Staff of NUI Galway – past and present – as well as student representatives, have criticised the recommendations of a gender equality taskforce which reported to the university’s governing body.
In a pre-emptive move, trade union IFUT, NUIG Students Union and campaigner Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington issued a joint statement, reiterating their stance on the need for action against discrimination at NUIG.
Separately, the trade union SIPTU, issued a statement outlining what it calls “crucial flaws” in the gender equality taskforce report.
Their statements to media coincided with a special meeting of NUIG’s Governing Body, which convened to discuss and adopt the final report of the taskforce looking into gender inequality in senior posts at the university, and all its recommendations.
The taskforce, chaired by Professor Jane Grimson of Trinity College, contains 24 recommendations aimed at promoting gender equality at NUIG.
Among the recommendations is that all committees and working groups at the university should have a minimum of 40 per cent of women by the end of this year, and 50 per cent by late 2018. It also recommends that mandatory gender quotas are required to ensure more women are promoted to senior academic posts.
Welcoming the report, NUIG president Dr Jim Browne said: “I look forward to working with all staff, staff representatives and unions in addressing gender equality in a meaningful and serious way. In this way, I expect that NUIG will become a leader in this space.
“We made a commitment a year ago to addressing gender equality across the University with the highest priority. I now want to reiterate this commitment, as our Governing Body adopts this taskforce report and its recommendations.”
He said the appointment of a vice-president for equality and diversity reflects NUIG’s commitment to “transformational change”.
SIPTU, who did not co-operate with the taskforce because of concerns over its independence, has highlighted “crucial flaws” in the report. SIPTU Equality Committee spokesperson at NUIG Maggie Ronayne said: “We need action not optics. The taskforce and its report are not independent and its focus is too narrow.
“The taskforce was not trusted by staff and students, receiving only 38 original submissions out of a total staff of 2,310 and a student body of over 17,000. While the report acknowledges that gender inequality is evident across the university, it holds no-one accountable for this. This report is very far from the independent review demanded by SIPTU.
“There are some positive elements in the report. Unfortunately, these are accompanied by many fundamental flaws. It does not tackle the real problems faced by the majority of those working and studying at the university, a majority of whom are women.”
She added: “The report fails to address, in any meaningful way, the discrimination and unfair treatment faced by administrative, general operative and technical staff, academics and others on precarious contracts or casually employed, researchers or students. The few recommendations regarding some of these staff or students are token gestures or misguided proposals which may make matters worse.
“The report proposes actions which may result in more academic women being promoted to senior positions. However, gender quotas are not a long-term solution to the underlying problem of institutional discrimination across all grades of staff. Quotas will not resolve the fundamental, underlying problem of unfair treatment of those with caring responsibilities, a majority of whom are women.”
In its joint statement, IFUT, Students Union and Dr Sheehy Skeffington, said: “With the adoption of the task force recommendations, and the recent appointment of a Vice President for Equality and Diversity to implement them, NUIG management will claim they are putting right the injustice to women at the university for which NUIG has received such bad publicity. This is not true.”
They urge the university to five women who were shortlisted and deemed eligible for promotion to senior lecturer positions in 2008/9 but who, like Dr Sheehy Skeffington, were not promoted.
The joint statement added: “That promotion round was truly appalling for women, being much worse than any other – only one woman was promoted against sixteen men, comprising just 6.7% of the female candidates applying, compared to 50% of male candidates. In addition, while her Equality Tribunal ruling could only directly apply to Dr Sheehy Skeffington, ten of the instances of gender discrimination it cited are also relevant to the five other women shortlisted and not promoted.
“We insist NUIG management ends its intransigence and promotes the five other women. We will continue to jointly campaign for this to happen until NUIG does so.”
Galway City Council turns down Mad Yolk Farm site
An application to retain farming-related development on a site in Roscam has been turned down by Galway City Council.
The local authority has refused to grant retention permission to applicant Brian Dilleen for subsurface piping to be used for agricultural irrigation at ‘Mad Yolk Farm’ on Rosshill Road.
It also refused permission for the retention of a bore-hole well, water pump and concrete plinth; and two water holding tanks for 6,500 litres; and other associated site works.
In its written decision, the Planning Department at City Hall said: “The proposed development, would if permitted, facilitate the use of the site for the provision of sixty 15.5m high seed beds, which have been deemed by the planning authority not to be exempted development.
“Therefore a grant of permission for the proposed development would facilitate the unauthorised development and usage on the site, contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”
The site has been the subject of enforcement action by the local authority.
