A Galway TD has said the new Garda regional HQ building opposite GMIT is ‘hollow’ because of a lack of officers available to staff it.
Deputy Anne Rabbitte (FF) said the West of Ireland is being neglected in allocations of new Garda recruits.
She slammed the Government’s approach to Garda allocations as figures from the Department of Justice revealed that County Galway received just 36 new Garda recruits between January 2015 and January 2019.
“I have been calling for an increase in our Garda force for some time. This Fine Gael Government has abandoned rural Ireland. The effects of their policies have a detrimental effect on my constituency as our Garda force is drip-fed new Garda personnel over the past four years.
“In rural Ireland, people can feel vulnerable and their concerns increase when they do not notice a Garda presence in the area,” said Deputy Rabbitte.
The TD for Galway East said as a member of the County Joint Policing Committee (JPC), she was aware of the dearth of Gardaí in the Galway Division.
“To be fair to the Chief Superintendent, Tom Curley, at every JPC that I have attended in the last five years, as a TD and as a councillor, he brings up the lack of Gardaí at every quarterly meeting – the man is operating on an absolute shoestring.
“The figures make for alarming reading. Only 36 new recruits have been assigned to the Galway Division since 2015. This is far from good enough,” she said.
Deputy Rabbitte said there was a total of 789 Garda recruits who passed out of Templemore in 2018 – and only 16 of those were allocated to Galway.
“I know there is a lot going on in Dublin and there has to be a focus there, but there also has to be a regional balance.
“This Government doesn’t understand anything that goes on beyond the Pale,” said Deputy Rabbitte.
Due to the lack of bodies, Deputy Rabbitte said a Garda stationed in Portumna was expected to cover everywhere from ‘Banagher Bridge out to the sea in Kinvara’ – something she said was unacceptable.
Furthermore, she said the new Divisional Headquarters at Murrough in Galway City was a ‘great investment’, but the four-storey building was ‘hollow’ due to the lack of Gardaí available to staff it.
“There have been great specialist units set up there like the Protective Services Unit [for the victims of sexual assault], but they pull sergeants and Gardaí into work in those and they’re not being replaced,” said Deputy Rabbitte.
This was a problem right along the Western seaboard and something that required the immediate attention of the Minister for Justice, she continued.
“There is a major lack of resources in the Western region. Despite having a new Divisional Headquarters in Galway, we have no Garda dog unit and low Garda levels. In the wider region, Mayo has only received 18 new recruits since 2015, and in Roscommon-Longford, only 18 were assigned.
“I will be raising my concerns with the Minister for Justice to ensure the western region gets its fair share of security resources,” said Deputy Rabbitte.
Green light for 100 new homes in east of Galway City
Local residents have lost their battle against plans for the construction of more than 100 apartments and houses in Ballybrit which they believe will worsen an already chaotic traffic situation – a daily feature on AA Roadwatch radio reports prior to Covid-19.
Last December, plans for the development of land adjacent to The Meadows in Ballybrit were lodged with An Bord Pleanála – despite failing to meet City Development Plan guidelines on open space and parking.
Trean Meadow Ltd had sought permission to develop the five-acre site off the Ballybane More road (adjacent to Ballybrit Heights and The Meadows) and construct 78 apartments and 24 houses, as well as a childcare facility with space for 45 kids.
The residential units will be in a mix of one, two, three and four-beds.
The planning application was made directly to An Bord Pleanála under Strategic Housing Development (SHD) ‘fast-track’ legislation – proposals for housing developments of more than 100 residential units or 200 student bed spaces can be made directly to the Board following initial consultations with local authorities.
The application itself noted that it may be in ‘potential material contravention’ of the current Galway City Development Plan, which requires that 153 resident parking spaces and 34 visitor spaces be provided. However, the current proposal if for 105 spaces – 44 for the houses and the remaining 61 spaces for the apartments. A further seven have been allocated for the creche.
