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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

Murals are part of initiative to restore pride in Ballybane estate

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From the Galway City Tribune – A poem about litter forms part of a vibrant colourful new mural painted on the walls of a City Council estate in Ballybane.

The poetry and artwork by local artist Irene Naughton is part of an initiative to restore pride in Sliabh Rua.

The final two lines of Ms Naughton’s poem, called The Dragon’s Foot, read: “The land, the sea and the river all get hurt when we leave a littered footprint on the earth.”

The full poem was painted onto boundary walls as part of a large colourful mural that was created by Ms Naughton.

The street art includes handprints from children living in the estate on the city’s east side.

It also depicts an enchanted forest, a dragon sitting atop Merlin Castle, a view of the Burren, a wolf, butterflies, insects and foliage, as well as a man playing the guitar, a former resident who died.

Ms Naughton, who was commissioned by the City Council’s Environment Department, said it took about five days to complete.

“The residents were very, very helpful and kind,” she said.

Councillor Noel Larkin (Ind) explained that the mural was part of a wider, ‘Ballybane Matters’ project, which stemmed from Galway City Joint Policing Committee (JPC).

“We were doing a lot of talking at the JPC about anti-social behaviour, and it seemed to be more prevalent in the Ballybane area. When we boiled it down, it was in the Sliabh Rua and Fána Glas areas.

“Month after month it was just talking. So Níall McNelis [chair of the JPC] said we should set up a small group to hone in on exactly what was going on,” he said.

A group was formed to focus on improving the Council estate of about 40 houses.

As well as Cllr Larkin, it included: Sergeant Mick Walsh, Galway Garda Crime Prevention Officer and community Gardaí Maria Freeley, Nicola Browne, Kenneth Boyle and Darragh Browne; Fr Martin Glynn; Imelda Gormley of Ballybane Taskforce; Councillor Alan Cheevers; Donal Lynch, chairperson Merlin Neighbourhood Residents’ Association; and two members of Galway Traveller Movement, Katie Donoghue and Kate Ward.

Ms Gormley carried out a survey to get feedback from residents.

“A lot of the problems people had were horses on the green, people being harassed going in and out of estates, trailers full of rubbish left around the place, the City Council not cutting the grass, and anti-social behaviour,” explained Cllr Larkin.

Small improvements, with community buy in, has helped to revitalise the estate.

Cllr Larkin praised Edward Conlon, community warden with the City Council, who has been “absolutely brilliant”.

“He looked funding that was available to get trees or shrubs and to get the grass cut more regularly,” he said.

“Fr Martin got a residents committee set up because he knew people through the church, and that means there is community buy-in, people are actually taking an interest now.

“When we started originally, Sergeant Mick Walsh mentioned ‘the closed curtain syndrome’. You go into your home in the evening close your curtain and don’t want to see what’s going on outside. Whereas now, with community pride restored to the area, if somebody is acting the maggot outside, people are keeping an eye on it and that curbs anti-social behaviour,” said Cllr Larkin.

Covid-19 delayed the project but it “came together very quickly” once work started.

Cllr Larkin said that the project will move to other estates in Ballybane, including Fána Glas and Castlepark, but they also plan to maintain the progress made in on Sliabh Rua.

“We decided to concentrate on Sliabh Rua, because if we could crack Sliabh Rua we could crack the rest of them. Pride has been restored in the community,” added Cllr Larkin.

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CITY TRIBUNE

QR codes hold the key to podcast tour of Galway City

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From the Galway City Tribune – From singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s teenage days busking on the corner of William Street, to the rich past of the 14th century Lynch’s Castle on Shop Street, a new interactive tour of Galway City covers modern and ancient history.

Regional tour guide Jim Ward has created a series of podcasts detailing the history of eight places of interest in Galway City.

The Salthill native has created two-dimensional QR codes that are located at each of the eight locations, which allow visitors to download the podcasts to their smart phones.

Each podcast gives a flavour of the tours that Jim gives in ‘real-time’ when he leads hordes of tourists around the city’s famous sites.

The podcasts range from five to ten minutes and are located on or near buildings at the following locations: Eyre Square, William Street, Lynch’s Castle, the King’s Head, St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, the Latin Quarter, Spanish Arch and Galway Cathedral.

During the Covid-19 Lockdowns, Jim gave virtual tours by video through sustainable tourism website, Flockeo.

He has also brought Ukrainian refugees on tours through the city streets to allow them to become familiar with Galway’s rich history.

The podcasts are hosted on his website, galwaytrails.ie and are accessed on mobile devices through via QR codes scanned onto posters.

Jim said he was grateful to the businesses of Galway, who have allowed his to put up posters on their premises near the sites of interest.

“I propose to ask Galway City Council for permission to place some on public benches and poles at a later date.”

He said the idea was to “enhance interactive tourism in Galway and bring connectivity to the city”.

He also has other plans in the pipeline, including rolling-out an interactive oral history of certain areas such as Woodquay.

This would involve interviewing local people of interest in certain historic parts of the city, which could be accessed through podcasts. The stories would be their own, or that of local organisations.

“The recordings would be accessed through QR codes on lamp posts or park benches and would provide a level of interactivity and connectedness with our historic town,” Jim added.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Renters in Galway City have to fork out an extra €11,500 annually

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From the Galway City Tribune – Renters in private accommodation in Galway City are paying, on average, around €11,500 more per annum than they were at the bottom of the market ten years ago.

According to figures published by property website Daft.ie this week, the average monthly rent in the city now stands at €1,663 – that’s up a whopping 138% since the market trough in early 2012, when it stood at around €700.

At the end of June this year, the average monthly rent had risen 16.4% – one of the biggest jumps in the country.

Nationally rents in the second quarter of 2022 were an average of 12.6% higher than the same period a year earlier, as availability of rental homes reached an all-time low.

County Galway has seen a similar pattern of increases – average rents stood at €1,184 per month, up 12.4% on the previous year. The averages have also more than doubled – up 132% – since the bottom of the market.

At the moment, there are fewer than 60 properties available for for rent in Galway city and county – the lowest figure recorded since the Daft.ie rental reports began in 2006.

A breakdown of the figures shows that a single bedroom in Galway city centre is renting for an average of €588 per month, up 19.5% on June 2021, while in the suburbs, a similar room is commanding €503 per month, up 15.9% on a year earlier. A double room is generating €633 (up 16.4%) in the city centre and €577 (up 19.2%) in the suburbs.

In the city, an average one-bed apartment is currently ‘asking’ €1,110 per month (up 17.3% year on year); a €1,297 for a two-bed house (up 15.6%); €1,542 for a three-bed house (up 16.9%); €1,923 for a four-bed house (up 21.8%) and €2,016 for a five-bed house, which is up 10.6%.

Ronan Lyons, Associate Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin and author of the Daft report, pointed to a resurgent economy which has accentuated the chronic shortage of rental housing in Ireland.

“The shortage of rental accommodation translates directly into higher market rents and this can only be addressed by significantly increased supply.

“While there are almost 115,000 proposed rental homes in the pipeline, these are concentrated in the Dublin area. Further, while nearly 23,000 are under construction, the remainder are earlier in the process and the growth of legal challenges to new developments presents a threat to addressing the rental scarcity,” he said.

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