A row between a well-known Co Galway-based businessman and Ulster Bank may put ‘jobs at risk’, the High Court was told this week.
Former Entrepreneur of the Year John Flaherty has brought proceedings against the Bank who he claims has wrongly put a charge on four houses which he says one of his firms needs to sell to complete the purchase of other lands.
BY AODHAN O FAOLAIN
Mr Flaherty is president and CEO of the C&F Group, headquartered at Athenry, and employs 400 people locally and hundreds more worldwide. The group provides manufacturing services to the IT, motor and refrigeration industries and makes wind turbines also has facilities in China, the US, Germany and the UK.
He is seeking a High Court injunction compelling Ulster Bank to remove a charge over property located at Woodfield, Tuam.
Mr Flaherty of Casla, Athenry, says the houses are not subject to a charge, having paid some €2.4m for the Tuam site more than a decade ago.
He said he serviced sites on the land which were sold on to various builders. He also constructed a number of houses on the land for his own use.
Due to the recession he was unable to sell the last four remaining houses on the site. Last October he secured buyers for the properties, but discovered that Ulster Bank has a put charge over the houses.
Mr Flaherty claims the bank does not hold any charge over the houses, and through his solicitor Owen Swaine wrote to the bank requesting it to vacate the charge.
While the Bank said it would investigate the matter, it has not removed the charge. Mr Flaherty says there is an urgency to the matter as he needs the proceeds from the sale of the houses to complete the purchase of 70 acres of land at another location.
The matter was mentioned before Mr Justice Gilligan at the High Court who heard that, unknown to Mr Flaherty, the lands at the centre of the dispute have been put up as security for borrowings made by a third party, who sold the site to Mr Flaherty .
Michael O’Connor BL, for Mr Flaherty, said his client purchased the Tuam lands from a third party for a sum of €2.4m. The land was then developed as housing before being sold off.
Counsel said it was then agreed the title of the lands in Tuam would remain in the name of the third party. Mr Flaherty was the beneficial owner of the land, counsel said.
Counsel said his client fears if he cannot sell the houses in Tuam the other deal cannot be closed – and that deal must be completed within the coming weeks.
Any failure to complete that deal would leave Mr Flaherty open to other litigation and he will lose a deposit he has already paid, counsel said.
If his client was to lose out counsel said a threat to the employment Mr Falherty provides cannot be ruled out. “Jobs could be put at risk,” counsel told the court. Counsel added Mr Flaherty believes the charge asserted by Ulster Bank is ‘a mistake’.
Stephen Byrne BL, for Ulster Bank, said the businessman’s application for an injunction could not go ahead as it was mandatory in nature. Counsel asked the court for an adjournment to allow it respond to Mr Flaherty’s claims.
Counsel added his instructions from the Bank were the houses in Tuam were put up as security in 2014 by the third party from whom the lands were acquired from.
Counsel said the bank sought additional security from the third party when that person sought to refinance existing borrowings with the bank.
In reply, Mr O’Connor said that was ‘news to us’. Mr O’Connor also told the court his side would consider adding the third party to the proceedings.
The Judge agreed to adjourn the matter to a date in February to allow a number of matters in relation to the dispute, including issues and documents concern the sale of the land in Tuam, be clarified.
Pubs to remain closed and restrictions on gatherings unchanged
Pubs and nightclubs will not be allowed to open next week, while restrictions will remain in place on indoor and outdoor gatherings, as the Government decided to postpone Phase 4 of the Roadmap to Recovery for a second time.
It will also become compulsory to wear face coverings in shops and shopping centres from next Monday.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin made the announcement this evening, adding that the current situation will be reviewed again in three week’s time.
Asked if pubs would reopen at all this year, the Taoiseach said that due to the way the virus spreads, the Government “cannot give any guarantee right now2.
“International evidence shows very clearly that pubs and nightclubs reopening too early leads directly and inextricably to an increase in community transmission.
“I want [publicans] to know that I have enormous sympathy for their plight. The virus is taking away their ability to earn a living. It is stopping them from providing a key service in the heart of many communities.
