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Two years waiting for chance of normal life

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A Tuam teenager’s two year wait for treatment for scoliosis may well have now compromised the benefits of any medical intervention…if and when it happens.

That’s according to Galway East Deputy Colm Keaveney, who has called on the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar to intervene and speed up surgery for fifteen year old Sophie O’Grady.

x2 Sophie O'Grady

Sophie O’Grady

Since the Tuam teen was added to the surgical waiting list in March 2014, her condition has deteriorated – and the Fianna Fail TD claimed it was now feared that some of her internal organs may be compromised.

“The frankly unacceptable waiting times have taken an emotional toil on Sophie and her family,” he said.

“She had been a student with an excellent record, but is now no longer able to attend school. There is a significant fear that any further delay in delivering Sophie’s treatment will impact on the effectiveness of the intervention.

“Her need for treatment is now urgent and it is not acceptable that Minister Varadkar should seek to hide behind the HSE Governance Act,” he added.

Sophie O’Grady was diagnosed with an 80 degree curvature of her spine in February 2014 and was recommended for surgery because of the severity of the illness.

Sophie and her mother Linda Watts eventually felt they had no option other than to take their fight for treatment to the steps of the Dail last May.

But even that simple day trip from Galway to Dublin left Sophie bed-ridden for several days from exhaustion and pain.

Her mother Linda has revealed the effect the interminable delay as had on her daughter.

“The emotional impact of having scoliosis is  every bit as distressing and damaging as the physical effects. The change we have seen in Sophie in the past year has been dramatic. The confident, cheerful and bubbly teenager is now a withdrawn, introverted and despondent version of the girl she used to be,” she said.

“The old Sophie is still in there somewhere, weighed down by worries about having major surgery, about her education being jeopardised, about not being able to sleep properly, not being able to climb the stairs without feeling short of breath, and about how her clothes all look crooked on her. Waiting month after month for that phone call,” the mother of five added.

“Sophie’s case is only one of many cases affecting teenagers throughout the country. Sophie and her family took part in a protest outside the Dáil last May attempting to highlight the issue, but so far both the Department of Health and the HSE have failed to address the issue,” said Deputy Keaveney.

“When Fine Gael came into office, they set a target of six months for the maximum time someone would remain on a surgical waiting list.

“Their response to failing to reach this target has not been to provide greater resources or to reform the service, but instead simply to increase the targets to twelve and then to 18 months.

“Sophie is now waiting almost two years and so Minister Varadkar has failed to meet even his own widened targets.

“The Minister needs to intervene in this issue now or else detail why he is not willing to address this serious issue. Young people like Sophie have effectively had their lives put on hold at a critical moment in their development.

“This has come at a heavy cost to their mental and emotional health, alongside the potential long-term damage being done to their physical health,” he added.

CITY TRIBUNE

Housing charity evicts family after ‘number of incidents’

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A family was evicted from the Westside Family Hub in Galway due to a number of incidents in recent weeks.

Peter McVerry Trust, which runs the temporary social housing facility on behalf of Galway City Council, confirmed it found alternative accommodation for the parent and children.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, a spokesperson for the housing charity said: “Peter McVerry Trust can confirm that despite intensive and extensive engagement it was reluctantly forced to end the placement of a household at Westside Family Hub recently due to health, safety and child safeguarding risks. We did provide alternative accommodation and continue to offer alternative temporary accommodation to the family that was removed.”

The hub has supported dozens of families since it opened in May 2020. It was due to be a temporary accommodation for families before they move-on to more permanent homes but residents have ended up staying far longer due to the housing shortage.

A spokesperson added: “Our focus at Westside Family Hub is on providing a safe, supportive environment for the families on site who need of emergency homeless accommodation. While the aim is to progress families into long term housing as quickly as possible, the current housing crisis and the limited availability of suitable and affordable housing has made progressions extremely challenging.

“To this end we have established an internal working group of senior staff to look at ways in which to significantly increase housing delivery in Galway City so as to accelerate move-ons for families from the service in partnership with Galway City Council.”

File photo: the Westside hub

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CITY TRIBUNE

Concern over urban sprawl as ‘new town’ in Galway turned down

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From the Galway City Tribune – Plans to develop a ‘new town’ at a 19-acre site off the Tuam Road have been torpedoed by An Bord Pleanála.

The planning authority has overturned a previous grant of permission by Galway City Council for the proposal which included 248 apartments, office blocks, a supermarket and a 222-bed hotel.

In its refusal, the Board stated that the development, which was to be located at the City North Business Park, would materially contravene the Council’s own zoning in the City Development Plan – representing ‘urban sprawl’ instead of compact growth in the city centre and established suburbs.

An Bord Pleanála said the location of the development outside the city centre, as well as both the established and outer suburbs, would result in “dependency on unsustainable commuter-driven trip generation by private car” and therefore was “contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

Strategic Land Investments Ltd was granted planning permission for the mixed-use development on lands adjacent to the An Post Distribution Centre in August 2021.

