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Weather fails to dampen shoppers’ spirits



While the widespread flooding did not help traders in the run up to their biggest season of the year, the majority of retailers across the county are cautiously optimistic the worst of the dark times are behind them.

For many retailers, Christmas can be sink or swim. Jewellers can earn half or more of their annual sales during the festive season. For other traders, it can account for a third of their revenue for the year.

Retail Ireland – a branch of the business group IBEC – predicted core retail spending in December to be up 3.5% on the same period last year, hitting €4.05 billion.

Modest tax cuts coupled with slight increases in social welfare in the budget are also expected to drive increased consumer spending this year for the first time since 2008.

Galway City businesses reported a busy Christmas season despite the inclement weather.

“Chamber members in the retail trade are confident that this festive season will hold up to last year and probably exceed last year’s figures,” explained Maeve Joyce, general manager of the Galway Chamber of Commerce.

“This would tally with several national predictions where various surveys including those from Retail Excellence Ireland suggest that core retail sales will exceed last year’s figures by about 3.5%.

“While our retail members said that the recent bad weather has had an effect on numbers shopping, it has been compensated for by some extremely busy days trading – shopping centres, both city centre and on the outskirts are doing a brisk trade due in part to their weather neutral situation.

“They have also reported a longer ‘dwell time’ for shoppers with one centre reporting that a very high bench mark was set over the October bank holiday, a bumper trading weekend, and that targets continue to be reached.”

Bad weather and heavy traffic are the key negatives affecting retail. The chamber is uring shoppers to use the Park and Ride service provided by Galway City Council as much as possible.

One of the most positive highlights of the year for the business community in Loughrea was the “Fibre to the Business” project, which brought high speed broadband to over 80 businesses.

“These businesses who helped make the project succeed have secured the town’s digital future which is now set to take off. It makes Loughrea town an ideal place to start a business or to move too and avail of the high speed and reliable broadband,” explained president of the Loughrea Chamber of Commerce, Cllr Shane

To encourage an increased footfall from the hinterland, the chamber has invested in new Christmas Lights this year to help make Loughrea more festive. They also upped the ante for the annual ‘turning on’ of the Christmas lights in a bid to entice regular shoppers throughout the big spend.

Michael McInerney of Loughrea’s Supervalu reports a very buoyant 2015.

“New initiatives introduced such as the Food Academy, Health and Wellness, and homewares, are trading strongly along with a growth in staples, particularly fresh produce and fresh meats,” he explained.

A number of new initiatives are planned for the store in January 2016.

“I see 2016 as a game changer in retail across all spectrums, given both the return of consumer confidence which will also benefit from recent USC changes to personal tax.”

Restauranteur Jirka Hanka of Taste Matters said the year had been good until the end of summer. He had noticed a significant increase in the tourist trade this year. “We expect an increase in business, fingers crossed, for 2016,” he revealed.

Gerard Dervan, of Dervan’s Fashions, concurred that 2015 had indeed been a different year. “After an upswing in the first half of 2014, it finished out weak but stable.  Early 2015 was similar in many ways but belly flopping along in an effort to lift off.  All of this was good as we had seen the worst five-year trading stretch up to 2013 in the company’s 80-year history,” he recalled.

The third quarter of 2015 had single digit growth in each month with the final quarter of 2015 proving strong with small but steady growth and Christmas is building up nicely barring the negative effect of the weather in the last month.

“We are positively hopeful for the rest of the month. Loughrea is looking good and doing slightly better than similar towns as far as we can see.  There are definite signs of an upswing. The younger customers are out buying strong again and the grey brigade has a renewed willingness to spend again.”

He believes 2016 will be ever better. “People are spending what they have now with more confidence than in the last five years.  They will no doubt do the same in Jan 2016….we will see, but I do believe that January 2016 will be a good deal better than January 2015… and it needs to be.”

In Clifden, an initiative called Christmas in Clifden, aims to more local people into the town by delivering a gift guide to 8,000 homes in the area through An Post and setting up a website plugging the 43 businesses taking part.

The key messages from the retailers is to shop local. “While there is always lots of talk about shopping local, no one ever really sees what is available so we have done this to put it right in front of them, similar to all the other gift guides that come in the door,” explained organiser Terry O’Toole.

“In general what I’m hearing is it’s up on 2014, it’s a slow organic recovery. The Wild Atlantic Way has certainly benefited the Clifden area. The season has certainly stretched on either side, it’s building from March and we just had a really good October,” he reflected.

“People are staying longer, they’re adding a little extra time to their trip – they’re stunned by the beauty, they didn’t know they could do so much here in such as short distance, things like kayaking, horse riding, fishing, shooting, coast steering.”

He runs self catering cottages in the town and already has bookings for next March, April and May – unusually early for the business, which is generally only busy in the summer months.

Ballinasloe has been badly hit by the floods at the end of what has been a difficult year, reflected Sinn Féin Councillor Dermot Connolly.

“It’s pretty difficult, particularly in the last number of years, and the fact that Ballinasloe has been hit by a series of job losses with nothing to replace them, the downscaling of St Bridgets has taken a large workforce with it. That coupled with a 6% increase in rates means retailers just can’t catch a break.”

