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CITY TRIBUNE

‘Temporary’ Galway helipad will be in use for another 12 months

Dara Bradley

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The Irish Coast Guard's Rescue 117 at the helipad at UHG. South Park will be used as an alternative landing location during certain weather conditions. PHOTO: DAVID MCGRATH.

The ‘temporary’ use of South Park in the Claddagh for hospital-related helicopter landings will continue until May 2022, the Galway City Tribune has learned.

The City Council, which owns the land, only became aware last December that the HSE planned to use South Park for medical landings for 18 months.

On December 15, a Council caretaker on duty at the dressing rooms was asked to open a barrier by someone who had just landed a helicopter at The Swamp. The Council was unaware in advance that there would be two medical helicopter landings there on that day.

Documents show that the City Council has not given ‘an outright approval’ to the HSE and Coast Guard to use South Park until the second quarter of next year.

But it has ‘no objection in principle’ to it being used, and intends to grant permission every three months subject to a review.

“The permission should be subject to a simplified form of agreement/MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with appropriate insurance indemnity etc,” Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, told his management team in an email sent at 11.15pm on December 16.

The email was among correspondence relating to South Park that was released to this newspaper under Freedom of Information (FOI).

The emails suggest the Council was unaware in advance of two medical helicopter landings at South Park on December 15.

The caretaker on duty at the dressing rooms on the day was told by HSE crew who landed by helicopter that South Park was the “preferred landing space” until May 2022. He was asked to provide a spare set of gate keys to the HSE for future landings.

City Council Senior Planner Carmel Kilcoyne subsequently wrote to the HSE’s Colm Megan, National Ambulance Service, to seek clarity about “exactly what is the requirement” in South Park.

Mr Megan, in response, formally requested use of South Park as a helipad, “due to a construction crane on the hospital [University Hospital Galway] campus”.

South Park would only be used “where specific weather conditions did not allow use of the hospital pad”, he said.

“The duration of the hospital construction will be until May 2022. I would like to request from the City Council permission to use the temporary helipad once again for the transfer of critically ill patients by the Irish Airs Corps to the UHG campus,” he said in an email to Ms Kilcoyne.

The helipad on Séamus Quirke Road is also on City Council land and has been used by the HSE on a “temporary” basis for a decade.

Internal emails reveal that Mr Megan also sought the use of the Shantalla helipad to be extended.

Liam Blake, Senior Executive Planner, in an email to Council colleagues on December 15, 2020, said: “Mr Megan advised yesterday that if the temporary use of the previous ‘temporary’ helipad was not allowed on an emergency/health and safety basis until May 2022, then the default emergency landing pad – if the wind direction and construction cranes – rule out the existing helipad at UHG is at South Park, which is also compromised because of ground conditions and distance to UHG (sic).”

In an email with the subject title, ‘Helipad Séamus Quirke Road’, Mr Megan had written to Mr Blake “in respect of the future use of the temporary helipad located adjacent to” UHG.

“It has been confirmed to me that this pad would only be used in exceptional circumstances, where it is judged by the pilot in charge of the aircraft that this would be the preferred landing point for the hospital. These circumstances may include weather conditions and temporary restricted approach paths to the UHG helipad,” said Mr Megan.

A request to use South Park for medical landings was first made in February, 2019.

Paul Duffy, Acting Chief Fire Officer, forwarded an email from the Coast Guard to Uinsinn Finn, Director of Services for Transport at Galway City Council.

In the email dated February 27, 2019, John Draper, Divisional Controller of Irish Coast Guard, informed Mr Duffy that the Coast Guard landed in South Park on February 8, for an island medical evacuation because wind at the temporary landing pad at UHG was “too strong”.

“I wanted to see if this could be agreed by the Council as a backup in the event we experience similar conditions in the future. The premise would be based on the medical emergency requirement and that the landing site would be secured by the Coast Guard, Garda Síochána, and Fire Service if required,” Mr Draper said.

The following month, on March 8, 2019, Mairead Keane of the Recreational and Amenity Department at City Hall, wrote to colleagues and said that the HSE – through Colm Megan, National Ambulance Service – had asked could South Park be used for landings for “two weeks”.

“When I enquired as to the reason for the two-week period, he (Colm Megan) said that the hospital have construction works to the side of the hospital planned for the next two weeks which means scaffolding will be up and for safety reasons they won’t be able to land at UHG,” Ms Keane told her colleagues.

She said, if the Council gave its approval, the HSE “will fly a drone over South Park” to test its suitability.

Sandra Silke, in the Council’s Planning Department, in an email to Ms Keane, said she took a phone call from Colm Megan concerning the use of South Park, “as a temporary reserve helicopter landing spot, for a maximum period of two weeks”.