A lengthy Appropriate Assessment Screening report, submitted with the planning application, concluded “beyond reasonable scientific doubt, in view of the best scientific knowledge, on the basis of objective information and in light of the conservation objectives of the relevant European sites, that the proposed retention and development, individually or in combination with other plans and projects, has not and will not have a significant effect on any European site”.
A borehole Impact Assessment Report concluded that the proposed retention development “on the hydraulic properties of the aquifer is considered negligible”.
It said that there was “no potential for significant effects on water quality, groundwater dependent habitats or species associated with any European site”.
Six objections were lodged by neighbours, including one from the Roshill/Roscam Residents Association, which argued the Further Information submitted by the applicant did “little to allay our concerns” about the impact of the development on an “extremely sensitive site”.
The applicant has until June 29 to appeal the decision to An Bórd Pleanála.
NUIG student accommodation firm records loss
The property company which operates student accommodation on behalf of NUI Galway recorded a €3.4 million increase in turnover in 2019.
However, Atalia Student Residences DAC (Designated Activity Company), which is owned by the university, recorded a loss for the year of €6,300.
Accounts for the company for the year ended August 31, 2019, show that while there was a loss, retained profits are at more than €1.6 million. The accounts are the most up to date available from the Companies Registration Office.
The previous year, the company made a profit of more than €460,000.
Atalia Student Residences operates the 764-bed Corrib Village apartment complex and the 429-bed Goldcrest Village.
The figures show that the company’s overall turnover jumped by 52% – from €6.4m to €9.8m.
Turnover for accommodation services was up from €5.2m to €8.4m; and from conferences and events was up from €850,000 to €1.1m. Turnover from shops was down from almost €328,000 to €290,000.
Outside of the academic year, both complexes are used as accommodation for conference delegates, while Corrib Village is also used for short-term holiday lets.
The accounts show fixed assets – including fixtures and fittings, plant and machinery and office equipment – valued at €1.5m. Its current assets were valued at more than €7m, including ‘cash at bank and in hand’ of almost €6.9m (up from €5.6m last year).
The company owed creditors €6.9m, including €5.2m in deferred income.
It employed 38 people (which includes its five directors) last year, up from 31 the previous year.
As well as operating the student accommodation complexes, the company also markets conference facilities and services on behalf of the university.
It pays rent to NUIG but the figure is not included in the company accounts. In 2018, the rent figure was just over €2.25m.
In Corrib Village, a single bedroom with a private en suite for the academic year costs €5,950. For Goldcrest Village, the figure is €6,760.
Call for two-way cycling under Galway City outdoor dining plan
Bike users want the local authority to examine the introduction of two-way cycling on one-way city centre streets.
Galway Cycling Campaign has again called for cycling to be allowed both ways. It comes as Galway City Council prepares to cordon-off parts of city centre streets to traffic, and make Dominick Street Lower one-way, to facilitate outdoor dining.
The cycling organisation said that the proposed pedestrianisation plan at the Small Crane, and the one-way system on Dominick Street, will result in lengthy diversions for people on bikes.
It has pointed out that school children and their guardians who cycle along Raleigh Row, and turn right towards Sea Road, will probably continue to do so even when the Small Crane is cordoned off to traffic, because the alternative route – via Henry Street – is too long a detour.
Similarly, it has been suggested that food-delivery services on bikes are unlikely to go the ‘long way round’ via Mill Street and New Road to get from Bridge Mills to restaurants on Dominick Street and would be tempted to cycle the ‘wrong way’ down the proposed one-way street or on the footpath.
Shane Foran, committee member of Galway Cycling Campaign, said now would be an ideal time to introduce two-way cycling on some one-way streets.
“It’s not controversial,” insisted Mr Foran. “It’s a general principle in other countries, if you are putting in new traffic arrangements, you would try and keep access for people on bikes.”
The regulation is contained in the National Cycle Policy Framework 2009; and a specific objective was contained in two of the most recent previous City Development Plans.
He said a former minister and Galway West TD, the late Bobby Molloy, had the vision to change the legislation in the late 1990s – but it hasn’t yet been embraced here.
“Bobby Molloy, who couldn’t be classed as an eco warrior, changed the law in 1998, so that it is available to local authorities to put up a sign granting an exemption from restrictions for people cycling on one-way streets.
“The road stays one-way for cars, and two ways for bicycles. Clearly that’s not going to be a sensible to do everywhere, like Merchants’ Road. In those situations, you might need a cycle track or lane to segregate people from traffic.
“But if it’s a low traffic street, with low speeds or relatively lower volumes of cars, then it should be possible for people on bicycles to cycle in both directions and still have it one-way for cars, without it being a major safety issue. It works in other countries,” said Mr Foran.