The operator of a former soup kitchen in the city was convicted in Galway District Court on Monday on four counts of holding collections without the proper permit.
In imposing the Probation Act on the five collectors who were also summoned, Judge Mary Fahy criticised the operator for sending vulnerable people out on the streets armed with bogus documents.
“It is very suspect that they were out collecting for a charity, when they themselves are requiring help,” she said.
Oliver Williams (47), with an address at Ballyboggan, Athenry, denied holding an unauthorised collection at both William Street and Corbettcourt on September 29 last year, at Liosban, Tuam Road, on September 17, and at Eyre Square on November 26 last year.
Four separate Gardaí gave evidence of stopping five volunteers who were collecting for Twist Soup Kitchen on the various dates. They were all wearing luminous bibs, had laminated id cards around their necks and, when asked for permits they produced a document which was signed by Williams and purported to be authority to collect. Gardaí seized over €600 cash.
The court heard, however, that Twist was not a registered charity, and was not permitted to collect money in public. Williams claimed that he thought he was exempt from needing a permit as the volunteers were selling pens, rather than asking for money.
The Garda evidence contradicted this, however – they said that the volunteers were shaking their buckets seeking donations – and Williams acknowledged during the hearing that he had been mistaken in this respect, and that the exemption only applied to registered charities.
Sgt Brendan Moore told the court that he was of the belief that the five volunteers knew their actions were not ‘kosher’ and that they were in possession of “bogus collection authorisation issued by Mr Williams.”
“There was a ‘cat and mouse’ scenario, they had been fleeing from us – this had been going on for a month at that stage (September 27),” he said.
On a subsequent occasion, Garda Micheal Murphy told the court that he was on mobile patrol in a marked car on the afternoon of January 5 2013 when he caught sight of another volunteer in a high-vis jacket who was collecting for the soup kitchen. When the collector saw the Garda car, however, he ran back towards Twist Café on Queen Street. The Garda said that when he drove the car around the one-way street to the location of the café, the man was gone.
He returned to Galway Garda Station, changed into plain clothes, and returned to the Queen Street/Forthill junction where he observed the same man collecting for Twist.
Garda Murphy said that passing motorists were putting money in a bucket and receiving nothing in return. Again, the volunteer had no permit to collect.
Garda Paul Gahan told the court that he approached Olivier Williams, in relation to these unauthorised collections, on September 17 last year, and he was subsequently summoned for holding unauthorised collections. Nine days later, the same Garda saw a Twist volunteer collecting money in Liosban.
Sgt Moore met with Williams on October 10 outside Twist, and the court heard that Williams said that Gardaí were picking on him.
“I said that he had to comply like every other charity,” Sgt Moore said.
“He said that he had applied for status, but that it hadn’t been advanced. I looked into it and it was because he couldn’t produce a tax clearance certificate.”
Sgt Moore said that Williams asked for a meeting with the Superintendent, Marie Skehill, but before Sgt Moore had even returned to Galway Garda Station that day, Williams had already been in contact with the Superintendent.
At the subsequent meeting, at which Sgt Moore took notes, Williams was advised that he could not avail of an exemption as Twist was not a registered charity.
“He was advised to desist from selling or collecting, or the Twist gear was liable to be seized – there were further detections after that,” Sgt Moore told the court.
He said that following this meeting, Twist volunteers were being sent out with the same bogus permits, but this time Sgt Moore’s name had been handwritten onto them.
“Collectors were handing these out when asked for authorisation,” he said.
When questioned about them, he said that volunteers pointed to his own name – not realising that he was the same person – on the document and said: “This man said it was okay.”
In court on Monday, Valerie Corcoran, solicitor for Williams, said that she had not been representing the defendant at the time but had since managed to convince her client that he was not exempt from needing a permit.
“He had to be told three times that he was wrong – and he was shocked (when he realised),” she said. “He genuinely thought he was doing things correctly.”
However, Judge Fahy was not convinced, and she said that the obtaining of a permit was the most basic requirement of any collections – something that even school children were aware of.
“The dates (for collections) are very closely monitored, and people have to apply months in advance for them. I cannot help but notice, and it is sad to say that several of these (collectors) are vulnerable people staying in hostels.
“It is very suspect what is going on, it is a cynical exercise to try to inform the court that they were doing it for charity, it is all very murky, and I don’t like the sound of it at all.”
The Probation Act was imposed in the case of the five collectors, while Williams was convicted on four counts of holding unauthorised collections, the maximum fine for which is €63.
The judge said that his actions were so disturbing that she had to mark a conviction on each of the four summonses before her, and the maximum fine, which amounted to €252, was imposed.
The State applied for the forfeiture of all items seized from collectors, including the money, which Judge Fahy suggested be given to Cope, which cares for the homeless in the city.
Passers-by save church from burning down
The quick reaction of passers-by saved a Connemara church from being razed to the ground by fire.
Hill walkers who stopped off at St Joseph’s Church in Letterfrack on their way to climb Diamond Hill noticed a fire and smoke billowing from inside the building.
They immediately raised the alarm and alerted workers from Connemara National Park. They in turn rang Clifden Fire Brigade, who attended the scene and quenched the blaze.
Parish priest, Fr Anthaiah Pudota told the Connacht Tribune that the fire was started accidentally, possibly by a fallen candle in the church which was built in 1922.
He praised the people who raised the alarm quickly and thanked the workers for their bravery during efforts to bring the fire under control.