Ms Keane wrote to Mr Megan and said that the Council had “no objection in principle to the Coast Guard using the location” for two weeks while construction works were underway at UHG.

Permission was granted, subject to the HSE, “carrying out all appropriate risk assessments and ensuring the safety of the public during landing and takeoff”.

She advised Mr Megan that the lands in question – known as The Swamp – “are marshy in places and subject to flooding”.

She said five organisations, including West United and Fr Griffin’s Eire Óg, are licensed to use the pitches and gave contact details, “should you need to contact them”.

Mr Megan said he would, “ensure all requirements are met” and said he would “notify stakeholders of any landings to ensure safety of all concerned”.

The Council granted the permission to use the facility for “temporary access for helicopter landings” between March 10 to 24, 2019 but that was changed to March 25 to April 9, because the building work at UHG was “delayed”.

Councillors were told at a local authority meeting in January of this year that the use of South Park for medical landings would be temporary, and would not impact on the long-term masterplan for the green space.

(Photo by David McGrath. The Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 117 at the helipad at UHG. South Park will be used as an alternative landing location during certain weather conditions).

CITY TRIBUNE

Gardaí bid to identify body recovered near Mutton Island

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Gardai have launched an investigation following the discovery of a body in Galway Bay yesterday afternoon.

A member of the public raised the alarm after spotting the body in the water while walking on the causeway to Mutton Island.

Galway Fire Service, Gardai and the RNLI attended the scene and recovered the body at around 4pm, before it was taken to University Hospital Galway for a post mortem.

It is understood that the body may have been in the water for some time.

Gardaí are currently examining a list of missing people in the city.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Land Development Agency rules out Merlin ‘land grab’

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Campaigners have warned the Land Development Agency (LDA) to keep its hands off Merlin Woods.

Local community group Friends of Merlin Woods said that the amenity on the east side of the city is not suitable for residential development.

It has sought clarification on whether the LDA has earmarked part of the recreational and amenity lands for housing, after it appeared on its online database of publicly-owned lands.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, the LDA said its database compiles a list of all State lands, not just land for development.

In relation to Merlin Woods, the LDA said: “Those lands aren’t included in the LDA developments in Galway. The lands database is a map-based tool which compiles all State lands and has no reflection on development potential.”

It came after Caroline Stanley of Friends of Merlin Woods raised concern that land within Merlin Woods had been earmarked for development.

“I’d be concerned that it’s marked as residential when it’s in RA (Recreational and Amenity) land. Some is marked ‘open space’ but some is marked as ‘new proposed residential’ on its [LDA’s] database. It makes us wonder why. We’d like clarity and to clear it up.

“The message we’d like to get out there is we need clarification, whether it’s a mistake on the Land Development Agency’s part, or whether it is an area that they consider as a residential area, which the community would be opposed to. We need clarity. It could be something that is in line for development later on, we don’t know, and we need clarity.”

Councillor Owen Hanley explained that the fears around Merlin Woods stem from legislation currently making its way through the Oireachtas that would strip councillors of powers to veto the transfer of land to the LDA for housing projects.

The Bill would also allow Government to direct what public lands – including those owned by local authorities – can be transferred to the LDA for development of social and affordable housing.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

‘Detractors’ could hold up €10m Spanish Arch flood defence scheme

Enda Cunningham

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan has warned that the Office of Public Works and Galway City Council “may end up in the High Court” if they attempt to expedite plans for the €10 million flood defence scheme for the Spanish Arch and Docks areas.

Speaking at an Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting last week, the Minister for the Office of Public Works admitted his frustration at the length of time such projects take.

But he said that if he and the OPW attempted to “shave off time” in moving the project forwards, they would have to be mindful of “detractors” making accusations later and there being a legal challenge.

He was responding to Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell, who said it was likely to be 2028 before the flood prevention works would be completed.

“It was revealed in November that it will be at least eight years before long-awaited flood defences are completed in the Spanish Arch and Docks areas – with the City Council estimating that it will be towards the end of 2028 before works conclude,” said Deputy Farrell.

Minister O’Donovan said: “The OPW is committed. There is money available. We do not have a worry about allocating money for capital spending. I say to Deputy Farrell, and to Galway City Council, that, if we can shave off time in advancing projects, we will gladly do so, but we have to be mindful of the fact that if our detractors make accusations later, we may end up in the High Court. We do not want that.”

(Photo: Flood Street in February 2014. Spanish Arch, Fishmarket Square and the Docks areas were flooded in storm weather during high tide. PHOTO BY JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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