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Underdog Hildegarde is a force to be reckoned with

Dara Bradley



Hildegarde Naughton, pictured here canvassing with Leo Varadkar last January. She was promoted by Leo last week despite backing Simon Coveney in the Fine Gael leadership contest in 2017. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

Fine Gael in Galway has consistently underestimated Hildegarde Naughton ever since she emerged as a political force just over a decade ago.

Perhaps disarmed by her good looks, sweet smile, even sweeter voice – she’s a classically trained soprano – and polite manner, many in the male-dominated organisation didn’t rate Ireland’s new ‘super junior’ minister.

In her first ever election, the 2009 locals, Hildegarde unseated the Fine Gael incumbent in Galway City West, John Mulholland, a two-time former city mayor, and long-serving city councillor.

The narrative back then from the old guard was that ‘Mull’ lost his seat, rather than Hildegarde won it. That post-mortem, however, seriously underestimated her ambition – and ability.

The St Pat’s primary school teacher ran a vigorous campaign that showed hunger, determination and aspiration. Remember, the newcomer polled almost 300 first preference votes more than her established party colleague.

In 2011, Fine Gael ran four candidates in the General Election, with Hildegarde regarded as a ‘gender-balance sweeper’. The story of that election was understandably dominated by recounts; and Seán Kyne eventually taking a second Fine Gael seat, along with Brian Walsh, at the expense of party colleague, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, and Independent Catherine Connolly.

What went unnoticed was Hildegarde’s performance. Though still the fourth-choice Fine Gael candidate, she consolidated her 2009 support base and polled a respectable 3,606 first preferences.

Her upward curve continued later in 2011 when she became mayor of Galway City.

When Senator Healy-Eames and Deputy Brian Walsh lost the party whip for opposing abortion legislation, the then Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, showed them no mercy, and ruthlessly promoted Hildegarde to Seanad Éireann in 2013.

The vacancy had been created when Martin McAleese left the Seanad mid-term, and so there was an element of luck to the appointment and being in the right place at the right time. It blindsided Fine Gael locally and it was a surprise, too, to Hildegarde but she used her national platform in the Upper House to boost her profile in the constituency.

Her appointment to the Seanad suggested the party leadership viewed her as the ‘heir apparent’ to Brian Walsh’s seat but the 2016 General Election was not straightforward.

If she thought it was just a case of her having to hold the seat won by Walsh, in a two-candidate ticket with Kyne, Fine Gael had other ideas. The party added high-profile Mayo senator, John O’Mahony, to the Galway West ticket, which now encompassed South Mayo.

In echoes of the 2009 campaign win over Mull, Hildegarde took a second seat for Fine Gael, despite ‘John O’s’ revered status as the man who managed Galway to All-Ireland success in 1998 and 2001.

Against the odds in last February’s General Election, Hildegarde held the one and only Fine Gael seat in the constituency, despite many in Fine Gael preferring Kyne, the then Government chief whip.

Though she ‘backed the wrong horse’ in the Fine Gael leadership contest – she was unashamedly for Simon Coveney – Hildegarde wasn’t punished by Leo Varadkar, who last week appointed her Minister of State, attending Cabinet, with responsibility for International and Road Transport and Logistics.

Fine Gaelers attributing that promotion to gender and geography are again guilty of underestimating Hildegarde’s staying power. She’s not done yet!

For more Bradley Bytes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune.


Man arrested over stabbing in Galway City

Francis Farragher



A 19-year-old man is due to come before the courts in relation to a stabbing incident that occurred in the city earlier this month.

In the incident, a young man suffered a stab wound to his leg at Galway Shopping Centre on the Headford Road, and was subsequently removed to University Hospital Galway for treatment.

It is understood that the man has since been released after being treated for what weren’t regarded as life-threatening injuries.

Gardai, who studied CCTV footage available in the area at the time, had appealed for any witnesses or anyone with information to make contact with them.

The attack is not being treated as a ‘random assault’ by Gardaí – both the victim and assailant may have been known to each other.

The Galway City Tribune has learned that a 19-year-old man has been arrested by Gardaí in relation to the incident and will face charges relating to assault causing harm.

The stabbing occurred on the Tuesday evening of July 21 shortly after 8.30pm – according to Gardaí, there were a number of passersby in the vicinity at the time of the incident.

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HSE challenged on cost of Covid hub in Merlin Park Hospital

Dara Bradley



Staff at the opening of the first Community Assessment Hub in Merlin Park.

The value for money of the Covid-19 Community Assessment Hub at Merlin Park has been called into question.

County Councillor Donagh Killilea said it was now time to ‘row back’ on the hub, which has cost €18,000 per week to see an average of seven patients.

Breda Crehan Roche, Chief Officer of Community Healthcare West, confirmed at the latest HSE West Regional Health Forum that the facility was currently not costing anything.

She said that three such hubs were set up in the West at the height of the pandemic; two have been stood down, but Merlin Park was on ‘stand-by’ in case of a winter surge or a second wave of coronavirus.

Cllr Killilea suggested it was not sustainable.

“It’s seen 107 Covid-19 related patients in the four months that it has been operating. That’s 0.9 patients per day, and you’ve 13 staff there at a cost of €18,000 per week. Is this sustainable? We need to row back on it,” he said.

