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Volunteer work is a win-win for everyone involved

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Donncha Foley at the Galway Volunteer Centre.

Volunteering is good for you – and that’s no marketing spin! Not alone does it improve your employability prospects, but it is also good for your mental health, and the community.

When Volunteer Galway started up 10 years ago, the benefits were seen as more one-sided, but now it is certainly viewed as a win-win situation for all.

“It’s not about ‘are you suitable for the organisation’, but ‘is the organisation suitable for you’ – we advise that you pick something that you enjoy doing; the volunteer will stay for longer in those cases,” says Donncha Foley, Volunteer Galway’s Development Manager.

“The main reasons people come in is that they want to do good, to help others who are less fortunate.

“We have a lot of people who are just a day or two in Galway and want to get involved – it’s how you meet people, and become part of the community. It’s a hard place to leave, and they want to start putting roots down.”

Donncha should know, as the Tralee-native used to visit the city while studying in Dublin, but hated leaving. He eventually stayed for good 21 years ago, and has worked with the Galway Traveller Movement, and other community groups in the meantime, before starting with Volunteer Galway when it opened its doors nearly 10 years ago.

“In Galway, there are so many new people coming in, and volunteering is a good way to meet neighbours and feel part of the community. Often, it is only when you are giving something back that you get that connection. We also have people who are interested in building on their skills, that they have been studying and want to apply what they have learned. Some people will have religious reasons for doing it, and some will just have free time.”

Surprisingly, the vast majority of those that contact them are under the age of 35.

“Before I started here, I was involved in trying to develop a volunteer centre, and I remember organisations saying that it was very hard to get volunteers, because they didn’t know how to connect with young people,” he adds.

“About 60% of people who use our service have never volunteered before – and the main reasons they use it is because they can easily find us online and can browse anonymously.

“The traditional way of volunteer recruitment was tapping someone on the shoulder and asking would they help. It was unfair on the person because how do you say no? This way people are saying yes, rather than no.”

Volunteer Galway is funded by the Department of the Environment and Galway City Council, and is one of 22 such centres around the country.

“It is all about putting people who want to get involved in the community in touch with organisations that look for people to help,” Donncha says.

“On behalf of non-profit community organisations, we advertise volunteer roles, similar to a recruitment agency. Someone can walk off the street or browse our website, and see what’s available or needed at a particular moment.”

At any one time, there are over 100 roles to be filled; currently the Galway Theatre Festival (April29-May7) is looking for volunteers; Cope Galway is looking for those with an interest in gardening, who would work in one of their houses for the homeless; and one of most popular roles, on an on-going basis, is teaching IT skills to the older generation.

“Volunteering isn’t just standing on the street shaking a bucket – some people have PR and finance skills, and you would wonder is that the best use of their skills,” Donncha adds.

“We had a person coming in here looking to work with animals, and we were able to put her in touch with Madra – she had a huge amount of PR and marketing skills, and took on that role for them.”

But apart from the obvious personal benefits that come from giving back to the community, volunteering can also prove extremely beneficial in one’s career progression.

“While the economy is improving, it can still be hard to get work but, by volunteering, you can go into interviews with real life experience, rather than something you read in a book – and it shows that you can work on your own initiative,” Donncha said.

“One of the ladies who works here volunteered with us, which put her at an advantage when it came to the interviews.”

In fact, he says that volunteer office admin roles are so popular, that they rarely stay long on the notice board, due to the high level of interest. And, because there could be 20-30 people applying for the one role, and organisations will obviously want the best candidate, they seek CVs to be submitted and hold interviews – which is another step towards gaining paid employment.

In the past 10 years, Volunteer Galway has dealt with 11,000 potential volunteers, and has worked with close to 600 organisations – in 2015, there were at least 250 successful placements, that they know of.

“The two ways people find us is googling ‘volunteer in Galway’ and referrals from other people, which we are delighted about because it means people are talking about us and must be saying good things,” he says.

“The vast majority that come in say they’d like to volunteer, but don’t know what they can do or what’s out there. They register to use the service, which gives us an idea about them such as why they want to volunteer and do they have skills already or do they want to learn new ones. We meet with about 300 potential volunteers per year, and have short meetings with them – it’s almost like a career guidance for volunteers. We have over 100 roles on our website, so we can suggest roles, and it’s up to them then to take it from there.”

Volunteer Galway sees itself as simply a ‘go-between’, and nobody is under any obligation to take part straight away.

“If you use our service, we don’t expect you to volunteer tomorrow, some people like to see what’s there and keep an eye out; we send out monthly updates to those registered with us, and they come to us in their own time.”

One of the most rewarding projects has been the ‘Flourish’ project, for which Volunteer Galway received funding to work with those recovering from mental health challenges.

“Volunteering is a nice way of getting back into the community in the shallow end, rather than taking up a 9-5 job – and it’s also good for self-esteem and self-confidence.

