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Connacht Tribune

Volunteers return for annual mission to Chernobyl orphanage

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A group of 24 volunteers from Galway are finalising their annual trip to an orphanage in Belarus where they will provide a ‘Summer Camp’ for 220 children and young adults with a range of special needs.

The plight of the children is as a direct result of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion 32 years ago, on April 26, 1986, that killed 31 people at the time but has also led to thousands of cancer fatalities in the years since.

Orphanage children in Belarus are desperately short of resources and care, with physically handicapped children often having to wait until they reach adulthood before getting a wheelchair.

The Galway volunteers – headed up by Monivea woman Rose Mullins – are flying out to the Goradische Special Needs Orphanage in Belarus on June 3 next as part of the Burren Chernobyl Project.

At the orphanage, the volunteers will strive to provide the feeling of a ‘summer holiday’ for the 220 children and young adults at the orphanage, aged between four and 25 years.

The volunteers pay for their own flights with all donations and sponsorship going directly to the Burren Chernobyl, a charity founded by Bro. Liam O’Meara in Ennistymon, Co. Clare, in 1993.

The main fundraiser each year for the project are the ‘tea dances’ organised by Abbeyknockmoy woman, Della Dolan, every Sunday in the Ard Rí House Hotel in Tuam, with the help of her brother Val.

According to one of the volunteers, Leonie Finn, the provision of such basic foods as vegetables, fruit and meat for the children at picnics they organise, are real treats for them.

“During the year at the orphanage, what the four-year-old eats is the same as what the 25-year-old eats, and while nourishing in its own way, it is dished up the same way to everyone.

“A lot of our fundraising money is spent on items like yogurts and butter as we try to nourish the children as best we can while we’re there.

“One of the main purposes of our trip is to spend some quality time with the children – they have no physiotherapy available to them and in terms of people supporting them out there, the services are very much understaffed,” said Leonie Finn.

One of last year’s volunteers, trainee doctor Brian Carty, said that the memories of last year’s trip would stay with him forever.

“The children’s positive outlook and their gratitude – for even the smallest gestures – was endearing. The children have immense abilities and talents.

“A large proportion are affected by physical disabilities and the provision of physiotherapy would be a life-changing addition to them, particularly the bedbound children,” said Brian Carthy.

He said that he was ‘particularly taken’ by the case of a 15-year-old boy called Kerriel, who was incredibly enthusiastic, with an ambition to work with computers. He would have to wait another three years – until fully grown – before a wheelchair would be provided for him.

“A visiting doctor, charged with providing care for the children, that we were introduced to at the orphanage explained to us the problem of under-resourcing and under-staffing there.

“The service is wholly under-funded and the over-crowding leads to very primitive health care interventions.

“The lack of appropriate intervention was clearly evident with numerous children displaying long-term signs of medical complications which could have been avoided if appropriate care was given.

“It is a tragedy that despite the wonderful work already carried out, much has still to be done in order to give these wonderful children the basic human rights they sincerely deserve,” said Brian Carty.

For anyone wishing to donate to what is a most deserving and worthy charity venture, the Burren Chernobyl Project bank account is in the AIB Branch, Ennistymon, Co. Clare. IBAN: IE29AIBK93515801070280. BIC: AIB IE29AIBK.

Connacht Tribune

‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’

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It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.

Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.

“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”

The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.

He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.

A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.

But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.

Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.

They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.

Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.

The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.

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Connacht Tribune

Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites

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The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.

Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.

Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.

“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.

“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.

The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.

That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.

The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.

Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.

However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.

It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.

Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.

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Connacht Tribune

More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway

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More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.

Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.

Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996.  Both men remain in custody.

A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.

A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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