The mayoral and voting pact, which brought the Civil War parties together on Galway County Council, was on the brink of collapse this week over a State board appointment.
During a dramatic day at County Hall, untold damage was done to the trust between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors as they traded insults and veiled threats during a tetchy discussion on the appointment of a board member to Údarás na Gaeltachta.
Exchanges became heated in particular between Fine Gael party whip, Jimmy McClearn, and Seamus Walsh, the Fianna Fáil nomination for the position.
Though two Fine Gael Councillors – McClearn and Tom McHugh – voted against Cllr Walsh; and two – Niamh Byrne and Frank Kearney – abstained, the Oughterard man prevailed in a vote, beating Independent Seósamh Ó Cualáin by 24 votes to nine.
However, the win may come at a cost.
As well as causing a rift between the two main ruling parties, who are involved in a voting arrangement, the appointment also stirred friction within Fianna Fáil.
The party’s twelve councillors were late returning from lunch and missed an important vote on the Local Property Tax – when they did return, Martina Kinnane intimated that they had been discussing the appointment of one of their members to the Gaeltacht body.
Prior to returning to the Council Chamber, Fianna Fáil members convened in a side room to thrash out who their nomination would be. Passersby on the corridor outside could hear heated exchanges between them.
Fianna Fáil whip on the Council, Mary Hoade, during an adjournment of the meeting, was involved in a raised-voice discussion inside the chamber with Cllr Walsh, who sits beside her.
Before the item was discussed, Cathaoirleach Eileen Mannion (FG), called for a brief adjournment but this was resisted by Cllr Walsh. He said there wasn’t a need for an adjournment. “I can’t go out and renege on an agreement . . . I gave my word to people . . . I wouldn’t stab them in the back,” said Cllr Walsh.
At this stage Cllr McClearn accused Fianna Fáil of arrogance, but Donagh Killilea (FF) countered: “You’re the one who is arrogant.”
When they resumed after five minutes, Tomás Ó Curraoin and Jim Cuddy (Ind) proposed Cllr Ó Cualáin for the position, Fianna Fáil nominated Seamus Walsh, and in a surprise move Fine Gael nominated a second Fianna Fáil man, Seán Ó Tuairisg.
All three initially agreed to allow their names to go forward, but just before the vote, Cllr Ó Tuairisg crossed the chamber, walked over to Cllr McClearn, and whispered into his ear. When he resumed his seat, he said: “I suppose I have to go with the party. I withdraw. I reluctantly withdraw.”
Tensions rose just before the vote as McClearn and Walsh exchanged barbs.
Cllr McClearn said his party “will not be a doormat for anybody”, and he referred to the agreement FG and FF had for the past three years.
Cllr Walsh countered: “Do you want me to tell them what I know? I’m the one who promised you no banana skins . . . Wasn’t I in Tuam last night with you? . . . Would I have driven to Tuam from Oughterard? . . . I promised you no bananas. I kept my word. I didn’t put out any bananas.”
Cllr McClearn said, “I told you in Tuam I couldn’t make any commitment” and Cllr Walsh replied: “There’ll be again in it” and “it’s a long road”. Pointing at the Fine Gael Cllrs he added: “Will ye wake up now”.
Cllr McClearn said if Walsh loses the vote, “it’s your own fault”.
There was a roll-call vote, and when Cllr Ó Tuairisg was asked to choose between his party colleague and Ó Cualáin, he said: “It’s a hard one . . . I suppose I have to go for what the party said.” After hesitating, he voted for Walsh.
Speaking as Gaeilge after being elected by 24 votes to nine, with two abstentions, Cllr Walsh thanked the members who voted for him. His name will now go forward as the Council nominee for the Údarás, to be ratified by the Gaeltacht Minister.
Gardaí in Galway operating with fewer patrol cars
Five large Garda stations in County Galway are operating with fewer Garda vehicles now than two years ago – leading to a call for the local fleet to be restored to 2020 levels.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has confirmed to Galway West TD Noel Grealish that the Garda fleet in the Galway Garda Division stands at 116 as of October of this year.
That’s greater than any of the years from 2012 to 2019, but it represents a reduction on the Garda fleet when compared with 2020 and 2021 figures.