“We have worked with about 60 people from psychiatric units and services around the county, and half of those started volunteering and came back to say it had huge impact on their lives. It’s that feeling you get when you’re doing something worthwhile because you want to be there.

“We want to establish Galway as a centre of community excellence, which means people who come into these organisations have the passion to help others, and are able to access the skills to do it to their best ability.”

With this in mind, funding has also been availed of to provide ‘volunteer management’ for the non-profit organisations they help, which can involve human resources, business, marketing, and financial skills.

■ If you would like to volunteer your time to help others (and yourself), drop into the Volunteer Galway offices at 27 William Street West in Galway City, give them a call (091) 581727, or visit their website.

 

Connacht Tribune

Tests reveal high pollution levels close to Barna bathing spot

Denise McNamara

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New bathing water testing in Barna has revealed dangerously high levels of pollution at an inlet stream that discharges into the local pier which is a popular bathing spot.

Galway County Council confirmed that it had recently started sampling at Mags’ Boreen Beach in the village and at the inlet stream that feeds into the pier.

The results from May 26 show levels of E.coli at 198,636 cfu/100 ml and Enterococci at 2,900 cfu/100 ml at the stream. Cfu (colony-forming unit) is a measurement used to estimate the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample.

Mags’ Boreen Beach was 86 for E.coli and 7 for Enterococci at low tide.

The levels of both pollutants in the water for it to be deemed ‘sufficient quality’ are 500 and 185 cfu/100ml respectively.

E.coli is a bacteria that lives in the gut of humans and animals. Some types can cause illnesses such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting and can be life-threating to infants and people with poor immune systems.

Enterococci are bacteria which indicate contamination by faecal waste that can cause disease in the skin, eyes, ears and respiratory tract.

Galway County Council Secretary Michael Owens said the Council would continue to monitor water quality at these locations during the bathing season.

“The monitoring results for the inlet stream to the pier are concerning and may indicate a risk of poor water quality at the pier. Local people have noted that young people use the pier area for swimming,” he stated.

“The results of monitoring of Mags’ Boreen Beach indicates that the water quality was compliant with the standards for excellent water quality. Further sampling will be carried out during the bathing season.

“We will carry out further investigations to try to identify any sources of contamination in the catchment. We have already installed a sign at the inlet stream noting that the inlet stream is contaminated and may pose a risk to health.”

Chairperson of Barna Tidy Towns, Dennis O’Dwyer, said there had been a lot of speculation for years about the stream polluting the water.

“It’s extremely high but at least we now know that the stream has a problem while Mag’s Boreen Beach is safe,” he said.

“We will probably now ask the Council to go further upstream where two streams converge at Donnelly’s Pub, one under The Twelve Hotel and other beside the bus stop so we can eliminate if individual houses or housing estates not linked to the sewage pipes are causing the pollution.”

The group will also request testing at Barna Pier which is a popular jumping off point.

“It’s not a designated swimming area but people do swim there, including children. I don’t think anyone has ever been sick but we’d rather know because a lot of kids do jump in.”

Mr Owens said it can be very difficult to identify sources of pollution in a stream or river as it is generally a combination of multiple sources.

“The majority of properties in the village are connected to the public wastewater scheme, which is pumped to the Galway City public wastewater treatment plant. There is a possibility that some properties that should be connected to the public wastewater scheme are misconnected.

“Other possible sources in the catchment include private wastewater treatment systems connected to individual homes, housing estates and businesses and discharges from agricultural activities. Galway County Council intends to carry out inspections of private wastewater treatment plants in the area and will issue advisory notices if issues are identified.”

The catchment has been put forward as a Priority Area for Action for the next cycle of the River Basin Management Plan which is scheduled to commence in 2022. If this is approved, additional resources will be available for investigations in the catchment.

There is no requirement on the Council to notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the sample of concern was taken from an inlet stream. The local authority is required to notify the EPA in the event of non-compliances at all designated bathing areas. The inlet stream is not a designated bathing area as it is too shallow.

“If necessary, additional signs will be put in place at the pier,” added the County Secretary.

“The EPA advise that after a heavy rainfall event it is best to avoid recreational water activities at a beach or bathing area for at least 48 hours to protect public health. It is especially important in areas where sewage may pose a risk.”

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Connacht Tribune

Community’s delight at club’s first ever Irish rugby international

Stephen Corrigan

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Members of Monivea Rugby have expressed their delight at the naming of one of their own in the Irish team for this year’s summer series – with Caolin Blade looking set to be the clubs first to don the Irish jersey as a new era at his home club gets underway.

Blade, who is part of a 37-man squad named by Head Coach Andy Farrell this week that will take on Japan and the USA in two test matches in Dublin this July, exemplifies what can be achieved by a player from a small club in the West of Ireland, according to its recently appointed President Anthony Killarney.

“The sense of elation and pride in the club is immense, to see the Blade name on the Irish squad sheet. A very well-deserved achievement and timely indeed, based on his performances for Connacht.

