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Underdog Hildegarde is a force to be reckoned with



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.


Cyclists and disability groups don’t feel the love for ‘kissing gate’ barriers



From the Galway City Tribune – Cyclists and disability groups long campaigning for the removal of ‘kissing gates’ on popular routes were overjoyed to see the one at ‘the Swamp’ in the Claddagh removed last week.

But their joy quickly turned to anger when it was returned a few days later. They learned that it had only been taken out to facilitate a private company. Grant Thornton had organised a 5K run along the Salthill Promenade for corporate staff and sports teams.

Gráinne Faller, who organises the Sundays4Safety awareness campaigns in Salthill, said she could not believe how quickly the Council could act to remove, then replace the barrier when bike groups have been calling for their removal for years, only to be met with inaction.

“These gates lock so many people out of our parks and playgrounds. How can we justify blocking access to public spaces? They are ableist, ageist and they block people with buggies and bikes. They really discriminate against parents. And then we learn that the Council is claiming that this isn’t a problem? We wait. And wait. It is not okay. It’s Council-sanctioned discrimination.”

Chairperson of the campaign group, Neasa Bheilbigh, said the gates excluded families and people with mobility impairments from using safe active travel routes to school and public amenities.

“To suggest quiet routes through housing estates and parks are not active travel routes, shows a lack of understanding about how people move in our city,” she insisted.

She highlighted the fact that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has committed to providing funding to remove barriers to promote universal access.

“I always feel safer cycling than walking at night, but having to dismount leaves me feeling vulnerable. The Council don’t seem to grasp the needs of people who use non-standard bikes as mobility aids and who cannot dismount or have the strength to navigate through these barriers.”

Liam Ferrie from Menlo said he was long past retirement age but he found his e-bike was a great way of getting around Galway.

“Last Sunday I cycled a total of 28km without any difficulty – apart from a very close pass by a motorist. However, if I had come to a kissing gate I’d have had to turn back as there is no way I could lift the bike through it.”

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the National Ambulance Service, Reg Turner, said his family cycles along the Terryland Forest park en route to school and they have to manoeuvre a large cargo bike carrying his baby son through a kissing gate.

“My seven-year-old calls them jail gates. She says she is sick of lifting her bike and asks when are they coming to remove the gates. The crazy thing is the forest can be accessed from various other exits and entrances which don’t have these gates.”

At a Galway City Council meeting last July, City Council Director of Services for Transport, Patrick Greene, told councillors the NTA had written to Councils acknowledging that kissing gates were problematic for some users.

He said the NTA was working to come up with a new design for gates that are more accessible for users such as people on cargo bikes, pram users and people in wheelchairs, and the Council would act on any recommendations from the NTA once an alternative was sourced.

He said the City Council was planning to do an audit of all kissing gates across Galway.

Cllr Noel Larkin stated that without kissing gates, housing estates and public parks would be more accessible to vehicles and could result in antisocial behaviour.

Cllr Donal Lyons said motorbikes and other vehicles could access public parks and amenity areas if they were removed and not replaced.

(Photo: A cargo bike stuck at a kissing gates. The City Council removed one in Claddagh recently for a road race but then reinstated it).

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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Council needs extra loans for home-buying scheme



From the Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council has had to draw down further loans to keep up with demand for the Local Authority Home Loan Scheme.

At a meeting of the City Council, Director of Services for Housing, Brian Barrett, said they had initially sought approval from councillors for a loan of €4.1 million but such was the demand that they required a further €1.4 million.

A renewed Local Authority Home Loan was announced in December last year and provides for Government-backed mortgages for first-time buyers and ‘fresh-start’ applicants – those who are divorced or separated, or who have undergone personal insolvency or bankruptcy.

The scheme was introduced to provide lower interest rate mortgages to those who are creditworthy but would otherwise find it difficult to access sufficient finance.

Mortgages up to 90% of the value of the property are available, with a limit of €320,000 applicable to Galway. An income ceiling of €65,000 applies to single applicants, or €75,000 in the case of a joint application.

Mr Barrett said since the original scheme was launched in February 2018, 277 applications had been received by Galway City Council and 120 had been approved.

Twenty-three of those loans applied to the Tenant Purchase Scheme for local authority tenants buying-out their homes.

“In February, councillors approved a loan of €4.1 million and we need another €1.4 million . . . we require €5.5 million,” said Mr Barrett, who explained this applied to 2022 applications only.

The funding would be borrowed by the Council from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) raised the issue of joint applications in the case of parents and an adult child who wished to buy out a local authority house under the Tenant Purchase Scheme.

“There is a situation arising where a parent with a son or a daughter in the house and the parent is in their 60s. After getting approved, they go to the Housing Finance Agency and they’re told they can only get a four-year mortgage – they waste five months getting approved to be told that,” he said, explaining that money would not be loaned for a period beyond when the parent turns 70.

“That information was not relayed to the Council,” added Cllr McDonnell.

Dermot Mahon of the Council’s Housing Department said he was aware of this issue, but it was part of the scheme.

“The loan scheme specifies that the maximum age of the eldest borrower is 70,” said Mr Mahon.

Councillors agreed to increase the loan, bringing it to €5.5 million.

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City councillors pack their bags for Dutch transport junket



From the Galway City Tribune – A group of city councillors will be packing their bags for Holland in the coming weeks as part of an initiative to introduce them to revolutionary transport solutions.

A meeting of the Council heard that the National Transport Authority (NTA) was willing to fund a trip for councillors to an area similar to Galway – in order to highlight the possibilities in relation to sustainable travel.

Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath confirmed that the NTA “feel it would be beneficial for councillors to see some of the solutions implemented in other areas”.

“It would be to a town in Holland, similar in size to Galway, to see their active travel solutions,” said Mr McGrath.

There would be no cost to the City Council, he added.

The meeting heard the trip would last three days and would be open to nine councillors – half of the full Council – while two City Hall officials would accompany them.

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