“We have to heed our Chief Medical Officer and NPHET [the National Public Health Emergency Team] advice and we have to keep the pressure on this virus.
“I know this will come as a bitter disappointment to many people; the Cabinet has agreed to continue with the current public health measures that are in place. Pubs, bars, hotel bars, nightclubs and casinos will remain closed.
“The current restrictions on numbers attending indoor and outdoor gatherings will remain unchanged [50 people indoors and 200 outdoors].
“We will review the evidence again in three weeks’ time.
“This virus has not changed. It remains as virulent as ever and it is constantly on the search for new people to infect. It remains completely indiscriminate in its cruelty. But as dangerous as it is, we have shown we can beat it. Each one of us has the power to suppress it,” the Taoiseach said.
At a press conference tonight, Mr Martin also said that pubs which are currently trading (with food) will have to close at 11pm.
The Government has also announced that five locations – Malta, Cyprus, San Marino, Monaco and Gibraltar – have been removed from the so-called ‘Green List’.
Delay in setting up addiction treatment services ‘will cost lives’
Any further delay in setting up an alcohol addiction treatment service in Galway City will result in more deaths, including suicides, of problem drinkers – and cause ‘total devastation’ to local families, addiction experts have warned.
Addiction Counsellors of Ireland (ACI) has demanded that the Health Service Executive (HSE) immediately establishes an alcohol treatment service in the city.
The professional body – which accredits counsellors – claims that GPs in Galway are ‘flooded’ with drink-related patients, and the Emergency Department “can’t cope” with the level of alcohol admissions. It said the long-awaited alcohol addiction treatment service planned for the city would save lives and save tens of thousands of euro on alcohol-related emergency admissions at University Hospital Galway.
Some €470,000 a year funding for the service was announced by the previous Government last December; and a commitment for the service was contained in the Programme for Government agreed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party.
This week, Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton, a Minister of State in the new administration, confirmed that some €225,000 for the service from now until Christmas is available in the 2020 HSE budget to get the service up and running.
Local addiction counsellors have now demanded that the HSE urgently hire the staff, and source a building, to roll out the alcohol addiction service, which has been absent for the past seven years.
Chairperson of ACI, Seán Harty, said there was a high price to pay for more delays in setting up an alcohol treatment service.
Mr Harty said “death, families left devastated, breakdown in families, increases in suicide and total devastation” will result if the service is not rolled-out quickly.
“Each and every day that we have this funding and the service is not open we are letting the people of Galway down,” he said.
Another leading accredited addiction counsellor based in Galway, Joe Treacy, who is also a spokesperson for ACI, warned that getting the service established was “a matter of urgency, lives are at risk”.
“We need the HSE to stop pussyfooting around, and pretending that we have a service. Without it, this city has a huge void in relation to the ongoing treatment of alcohol addiction. The impact is enormous without this service. There are families in dire circumstances. There were families in difficulties prior to Covid-19 and now more and more the void is there,” said Mr Treacy.
An addiction treatment centre at Merlin Park was gutted by fire following an arson attack in 2013.
The HSE told a County Galway Joint Policing Committee meeting in May that ‘higher priority’ than reopening the addiction treatment centre at Merlin Park, was ‘a network of community-based addiction services’.
ACI said that the statistics proved the need for the service to be replaced. They said that the Merlin Park centre was dealing with up to 900 referrals a year before it was burnt down; the new treatment centre will cater for around 70 referrals per month.
“A study of the Emergency Department in Galway found that 30% of episodes of alcohol associated with attendees were for repeat attendees. That meant they had one or more episode of care at ED within the year, and some up to 40 times per year,” said Mr Harty.
He pointed out that alcohol associated attendances to Galway ED cost approximately €700,000 per annum, which does not include costs for patients admitted to hospitals.
Ambulance call-outs for alcohol-related incidents in Galway also cost about €1m million every year.
The plan is to line the new treatment service to the ED, which will reduce costs, and provide more effective and efficient services to the people who need it, Mr Harty said.