“Caolin is showing such a great example – on and off the pitch – of what can be achieved through dedication and hard work to all the young players in Monivea RFC. We are all so proud today, and for this to happen as we approach our 50th year celebrations,” said Mr Killarney.

Caolin’s dad Pat was Monivea’s star player for years, he added, so to see his son rise up to international rugby was no surprise.

Blade’s naming on Monday coincides with a shakeup at the club that includes the election of a new committee aiming to grow the club and achieve the long-held goal of building a clubhouse.

As well as Mr Killarney becoming President, Carmel Laheen has been elected Vice President, while local councillor Shelly Herterich Quinn has taken the position of Chairperson.

Speaking to the Connacht Tribune this week, Cllr Herterich Quinn said she’d been involved in the club for almost ten years and was hugely honoured to take the role, as she paid tribute to the outgoing President, Pádraic McGann.

“I was delighted to receive the nomination for Chair from Pádraic McGann and I want to sincerely thank Padráic for everything he has achieved for rugby in Monivea over the past 49 years. It is absolutely true to say that without Pádraic’s grit and determination, we would not have a rugby club to go to every week, to play the game we love so much,” she said.

“2021 has been a significant years in more ways than one, but in particular here at Monivea RFC where one of the main figures in all things rugby for the last 49 years will take a back seat as we face into exciting times. Affectionately known as Mr Monivea, Pádraic McGann has been the driving force behind Monivea Rugby since 1972 which he founded, based on his love and enthusiasm for the game.”

The new committee comes from a wide variety of backgrounds, she said, and share a determination to build on the clubs successes – and to produce more players like Caolin Blade.

“The absence of a clubhouse is notable but we know that with the determination of the new committee, and the help of all our members, Monivea RFC will soon put down some solid foundations and continue to build on what has already been achieved in this wonderful club,” said Cllr Herterich Quinn.

“What better way to mark 50 years of rugby in the small picturesque village of Monivea than the opening of a clubhouse.”

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Connacht Tribune

Man jailed for using coercive behaviour to control family

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A man whose young children fear for their mother’s safety once he is released from custody, has been sentenced to three years in prison for using coercion to control his family.

Imposing the sentence at Galway Circuit Criminal Court this week, Judge Rory McCabe concurred with the findings of psychiatric and probation reports handed into court, that 49-year-old Paul Harkin posed a high risk of reoffending and of committing violence against his partner.

Harkin, a native of Derry who formerly lived with his wife and two children near Kilchreest, Loughrea, pleaded guilty before the court last January to knowingly and persistently engaging in behaviour that was controlling or coercive on a date unknown between June 24 and August 13 last year at an unknown location, which had a serious effect on a woman who is or was his spouse, and the behaviour was such that a reasonable person would consider it likely to have a serious effect on a relevant person, contrary to Section 39 (1) and (3) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2018.

Judge McCabe heard evidence at Harkin’s sentence hearing last week but adjourned finalisation of sentence until this week to consider the findings of comprehensive psychiatric and probation reports.

The court heard Harkin believed in several conspiracy theories and his coercive control of his wife and two young children, then aged nine and seven, escalated on the run-up to the children’s impending return to school last September as he feared they would be vaccinated against Covid 19, which he believed was a hoax.

He made veiled threats to his now former wife, Fiona Clarke, that he would burn their house down, and the homes of her extended family without warning, resulting in the loss of twelve lives, if she did not behave and do as she was told.

The court heard Ms Clarke went out to work while her husband stayed at home. He got her to withdraw money from her account on a regular basis and give it to him. He spent most days watching conspiracy videos on his phone and drinking beer, the court heard.

In her victim impact statement, which Ms Clarke read to the court, she said she lived in fear for the future when Harkin got out of prison.

“I went against Paul by speaking out and I am now terrified of the consequences. I don’t know if he will want revenge,” she said.

Detective Sergeant Paul Duane told the court that he arrested Harkin on September 2 last year.

He confirmed Harkin had previous convictions from Northern Ireland in 1998 for threatening to kill a former partner there, for two aggravated burglaries and causing criminal damage for which he had received a two-year suspended sentence.

Judge Rory McCabe said Harkin’s 1998 convictions showed he had ‘form’.

The judge placed the headline sentence at four-and-a-half years which he said, reflected the gravity of the offence, which carries a maximum tariff of five years.

Taking the early plea, Harkin’s expression of remorse, and his intention to leave the jurisdiction and go back to live in Derry as mitigating factors, Judge McCabe said the sentence he had in mind was three years.

However, he decided not to finalise the structure of that sentence until this week, stating this was a complex matter and he needed more time to consider the reports before the court.

Judge McCabe said an immediate custodial sentence was unavoidable and warranted when passing sentence this week.

The judge said he believed Harkin would make no effort to rehabilitate and it was his belief he would pose an ongoing risk of reoffending.

Imposing the three-year sentence, the judge directed Harkin to have no contact with the victims and come under the supervision of the probation service for twelve months on his release from prison.

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