“The delivery of a high-quality residential development and associated infrastructure including a childcare facility should not be constrained by the open space and carparking provision as proposed. The development complies with the objectives of efficient use of land, delivering housing on residential zoned land and within one of the five key cities of the country.
“The proposed car parking provision equates to at least one space per dwelling . . . [it] can be justified due to the proximity of the application site to public transport links,” the application reads.
It adds that while just 14% of the site has been allocated for open space (the Development Plan stipulates 15%), there are recreational facilities at Castle Park, a 12-minute walk, and Merlin Woods, a 28-minute walk.
During the public submission process, several local residents made submissions to An Bord Pleanála in relation to the proposals.
All of the residents expressed concerns about existing traffic problems in the general area and noted that Ballybane More Road is used as a rat-run from the city during evening rush hour and into the city in the mornings due to the proximity of major exits to Dublin, Oranmore, Limerick, Mayo and Sligo.
One resident recorded 1,135 vehicles passing the adjacent road between 7.10am and 9.15am on one Wednesday morning in January.
Another resident said that due to the lack of parking spaces proposed in the development, it was reasonable to expect the excess cars of residents and visitors would have to park on the Ballybane More Road, which is currently narrower that standard roads in the vicinity – any parked cars would cause an obstruction.
Another resident on that road said that HGVs often get locked when trying to pass each other, and his garden wall has been demolished several times as a result.
On the morning of January 14 between 8-9am, he counted 1,320 traffic movements past his driveway.
“The development is grossly oversized for the location. It is totally out of proportion with existing dwellings. It is visually out of character and will destroy the last remaining undeveloped landscape and wildlife habitat in this area.
“I have no objection to a drastically scaled-down version [of the development] going ahead. The visual impact is absolutely unfair to my family, my neighbours and the poor souls that would have to live in that concrete jungle,” the objector said.
The DRA Community Group (Doughiska, Roscam, Ardaun) said the Ballybane More Road is not adequate to accommodate the existing traffic flow, and believed the three-storey apartment block fronting onto the road would be out of character.
Concerns were also expressed about the lack of pedestrian pathways and cycle lanes within the development and outside the site.
“The density [of the residences] is not considered conducive to family life, as they are considered too confined, without additional open space for children and adults to play and to live in harmony,” the DRA submission reads.
It added that there are a limited number of openings between buildings, which created a potential for them to be used as alleyways and therefore antisocial behaviour.
In her report on the application, An Bord Pleanála’s Senior Planning Inspector, Fiona Fair, said the development would be a “medium density scheme that respects, responds to and integrates with the immediate and surrounding context” and that it would not have significant undue adverse impact on the amenity of the adjoining area.
Ms Fair added that the quantum and quality of landscaping and public open space was acceptable, but highlighted that the site is constrained in terms of change in levels and the use of retaining walls, staircases and an embankment.
She also pointed out the development would result in an improvement in terms of footpath connectivity along the Ballybane More road, and improve pedestrian connectivity.
The Board approved planning permission, attaching a number of conditions, including a stipulation that construction work can only take place from 7am to 7pm Mondays to Saturdays and that 105 carparking spaces and 150 secure cycle parking spaces be provided.
It also ordered that one of the two-bed single-storey houses be omitted from the plans and the area be used for open space instead.
Trean Meadow is owned by Belmullet racehorse owner and bookmaker Damian Lavelle.
Galway Chamber seeks extension of rates waiver scheme
Galway Chamber has called for an expansion of the commercial rates waiver scheme to a longer term and for the inclusion of businesses which have continued to trade during the crisis.
The representative group has also called on Government to extend the three-month rates waiver for businesses which were forced to close their doors.
The calls follow the publication last week of a survey of 100 businesses in Galway City, which found that one quarter may have to go into ‘hibernation’ until next Spring.
Earlier this month, the Department of Local Government announced that rates would be waived for a three-month period – from March 27 – for businesses that were forced to close due to the pandemic.
The Chamber have now asked for an extension to that three-month waiver, and for businesses which continued to trade to qualify for the exemption.
