HAVING flagged this evening’s Premier Division clash against fellow strugglers St. Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park (7:45pm) as a pivotal fixture from a distance out, Galway United boss Shane Keegan admits the outcome of this contest – and, indeed, the next five games – could well “make or break” their season.
Following a not unexpected 2-0 defeat to reigning Premier Division champions Dundalk at Oriel Park on Monday, Galway United and Keegan were more relieved – to have got that game out of the way – than disappointed.
“We made a few changes and we gave it a decent rattle,” begins Keegan. “We probably didn’t cause them as many problems as we would have liked to have but, look, it is done, it is out of the way. The Dundalk game is done and dusted.
“It means we can focus on the next five games now with three of them against teams in the bottom group with us, plus we have a game at home to Limerick which we would see as a winnable one as well. So, this is an absolutely crucial period for us now.”
For with United’s Premier Division survival pretty much hanging by a thread, it is crucial they pick up the points against the side that, up until last weekend, had been hugging the bottom of the table. This is not lost on Keegan.
“There is no doubt about it. The next one is St. Pat’s, game three is against Drogheda and game five is against Finn Harps. They are essentially the games which will make or break our season – not game’s like last Monday night’s one.”
Although a victory over St. Patrick’s Athletic would be a major fillip to the squad, one win alone will be nowhere near enough to ensure their survival and Galway United must – to use another sporting parlance – box clever with their resources over the month of July.
“I suppose, we have probably played more Monday night games than anybody else in the league to be honest with you, but now the schedule we have means we have a weekend free while game five in that schedule is not until August 4.
“What we have said to the lads is that by the time of the final whistle on August 4 we need to be out of the relegation zone, having collected somewhere between eight and 10 points in those five games,” he states.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Exodus of landlords from Galway City rental sector
From the Galway City Tribune – There has been an exodus of landlords from Galway City’s rental market, which is pushing people into homelessness, Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath has warned.
Mr McGrath said that despite high rents, single-property landlords were selling-up to cash in on the high market values available currently for homes for sale.
He said this was pushing tenants to find properties to rent at higher prices, or face becoming homeless.
In an update to city councillors, Mr McGrath said that some 2,000 private landlords were leaving the rental market in Ireland every year. And half of them are issuing Notices of Termination because they are selling their property.
“This is ultimately driving many tenants into homelessness,” he said.
“The exodus of private landlords from the rental sector is being mirrored in Galway City with the latest figures showing that 37% of Notices of Termination issued to date in 2022 are for the purposes of sale with the consequent further depletion of private rented stock,” Mr McGrath warned.
He said that the vast majority of landlords (86%), own one or two properties.
Although Galway is in a Rent Pressure Zone, which protects tenants against excessive rent increases, he said this was having a negative knock-on effect.
“One of the negative unintended consequences of the rent pressure zone regulations is the unequal treatment between private landlords within Rent Pressure Zones such as Galway City. Where properties are on a first rental and in cases where properties have not been rented for a two-year period, landlords are free to charge market rent.
“Other private landlords in the same area who did not increase their rents to market level before the RPZ regulations took effect are currently confined to a maximum of 2% rental increase annually at present which has resulted in their properties being devalued.
“This can force many affected landlords to end tenancies and gain vacant possession so that they can achieve market value by selling the property to an owner-occupier. The tenant then must find another property at much higher rent or face becoming homeless,” Mr McGrath said.
He said the “problems of rental inflation and affordability challenges coupled with severe shortages of supply in the private rented market” in the city was reflected in the social rented sector too.
Mr McGrath warned that private landlords are exiting the RAS and leasing schemes and people who have qualified for Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) supports “are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain private rented accommodation in the city”.
He said that the number of Notices to Quit in HAP had “significantly increased” and there were 77 in the first three months of this year alone.
“In order to preserve the stock of private rented properties, a review of the taxation regime and the RPZ regulations in the private rented sector is required,” Mr McGrath added.
His analysis echoes that of a number of local housing charities and reports from independent agencies such as Daft.ie which have documented turmoil in the local housing market for buyers and renters.
Meanwhile, almost 100 tenants in private rented properties in the county have been issued with notices to quit so far this year – because private landlords are either leaving the market or hiking the rents.
And that number is set to increase – leaving dozens of families with a headache to find alternative accommodation.
Chief Executive of Galway County Council, Jim Cullen, confirmed that validated Notices to Quit have been issued to tenants in private accommodation.
It is understood that these tenants had been on the County Council’s housing waiting list and had secured accommodation in the private sector – but many owners of these properties want out of the rental market.
“These Notices to Quit are increasing significantly as landlords leave the market or seek higher rents that the Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) cannot compete with,” Mr Cullen confirmed.
