elsewhere of a Sunday to see their child in the coláistí samhraidh – that won’t be there this year – but there will be some funding for the mná tí to ensure the viability of the sector through 2021 and beyond.

“The summer colleges, from autumn, will be taking bookings again and working on next year’s bookings, preparing brochures and so on. It’s very important that they are able to move ahead and plan for that,” said Senator Kyne.

Meanwhile, Conradh na Gaeilge has welcomed the announcement, with Uachtarán Dr Niall Comer stating that summer colleges were crucial to the survival of Gaeltacht communities.

“The Gaeltacht summer colleges have and will always be an essential part of the very fabric of the Gaeltacht communities and if the Gaeltacht areas are to survive, those colleges must be identified as a central component of their future.

“All of us in the Irish speaking community and further afield have a duty to stand strong for local Gaeltacht communities who have, for decades, provided a haven for the language and its learners. We welcome this decision to support the Gaeltacht colleges and communities in these exceptional times and thank Senator Kyne for his work in ensuring the delivery of this support scheme,” said Dr Comer.

Senator Kyne said application forms for the scheme for both the colleges and mná tí would be available within the next fortnight.

Connacht Tribune

‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’

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It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.

Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.

“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”

The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.

He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.

A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.

But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.

Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.

They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.

Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.

The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.

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Connacht Tribune

Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites

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The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.

Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.

Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.

“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.

“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.

The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.

That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.

The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.

Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.

However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.

It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.

Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.

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Connacht Tribune

More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway

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More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.

Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.

Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996.  Both men remain in custody.

A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.

A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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