“My information was people who visited Connemara National Park raised the alarm. They were on the way to climb Diamond Hill and parked their cars to visit the church.
“I think it was a family who were visiting the area. It was an accidental fire. There is definitely significant damage. Wood was burned, and there was significant smoke damage, but it could have been worse.
“According to the CCTV footage, it happened around 1pm. Clifden Fire Brigade and workers from the National Park were very brave. The smoke inside was like a huge thick fog.
“It took them a while before they could enter. They had to break one of the doors, because the main door was closed. It was definitely very brave of them,” Fr Anathaiah said.
The fire was discovered quite quickly, he said, and so while the church was significantly damaged most of it centred on the candelabra area.
Ballinakill Parish Secretary in Letterfrack, Ann Cooke, thanked the local community and neighbouring parishes for good wishes and support.
“A very special note of thanks to the kind passer-by who raised the alarm, the National Park workers, and the emergency services, for their fast action and bravery, without all of whom the unfortunate event could have been much worse,” she said.
“Thank you all again for your support. Please God we will be able to come together in Letterfrack Church before long,” Ms Cooke added.
Fr Anathaiah, from India, will be two years in the rural Connemara parish of Ballinakill next month. He said that his parishioners have strong faith and are looking forward to the church reopening, but he could not confirm a date as yet.
Mass was said twice weekly, Sunday and Wednesday, at St Joseph’s up until the fire caused the damage at around 1pm on Friday July 22.
Fr Anathaiah said that services would now be said at Tullycross Church, about five kilometres away, for the foreseeable future.
“We are not quite sure at the moment (when it will reopen); we are waiting to see the extent of the damage. I can’t give an exact date, but we will definitely come back in the coming months,” Fr Anthaiah Pudota said.
GSPCA closes city centre charity shop permanently
From the Galway City Tribune – It’s the end of an era for a popular animal charity shop that has shut up shop for good at its city centre base.
The Galway SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has confirmed that it has not renewed its lease on its premises at St Augustine Street, where its charity shop has been based for a number of years.
The popular shop that sold books, clothes and bric-a-brac closed in June due to a leak in the building. It was due to reopen within days, but it has not and will not be, according to the charity.
The GSPCA said they are looking for a new premises in the city.
A spokesperson confirmed that the lease on the building was due to finish soon anyway, but after a major leak, the GSPCA and the landlord mutually agreed to bring forward the lease termination by a number of months.
“We hope to be up and running at another location in due course,” a spokesperson said.
A register charity and not-for-profit organisation, GSPCA still has a retail presence in Athenry and Ballinasloe, which generate money to run the organisation.
Its fundamental aim for over 20 years has been to care for animals in need through neglect, abandonment, abuse or those at risk due to a change in circumstances.
Its main sanctuary is based in the county, between Killimor and Portumna; and its cattery is in Athenry.
The charity assisted over 700 cats, dogs and smaller animals during 2020. According to accounts filed with the Charity Regulator, the vast majority of its income comes from donations, but its shops are important income sources and the charity made over €86,000 income from “trading and commercial activities” in 2020.
Workers in Galway still waiting for ‘frontline’ payments
From the Galway City Tribune – A number of workers in healthcare settings in Galway have yet to receive promised pandemic bonus payments for toiling on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis.
The Government had pledged each front-line worker would get a €1,000 payment as a thank you for contributing to the national effort during the pandemic.
But nine months on from when the Cabinet signed off on the payment, many local workers, including nurses and carers, particularly in private nursing homes, have received nothing.
Louis O’Hara, a general election candidate for Sinn Féin in Galway, labelled it as another broken promise by this Government.
“Workers here in Galway such as caterers, cleaners, security staff, agency staff and many more on the frontline in our local hospitals and healthcare settings have been contacting me to express their concern that they are still waiting for this payment,” he said.
“They are entitled to receive this payment, however the Government has failed to follow through on their promises and workers have been left in the lurch with no answers and no sense of urgency from the Government,” he said.
Mr O’Hara told the Galway City Tribune that the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, needed to clarify that the funding was still there to pay the staff.
He said a breakdown of figures for the number of staff in Galway that were not yet been paid was not available, but Sinn Féin has been inundated with complaints from workers – particularly agency staff and those in private nursing homes.
“Frontline workers in Galway have been let down badly by this Government’s failure to follow through on their promises. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Mr O’Hara said.
The party’s Health spokesperson has written to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, urging him to intervene directly to ensure this payment is paid promptly.
Minister Donnelly, in a recent reply to a Parliamentary Question in the Dáil, said priority was given to payment of eligible staff in hospital groups, such as Saolta, and community services within the HSE.
He said that the Department of Health was “examining progressing the rollout” to six groups of non-HSE and Non-Section 38 Agencies, who were included in the scheme.
These include eligible workers in private nursing homes and hospices; staff on-site in long-term residential care facilities for people with disabilities; agency staff working for the HSE; healthcare assistants such as home help, home care and home support staff contracted by the HSE; Defence Forces members redeployed to work “in front-line Covid-19 exposed environments in the HSE”; and paramedics employed by Dublin Fire Brigade.
This was a “complex task”, he said, because “these employees are not normally paid by the public health service, duplicate payments need to be avoided, and there are many organisations to be covered”.
This work was being given “priority attention” he said.
“Payment to eligible workers will be made as soon as possible,” Minister Donnelly added.