The local authority gave the go-ahead for the eight residential blocks, ranging in height from two to eight storeys; the nine-storey hotel; and four office blocks with 30 conditions attached.

However, an appeal was lodged by Pat O’Neill on the grounds of issues with the zoning; the location of the site outside the city centre; the site’s absence from the city’s Housing Strategy; a shortage of car parking spaces as only half of the 1,674 required were provided for; and the environmental impact of the development.

In his appeal to the Board, Mr O’Neill stated that Galway was a county with one of the highest vacancy rates in the country for commercial floor space “at 16.6% compared to the national average of 13.6%”.

Those behind the project had made much of the site’s proximity to Boston Scientific and the Ardaun lands for which the Council has prepared a Local Area Plan.

However, the Board’s Senior Planning Inspector, Jane Dennehy, in her assessment of the appeal said this proximity “would not alone justify positive consideration” of the plans.

Ms Dennehy said in her report that the development would increase car trips as public transport options at the site are limited, “and are likely to remain limited”.

“It is questionable as to whether the proposed development is consistent with and would not hinder the implementation of the adopted national, regional and local strategic policy,” states Ms Dennehy’s report.

Recommending that permission be refused, Ms Dennehy stated that the proposed development would contravene these strategies and “would lead to diversion of residential and commercial development from areas within the city and suburbs”.

The Board accepted Ms Dennehy’s recommendation and refused permission for the development.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Asylum seekers pitch business ideas to Galway’s food and music experts

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From the Galway City Tribune – Two projects from asylum-seekers living in city Direct Provision centres will be pitched to a national competition to fund social enterprises.

Áras na nGael on Dominick Street was a hive of activity on Wednesday as the migrants honed their presentations in front of a panel of local mentors before facing the judges for the ‘Champion Changemakers’ competition.

Michelin-star chef JP McMahon, Galway Arts Festival co-founder and Saw Doctors manager Ollie Jennings and manager of the Town Hall Theatre Fergal McGrath were among the mentors who showed up to share their expertise as part of a Dragons’ Den for community groups.

Up for grabs is €10,000 bursary of supports to set up selected projects, which are deemed to positively impact the lives of people in local communities. The Champion Changemakers is free to enter and run under the auspices of the Community Enterprise Association Ireland, the country’s leading network of enterprise hubs, co-working locations and flexible working spaces that is funded by Enterprise Ireland.

The first project from United Women Galway is for a proposal to set up a culture café offering multi-ethnic food.

Food is a particularly hot topic for people living in Direct Provision, explains Flutura Rrebani.

“We know Irish food is nice. Unfortunately, people in Direct Provision are never offered very good quality food.”

While asylum-seekers have been allowed to cook in the last two years, some children who have spent years in the centres had never tasted food from their homelands.

“We want to offer a bit of their own food. It’s important to keep their culture alive and there is no culture without food,” insists the mother from Albania.

She was one of a number of women in Direct Provision who set up United Women Galway two years ago to alleviate boredom during the pandemic. They are made up of ten nationalities.

“Everyone was affected by Covid but mostly Direct Provision people because we had no jobs, no cars, the shops were closed and our children were small. What can we do as a group – we discovered we can cook.”

The group began to cook together for different events, such as Africa Day, Melting Pot Club and the Westside Festival. But now they hope to get funding for a city café where they can sell their wares and create a space for people to meet over food.

“We want a place to cook traditional food from our homes and give an opportunity for migrants to cook their food for their own community. The emphasis would be on integration, eating and preserving our culture.”

For the mentor session, the women cooked a variety of food from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Lebanon such as spicy fried chicken and beef with peanut butter.

The second project is from a group of African musicians who set up the Galway African Diaspora. They want funding to set up a company with access to a venue and equipment that can be used to stage ethnic concerts and community events. The company will mentor African artists and produce musical projects.

Wally Nkikita is a member of the band Elikiya that played at the Galway Arts Festival in 2019 as support for Grammy-award winning Tinariwen, a blues band founded in refugee camps in Libya. They’ve also been on the bill of the Electric Picnic Festival.

“We’ve found it difficult to get community spaces to play our gigs and hold our events. We want spaces to be involved in the arts. We’ve been organising Afro music nights once a month and have been organising Africa Day here. We’d like to use music as a tool for social integration.”

After finalising presentations with the help of their mentors, they will present their projects at the West of Ireland finals, when ideas will be selected under three different headings –  Environment and Climate Action, Economic Inequality, Human Wellbeing.

Ideas will be shortlisted to participate in a national PitchFest in October at Innovate Communities Social Innovation Hub in Dublin

(Photo: At the music mentoring session were, from left; Arts Festival co-founder, Ollie Jennings, Mairead Duffy, Lorg Media; Jonathan Healy, Wally Nkikita; Brandon Duke and Stevo Lende).

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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