Kenny Deery, CEO of Galway Chamber said: “While the move was welcomed by many as a step in the right direction, it was clear that three months was an inadequate period of support and the term needed to be expanded.
“Furthermore, Galway Chamber are calling for the Department to expand the scope of the commercial rates waiver, so that it can be applied to businesses who have been negatively impacted, with a proportional rebate, rather than just businesses who have had to close.
“We are suggesting that the criteria of a 25% decline in turnover should be the test for eligibility, as is the case with the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
“As it stands, the waiver has the possibility to act as an adverse incentive for businesses to remain closed for longer than may be necessary.
“Rates income is vital to allow the local authorities provide necessary services throughout the city and county. Galway Chamber, along with colleagues in Chambers Ireland, are calling on Minister Eoghan Murphy and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to support the local authorities with central government funding to replace this rates income,” said Mr Deery.
According to the Chamber survey, 80% of businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors said the rest of 2020 is about survival, while overall, 24% said they are “seriously considering” not reopening until Spring 2021.
It found that 80% of businesses wanted the rates waiver to continue beyond the three-month limit.
Statistics record rise in serious crime in Galway last year
The number of crimes reported in the Galway Garda Division in 2019 was down almost 17% on the previous year, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office.
The CSO figures show that last year, there were a total of 8,126 crimes recorded in Galway, down just under 17% from 9,780 in 2018.
However, the Galway Division – which covers the city and county – saw an increase in serious crimes such as rapes and sexual assaults.
There were 188 sexual offences recorded here last year, up 27% from 148 the previous year. These included 163 rapes and sexual assaults and 25 ‘other offences’, which can include incest, child abuse material and gross indecency.
Endangerment cases – where there is potential for serious harm or death – were up more than fourfold from three to thirteen.
Fraud offences – which include deception and forgery – were up from 240 to 360, an increase of 50%, while drugs offences saw an increase of just under 5%, from 538 to 563.
An analysis of the CSO data by the Galway City Tribune shows that by far, the most common offences the Gardaí had to deal with in 2019 were disorderly conduct (1,557 cases); handling of stolen property (1,055 cases); shoplifting (829); assault (829) and criminal damage (794 cases).
Gardaí in Galway also investigated very serious crimes, including 44 threats to kill (up from 27); 53 cases of arson (up from 36); 182 assaults causing harm (unchanged from 2018); three cases of false imprisonment (down from six) and a single human trafficking offence (there were none recorded in 2018).
The statistics also show that last year, there were 301 cases recorded as ‘offences while in custody and breaches of court orders’, which was up from 289 in 2018.
The data also shows there were 38 robbery, extortion or hijacking offences last year, which was down 22.5% from 49 the previous year.
There were 23 cases recorded as ‘offences against government and its agents’, up 64%. These can include non-compliance with the direction of a Garda; wasting police time; nuisance phone calls and breaches of the Offences Against the State Acts.
There was a decrease in drink driving offences – down 5% from 395 to 375, while there were 16 cases of driving under the influence of drugs (up from seven).
For drugs cases, there was an overall increase in recorded offences of 4.6% – possession for personal use was up 12% to 415 offences; possession for sale or supply was down 14% to 117 and cultivation/manufacture of drugs offences were down 36% to seven. There were 23 ‘other drugs offences’, up 15%, and these can include forging prescriptions or obstructing a search.
Social code offences – which can cover anything from begging and indecency to bigamy and bestiality – halved from 68 to 33.
The CSO figures on crimes recorded by Gardaí come with a ‘health warning’ – it suspended publication of them in 2014 after problems were discovered with the Garda PULSE system, the only source of recorded crime available to the CSO.
In 2015, further “quality issues” emerged with the PULSE data, and the CSO suspended publication of data in early 2017, pending the completion of an internal review nationally of homicide incidents and other concerns which the agency had raised.
The CSO has now recommenced publishing statistics, branding them as ‘Under Reservation’, which means that revisions can be expected.