Housing Assistance Payments is a support provided by the local authority on a monthly basis to landlords, while tenants who qualify for HAP make a contribution towards the rent based on their household income.
City centre bus stops blocked by private operators
From the Galway City Tribune – An ongoing issue with private bus operators blocking up city bus stops in Eyre Square is ‘an accident waiting to happen’.
That’s according to the Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union’s (NBRU) Galway Branch, John Hanlon, who said talks were ongoing with Bus Éireann management to address the issue.
“What’s happening is we have elderly people with walking frames, people with buggies and wheelchair users trying to get off the bus and we can’t reach the kerb – it’s no exaggeration to say there is an incident every day,” said Mr Hanlon.
“Our passengers’ health and welfare has to be at the forefront at all times.”
As a result of private tour operators and coaches blocking the stops, they were forced to off-load passengers on the road – and while the bus could be lowered to some extent, it wasn’t far enough for those with mobility issues, he continued.
Mr Hanlon said he was hopeful that Bus Éireann and Galway City Council could find a solution but said it could get to a stage that driver would be forced to continue to the next stop a distance away before unloading passengers safely.
“The tourist season hasn’t fully kicked off yet and it’s only going to get worse unless it’s addressed.”
Councillor Martina O’Connor (Green) said action was required and called on the Council to ensure wardens were patrolling the area.
“Decanting and pick up of passengers while double-parked is incredibly dangerous and does not allow for disability access at all. I have asked Galway City Council for an update on the warden service and to ensure there is activity in this area to keep the public and drivers safe while using the bus,” she said.
Grants for Irish language arts groups come under fire
From the Galway City Tribune – There was fierce criticism of Galway City Council’s decision to award a paltry sum to Irish language arts groups – from a €400,000 pot divided up between 57 organisations.
Fibín at An Taibhdhearc – Ireland’s national Irish language theatre on Middle Street – had applied for a grant of €20,000 for 2022 from the Council’s Arts Funding Committee for an agreed professional theatre project. Instead, it was awarded €2,000 – up from €1,000 the year before.
Councillor John Connolly (FF), speaking ‘as Gaeilge’, first questioned the grant to An Taibhdhearc, pointing out that the award did not demonstrate that the Council was serious about promoting Galway as Ireland’s only bilingual city.
Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) described the sum as “derisory”, while Cllr Imelda Bryne (FF) asked whether the City’s Irish Language Officer was on the committee deciding the grants.
Among the other groups which did not fare well was the Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre Youth Theatre, which had put in an application for €5,000 and received €950, despite their aim to “engage young people in theatre with emphasis on 13-16-year-olds from diverse backgrounds”.
Art in Mind, an artists’ work and exhibition space in Liosbán, which “supports artists in the areas of arts and mental health”, was granted €1,000, yet had applied for €22,500.
The biggest recipient again this year was the Galway International Arts Festival, which applied for €70,000, but received €46,000. In the coming years, it – and other major grants to arts organisations – would be “considered under the differentiated model to be developed”, councillors were told.
“Further supports from the Arts Office programme and other Galway City Council funding programmes to be considered particularly in light of significant expansion of the programme in 2022 past-Covid-19 pandemic.”
The other top grants went to The Galway Arts Centre, which got €35,000, and Druid Theatre, which was awarded €28,000, and the Galway Music Residency, granted €26,000 as requested.
Macnas received €24,000 – €26,000 less than it had pitched for – but €5,000 more than last year.
Galway City Arts Officer Gary McMahon said the company had proposed to stage a series of events around the October Bank Holiday, but there would be no massive parade at Halloween due to concerns raised by statutory bodies over health and safety. Because of this it was recommended to revert to the funding level of 2019.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) accused the committee of “a cut and paste exercise”, claiming that the grants were 99% the same as the year before.
Mr McMahon denied this, saying 14 of the 57 allocations had increases, decreases or were new applications.
He pointed out that An Taibhdhearc was not dependent solely on Galway City Council for its funding, with money granted by Roinn na Gaeltachta, Foras na Gaeilge, and Ealaín na Gaeltachta.
He described those working in Fíbín as “a fabulous bunch of people” who were staging great work in An Taibhdhearc as well as on the streets and in the arts festival. The group had received grants under the Council’s Local Live Performance Scheme during the pandemic.
He noted that other bilingual groups, such as Branar Theatre and Moonfish, had received allocations.
Branar Theatre, which created shows for children, received €8,000, up €1,000 on 2021, but far short of the €25,000 they asked for. Moonfish got €6,000, the same as last year but half of what was requested.
A total of €400,000 was divided out between the 57 groups, which was the biggest grant to arts organisations from any local authority in the country.
Mr McMahon pointed out that almost €785,000 had been applied for. “There is no way we could have kept everyone happy. We work with what you have allocated for the budget.”
(Photo: The Fibín theatre company)