Ms Crehan Roche confirmed that the total number of staff re-allocated to the unit and the number of full-time staffing already there included a GP, a trainee GP, six nurses, two assistant public health nurses, one physio, one admin staff and one cleaner.

“The estimated cost of the operation and capital expenditure of same was €125,000. The cost of catering for the unit since the setup of the Covid services was €2,100,” she said.

(Photo: Staff at the opening of the first Community Assessment Hub in Merlin Park).

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Galway City Council brands new PorterShed design “monotonous”

Enda Cunningham



Main image: the PorterShed proposal for the Connacht Tribune building, which Galway City Council has ordered to be redesigned.

Plans for the development of a technology ‘hub’ on Market Street have stalled after Galway City Council said the design of the building is “monotonous” and of insufficient quality for such a prominent location.

And the Department of Culture and Heritage has ordered that a programme of archaeological excavations must be carried out on the site, which currently houses the Connacht Tribune offices.

Last April, the company behind the PorterShed business incubation hub near Ceannt Station sought permission for the redevelopment of the Tribune building, including the addition of a lightweight floor over the existing two-storey building and a small extension to cater for a lift and stair core. The plans also involved will be a roof garden/decked area overhead.

There would be a partial demolition of a two-storey element to the side and rear of the building, which would be replaced by a new enlarged area over four floors. In total, it would create office space for around 220 people.

The Connacht Tribune building on Market Street. The company, which also publishes the Galway City Tribune, is moving to offices in Liosbán Business Park later this summer.

However, the City Council last week wrote to PorterShed, acknowledging that while the proposal was acceptable in principle, they wanted a redesign.

“Whilst noting that the existing building is of poor architectural quality, it is considered that the design/visual appearance of the proposed building does not provide the most suitable design resolution for such a prominent urban site, which is located within a sensitive historic environment, being located within the Galway City Core Architectural Conservation Area and in close proximity to the historic St Nicholas Church.

“Whilst it is acknowledged that the refurbishment/extension of the existing building is challenged in terms of meeting the needs of modern office accommodation, it is considered that the architectural quality of the building is not of a sufficient standard for such a prominent and sensitive site.

“It is considered that [the proposal] does no integrate appropriately with the existing streetscape, nor does it provide a positive contribution to the visual integrity of the area.

“This is largely due to the uniform, monotonous design of the building, which incorporates a palette of inappropriate external materials, such as steel cladding, brick cladding and render,” the Council said.

PorterShed must also hire an archaeologist to carry out a programme of excavations at locations on the site in consultation with the National Monuments Service. A written report must then be submitted to the Department of Culture and Heritage.

In a submission to the Council, the Bowling Green Residents’ Committee said that while it was informed by PorterShed earlier this year of the plans to redevelop the Tribune building, it was not aware of the plan to build another storey with a roof garden.

The residents said that while they do not object to the plans for the building, they want strict conditions enforced on any events which take place in the roof garden.

The Council acknowledged these concerns and asked PorterShed to comment on the matter.

“In the event the roof gardens are to be retained, a management plan shall be submitted, outlining the exact nature of use/operation of the roof garden, along with operating times,” the Council said.

The local authority noted that there will be a loss of parking spaces on the site and advised the applicant to address this issue, as a contribution to transportation infrastructure costs will be required.

Finally, the Council said the proposed signage is unacceptable and would have a negative impact on the streetscape, and asked that an alternative design should include bilingual signage.

The Connacht Tribune – which publishes the Galway City Tribune – sold the building on Market Street in 2018 and will be moving to new offices in Liosbán Business Park later this summer.

Meanwhile, a separate PorterShed planning application to redevelop a warehouse adjacent to Market Street carpark – creating 130 co-working desk spaces – has run into similar difficulties.

The Council has sought a redesign of the plans as the proposal “does not integrate with the fabric of the existing urban environment . . . largely due to a mix of inappropriate external materials”.

Test excavations must also be carried out at this site by a qualified archaeologist and the same concerns were raised about signage.

The warehouse building on Market Street which forms part of a second PorterShed proposal.

“Pedestrian access through the commercial carpark places pedestrians at risk,” the Council said, asking for the proposal to be revised.

The local authority has also asked the applicant to address the fact that cycle parking spaces are unsheltered under the existing proposals.

The proposal involves a change of use of the 1950s two-storey warehouse and a new two-storey extension with modern design – it will house desk space for 130 people.

The Bowling Green residents, in a separate submission to the Council, said they welcomed the application because the site had been left in an unsightly and neglected state for many years.

However, they asked that a bin storage be brought within a gated area to avoid it becoming a “probable focus for antisocial behaviour”.

The Council agreed and has sought for this to be addressed also. PorterShed now has until the middle of January to submit the revised proposals or the applications will be deemed to be withdrawn.

Planning permission already exists on the site of the former Tribune printworks for a 10,500 square foot indoor artisan food market with around 30 food stalls, as well as beer and wine vendors, similar to the Milk Market in Limerick and the English Market in Cork. The developer intends to proceed with this in tandem with the PorterShed plan.

(Main image: the PorterShed proposal for the Connacht Tribune building, which Galway City Council has ordered to be redesigned).

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