For the last five months footfall has been down due to a sewerage upgrade, which will continue for another eight months.  Traders have negotiated a move of contractors to areas of the town where less businesses operate for December.

“There are five or six shops closes down in a short period of time. Ballinasloe doesn’t have the footfall of Oranmore or Tuam so we need to more to encourage shoppers into town,” he stressed.

In the recent town plan, some developments were restricted from setting up outside the town centre to discourage a further decimation of the centre.

“A lot of the disciplines that happen in University Hospital Galway could be transferred to Portiuncla. We have the space for it. These are the sorts of things we need to be considering in order to encourage people to return to rejuvenate retail in Ballinasloe.”

Gort is another town decimated by the recent floods, which keep customers at bay deterred by lengthy detours.

“The recovery? It’s a recovery very specific to Dublin. Certainly the small towns are hanging on by a thread to keep going. If they don’t get some break in relation to taxes, rates – they just won’t keep going,” exclaimed Cllr Gerry Finnerty.

So what measures could improve the retail climate in Gort?

“We don’t have proper signage at the M18 so that needs to be addressed. We need people who have gone away to return and live here, build their homes, we need a rates break for people who can’t pay their rates.”

Tuam has experienced a number of difficult years with the ‘big dig’ but now the new bypass is being built, with an increase in footfall around the town, there is a renewed optimism.

The secretary of the Tuam Chamber of Commerce Ann Coen said the key message for the shoppers is to stay at home.

“We want people to stay in Tuam, buy in Tuam, eat in Tuam – stay local, we have everything,” she exclaimed.

Connacht Tribune

Confusion reigns – but publicans continue serving pints outdoors



Galway City publicans continued this week to serve alcohol in newly created on-street outdoor dining sections – despite warnings from Gardaí that it was against licensing laws.

The local branch of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) said it is hoping Government will, if necessary, introduce legislation that facilitates pubs serving alcohol in public spaces reclaimed for outdoor hospitality.

On Friday last, our sister newspaper, Galway City Tribune revealed that Gardaí had visited a number of city pubs warning they were not legally permitted to serve alcohol outdoors in temporary on-street seating areas created by Galway City Council.

Publicans were told that if they continued to flout the rules, files would be sent to the DPP.

When the crux subsequently hit the national headlines, Justice Minister Heather Humphreys urged Gardaí to ‘use their discretion’.

“The overwhelming majority of licensed premises are operating safely, and we in Government are determined to continue to support them. If local issues arise, I would urge local authorities, Gardaí and businesses to engage.

“However, I will also examine whether further measures are required from Government. Licensing law is a complex area but I have spoken to the Attorney General this morning and we will take further action if necessary,” Minister Humphreys said.

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Connacht Tribune

Apple plans second bite at Athenry data centre



An artist's impression of the proposed Apple Data Centre.

Apple intends to have another bite at plans to build a data centre in Athenry.  Apple Operations Europe has applied to Galway County Council for more time to construct a controversial data centre on a greenfield site at Derrydonnell.

The company said it will identify “interested parties to develop the project” between now and 2026 to meet global growth in demand for data storage facilities.

It will spark hope in the County Galway town of a revival of the €850 million project that was dogged for years by planning delays and court appeals and was subsequently shelved. It may also attract fresh objections.

The world’s largest technology company was granted planning permission to build a €850 million data centre near Athenry in 2015.

An appeal to An Bórd Pleanála by a handful of local residents was not successful, and the planning appeals board confirmed the local authority’s decision in 2016.

But the company ultimately aborted its plans for County Galway in 2018 after three objectors sought a review of the decision through the courts.

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Connacht Tribune

Mum’s dream holiday turns to nightmare after cancer diagnosis



Julia McAndrew, in hospital in Mexico.

A mother who went to Mexico on a dream holiday to spend Christmas with family is too weak to return home after being diagnosed with advanced cancer.

From the minute Julia McAndrew landed in the South American country, her health took a major downward spiral.

Her son and daughter were shocked when she asked for a wheelchair to make it through the airport.

She and daughter Eliska had flown out to see her son Patrick, who had relocated to Mexico to run an online learning business.

They initially thought she had fallen ill due to the rigours of a 22-hour, multi-stop flight.

But when her stomach problems did not improve and she began to lose a lot of weight and suffered from very low energy, they sought medical help.

This had to be done privately and without the financial help of an insurance company, Patrick reveals.

She was initially diagnosed with anaemia and kidney failure and underwent various treatments, including blood transfusions that appeared to be working.

But three weeks ago, medics discovered that what she had was Stage 4 breast cancer. Julia had cancer a decade ago but was given the all-clear after receiving treatment and a major change in lifestyle.

“It’s returned with a vengeance this time around. It’s spread to her pelvis, ribs and lungs,” reflects Patrick.

The cost of the treatment is $40,000 (€33,000) a month. Her family are hoping to build up her strength enough to endure the long flight home to Oranmore.

They have launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise €280,000 to pay for her treatment and in less than a week a phenomenal €36,000 has been donated.

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