He added that savings would not be limited to health, but right across society, and would take pressure off the Court Services, Probation Services, An Garda Síochána and more.
“This service is going to pay for itself without a shadow of a doubt. It is extremely good value for money to the Exchequer and will absolutely serve the people of Galway, hopefully with a roll-out to County Galway, Mayo and Roscommon in the coming years,” he said.
However, it was imperative the HSE act as soon as possible, he said.
“The urgency is that GPs are flooded with people presenting with alcohol related issues; ED can’t cope. It can’t cope with the numbers of repeat presentations for alcohol. It’s a huge problem. There are 2,000 beds per night in Ireland taken up with alcohol. Two thirds of suicides, there is alcohol in the system,” added Mr Harty.
Statistics show that there is very little service provided for people with a primary alcohol problem who require outpatient services in Galway – the city has one counsellor per 50,353 people, while Waterford has one per 9,346 people and Tralee has one per 3,948.
Mr Treacy said Galway is playing catch-up since the services were removed in 2013.
“What we need in Galway is a comprehensive alcohol-addiction treatment centre for a city of this size, and without that we have a huge void in services. It’s a basic commodity that we don’t have in Galway at the moment.
The impact is enormous without this service. We have an emerging problem in the city and it’s catching up faster than we can keep up,” added Mr Treacy.
The €470,000 annual funding committed by Government provides for three addiction counsellors, one family support counsellor, one project worker, one liaison nurse and one administrator. The HSE has been urged to hire the staff with the money available, and source a building, which is also budgeted for.
(Main photo: The addiction treatment centre in Merlin Park which was destroyed by fire in 2013).
Galway Fire Service seeks retention of ‘temporary’ offices
The Fire Service has sought permission to retain unauthorised ‘temporary’ offices and parking spaces at Galway Fire Station.
The existing planning permission for the offices to the rear of the building on Fairhill Road and seven parking spaces at the side expired in May 2019.
However, planning officials warned six years ago that a proposal to seek a further duration of retention of the offices may not be favourably considered. If permission is refused, the offices – which include a breathing apparatus training area – will have to be demolished.
Galway Fire Service has been struggling for more than a decade to find a suitable location for a new headquarters to serve the city.
Now, Galway County Council – which operates the Fire Service – has come back to the City Council for permission to retain temporary office accommodation at the rear and seven parking spaces at the front of the station.
The offices were given a five-year grant of permission in 2000 by the City Council. Subsequent grants of permission to retain them were given in 2005, 2007 and 2014.
A Warning Letter was served by the Council on the County Council in 2014 that because retention permission had expired, the buildings were unauthorised.
A further planning application for retention was subsequently lodged and approved, and the City Council’s Senior Planner Liam Blake said: “It is noted that on the expiration of this permission in 2019 that temporary permissions have been granted in 2000, 2005 and 2007 for this site (i.e. nearly 19 years) and in view of this, it is considered that the application should be advised that consideration of a further application for an extended period may not be considered favourable as the cumulative number of years for which temporary permissions have been granted far exceeds what would normally be considered temporary and the nature and impact of the works are such that a permanent grant of planning would not normally be considered.”
In the latest application, Chief Fire Officer Gerard O’Malley said: “When permission was previously granted for the temporary accommodation, it was envisaged that Galway Fire Service would be building a new fire station in a different location within the city.
“However, this has not yet materialised and subsequently, Galway Fire Service are not in an immediate position to vacate the existing site.
“A number of sites are undergoing feasibility studies and we would hope to expedite the relocating process in the coming years.
“We wish to apply for retention planning permission until we are in a position to construct a new HQ in the near future. The temporary offices are essential to the operation of Galway Fire Service,” said Mr O’Malley.
The building includes offices for the Chief Fire Officer (CFO); four Senior Assistant CFOs; five Assistant CFOs; administration rooms and a meeting room.
The Council previously said that while the offices had been in place for many years, they are not suitable in the long term because they are adjacent to and visible from the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, a Protected Structure.
A decision is due on the latest planning application at the beginning of September.