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Student’s night of terror as knife held to throat

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A mugger celebrated his 18th birthday by holding a knife to a student’s throat and threatening to carve his initials on his forehead once he had killed him.

Declan Breen, of 9 Bothar Waithman, Ballybane, stole the terrified victim’s phone wallet and runners, in what was described as a humiliating and terrifying ordeal in a letter from the victim, who refused to come to court out of fear of reprisals.

Breen received sentences totalling 13 months at Galway District Court this week for what Judge Mary Fahy described as “the lowest of the low” type of robbery and one, which she said, had become a “life changer” for the victim.

Breen had just turned 18 – on July 8 last – the night he robbed the victim of his €300 mobile phone, €20 cash and a pair of €100 runners at The Line, Renmore.

Breen pleaded guilty to that offence and to also having a knife in his possession which was produced during the course of the robbery.

Garda Sheena Gill explained the 19-year-old student was too afraid of reprisals to come to court to give evidence of his ordeal.

Garda Gill gave evidence the victim had been in town the previous evening with friends.  They had gone for a meal and he was walking along “The Line” to his house in Renmore at 12.30am on Tuesday, July 8 last, when he was attacked by Breen and a 16-year-old, who cannot be named due to his age.

The victim saw both youths pull their hoodies up over their heads before they approached him.

They asked him for a cigarette and when he told them he didn’t smoke, he was punched into the face a few times with closed fists.

He ran from them but they caught up with him, punched him again and told him to empty his pockets.

One of them held him by the arms while the other searched him.

They asked him if he had any drugs, especially “weed”, and he told them he didn’t.

They became more aggressive towards him and took his phone.  They asked him for the PIN and went through his pockets again, taking out his wallet.  They took €20 from the wallet along with his student age and bank cards.

They demanded to know the PIN for the bank card and he gave them a false number.

They demanded to know where he lived and he gave them a false address.

They warned him that if he contacted the Gardai they would burn his house down with his family inside.  They also warned him that if he had given them a wrong address, they would burn that house down anyway, and he would be to blame if there were children in that house.

Breen then told the victim he would have no problem killing him.

He told him to remove his runners which he put on himself.

Both attackers then left in the direction of Eyre Square but they returned a few seconds later and Breen took a knife from the juvenile.

“He (Breen) slid the knife across the victim’s throat and carried on with his threats to get him if he went to the Gardai.

“He then slid the knife across the victim’s left cheek.  He prodded him with the point of the knife on his cheek and also slid it over his ears, threatening to cut them off.

“Breen said he would kill him and carve his initials into his forehead, while rubbing the knife on it,” Garda Gill said.

Garda Gill said she and her colleagues caught up with Breen and the juvenile a short time later in Eyre Square.

Inspector Brendan Carroll said Breen had 18 previous convictions for robbery, burglaries, thefts, possession of articles(weapons) and criminal damage.

Breen, he said, had served prison sentences as a juvenile in the past for some of those offences and he was currently serving a eight-month sentence for theft, possession of articles, criminal damage and larceny.

Garda Gill explained the victim was too afraid to come to court but his father was present.   She said the young man had written a letter,  explaining the impact the attack had had on him and it was handed into court for Judge Fahy to read.

The judge said she was shocked that the accused would treat another young person in that manner.

She said that while listening to the evidence, the word “humiliation” had come to mind and on reading the victim’s letter, he had used that exact same word to describe how he felt during his ordeal.

“He has said that when asked to take off his shoes, he felt humiliated.

“It’s the lowest of the low and I have heard lots of stories during my time as a judge.

“It’s shocking; a young boy, having to go home in his socks, bleeding,” Judge Fahy said.

Insp Carroll said the victim’s mobile phone and runners were found in Breen’s possession.

“Who would want them back? Who would want to touch anything that had been touched in this manner?” Judge Fahy asked.

Defence solicitor, John Martin said his client had turned 18 on July 8.  He reminded Judge Fahy she was familiar with Breen from the juvenile court and knew about his background.

Breen’s mother, he said, died when he was very young, his father had minimal input in his life and his uncle was his legal guardian and was doing his best.

Mr Martin pointed out that heretofore his client’s convictions had involved property and these new offences were the first to involve aggression towards a victim.

Mr Martin said his client had taken pills and abused alcohol on the night and the way in which the crime was carried out appeared to be a lot different from before.

He said Breen apologised for his behaviour when he was picked up by the Gardai that night.

Garda Gill explained the juvenile had been dealt with under the Juvenile Liaison Scheme due to his young age.

Judge Fahy said this had been a more serious type of robbery.

“In other cases, robberies or assaults are over a phone, but I have never seen such aggression or such personal threats or humiliation as displayed in this one,” she said.

Judge Fahy said the maximum sentence she could impose in her court was 24 months and she would have to give the accused credit for the plea.

Bearing in mind he was currently serving an eight-month sentence for other offences, Judge Fahy said the appropriate sentence for the robbery in this case was seven months, to run consecutively to the sentence currently being served.

She imposed a further, consecutive six-month sentence for possession of the knife.

Judge Fahy then strenuously warned Breen that if he made any threats to the victim’s family by any means, she would not be accepting jurisdiction and he would be sent forward to a higher court where he would get five years.

He grinned back at her and shook his head.  He continued to smirk and grin.

“I’m warning you,” Judge Fahy repeated.

Referring to the victim’s letter again, Judge Fahy added:  “The reality is that for this young man, the marks on his face will fade, but the trauma he has sustained will not fade for a very long time.

“It’s a life-changer for him, due to the defendant’s actions.  I just hope he makes a complete recovery.”

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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