Galway Gardaí had a dozen fewer vehicles this year, compared with 2020. There are 13 fewer patrol cars, down from 96 to 83; there was no change in the number of vans and motorcycles, and the division acquired one extra 4×4.
Garda stations in Ballinasloe, Loughrea, Tuam, Clifden and Salthill have all lost patrol cars in the past 24 months, according to the official figures.
Independent Deputy Grealish has demanded a restoration of the Garda fleet in Galway to 2020 levels.
“Gardaí have a demanding enough job to do, but it makes that important work even more difficult if they are not allocated the proper resources,” Deputy Grealish said.
“A reduction of twelve vehicles in less than two years across the Galway Division, down from 128 at the end of 2020 to 116 in October this year, is concerning.
“I have asked the Minister for Justice to explain why this has happened, that the number of vehicles in the Galway Division has fallen by ten per cent, when nationally the total fleet actually increased by 6%. I am demanding that they at the very least be restored to their 2020 levels,” he said.
Deputy Grealish pointed out that almost all areas of the county had suffered a reduction in Garda vehicles since the beginning of last year. Ballinasloe currently has six vehicles, a reduction of two since the end of 2020; Clifden also has six, down one; Loughrea was down three to eleven; Salthill was down three to ten; the biggest reduction in Garda vehicles was in the Tuam area down five to twelve.
Galway City’s fleet increased by two vehicles, for a total of 71.
Minister McEntee said that the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was responsible for the administration and management of An Garda Síochána, including the purchase, allocation, and effective and efficient use of Garda vehicles.
“As Minister, I have no direct role in these matters. I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review to ensure their optimum use in light of identified operational needs and emerging crime trends,” she added.
Galway City Councillor Donal Lyons (Ind) last month complained that the number of vehicles available to Gardaí in Salthill and Knocknacarra was insufficient.
Progress stalls on setting up Eating Disorder Community Health Team
Despite an increasing number of young people experiencing eating disorders, a new specialist community team has yet to be set up in Galway well over a year after it was announced.
The delay is mainly due to a difficulty recruiting a consultant psychiatrist to lead the team, this week’s HSE West Regional Health Forum meeting was told.
Councillor John Connolly (FF) queried the progress on the new Eating Disorder Community Health Team within the Child Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) after the HSE revealed in September 2021 that it would be set up in response to the hike in youths presenting for treatment.
Chief Officer of HSE Community Healthcare West, Breda Crehan-Roche, said interviews had been conducted to recruit a clinical lead, but so far none had been appointed. Six other staff had been appointed and these had been assigned to existing teams within CAMHS while a psychiatrist could come on board to manage the team.
“We have difficulty getting locum cover. Interviews were held. It’s a priority. We are doing a running recruitment process,” she told this month’s meeting.
It took between six and nine months to appoint a person to such a senior post.
“There is a lot of work in specialist intervention in the eating disorders team.”
She admitted that there were no records of how much of an increase there had been in referrals to CAMHS Galway for youths troubled by an eating disorder as all records were on paper rather than on computer.
“I can’t ask clinicians and therapists to pull together manual figures,” she stated. But the indication from staff on the ground was that there had been a downward trend in referrals post-Covid.
There was a move to keeping digital records by the middle of next year.
Retired Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan dies aged 78
Retired Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan has passed away at the age of 78.
Born in Kilkenny in 1944, Bishop Drennan studied for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth from where he was ordained in 1968
As a priest, the then Fr Drennan served as curate in both St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish in Kilkenny and then in Ballycallan.
From 1975 he taught Sacred Scripture at St. Kieran’s College, returning to Rome in 1980 to become Spiritual Director at the Irish College there for the next five years.
When Fr. Martin again returned home he became a Lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth where he continued to teach until his appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin in 1997.
Following the retirement of Bishop James McLoughlin, Bishop Drennan was chosen as Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora and was installed on 3rd July 2005 in Galway Cathedral serving to his retirement in 2016.
A brief statement released by the Diocese of Galway this afternoon confirmed his passing and offered their sympathies to Bishop Drennan’s family and all those who mourn his loss.
Funeral arrangements for the late Bishop Drennan will be announced later