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.
Spanish Arch project to highlight dangers of rising sea levels and flooding
From the Galway City Tribune – The city will now receive twice-daily illuminated reminders of the potential dangers of sea surges in a joint science and art project which had its first showing this week at the Spanish Arch.
Each day, at the times of high tides in Galway Bay – morning and evening – the Spanish Arch will be it up by the Línnte na Farraige environmental group.
The Spanish Arch has been chosen as the city location for the ‘high tide illuminations’ – the Galway site is the first of a number of coastal locations selected for the light shows.
Two Finnish artists – Timo Aho and Pekka Nittyvirta – are responsible for the bars of light that will appear on the Spanish Arch, indicating the projected rise in sea levels from future storm surges.
According to the artists, the striking visual light installations are designed to ‘open eyes and minds to potential future storm surge levels around Ireland’s coastlines’.
One of the scientists involved in the project, Dr Zoe Roseby, of Trinity College, Dublin, said that the goal of the project was to ‘provoke a dialogue around rising sea levels to demonstrate that the future is still in our own hands’.
Dr Roseby said that the Spanish Arch had been picked because it was a location of local significance to highlight the link between greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels.
“Línnte na Farraige aims to encourage individuals to consider how collective societal action can mitigate climate change and sea level rise, to ultimately inspire a more sustainable and resilient future,” she said.
According to Línnte na Farraige – funded by the Dept of Environment’s Creative Climate Action initiative – since sea levels were first measured in Galway in 1842, they have risen by 25 to 30 centimetres.
“In recent years, Galway has become the go-to for reporting on coastal flooding associated with storms. Storm surges occur when strong winds drive water in the direction of the coast. The impacts of these events are then exacerbated by high Spring Tides,” Línnte na Farraige stated.
Galway’s most dramatic relatively recent sea surge event occurred on January 2, 2018, when Storm Eleanor caused sea waters to rise above the dock walls leading to severe flooding along Dock Road, Merchants Road, Flood Street, Quay Street, Spanish Parade and Claddagh areas.
According to Línnte na Farraige, on that occasion, the water levels had risen by 90cms above the base of the Spanish Arch, Now their line of light – first shown last Thursday – will appear 1.9 metres above that base line.
“This indicates the predicted rise in sea levels of a similar storm surge in 2150 when sea levels have risen by one metre — a moderate climate change scenario,” Línnte na Farraige point out.
The group also state that ‘solar panels and renewably powered batteries will be used as part of the installation to power the lights, which only turn on twice a day during rising tides.
Fears that interim Emergency Department at UHG will become long term
From the Galway City Tribune – The new ‘temporary’ Emergency Department (ED) at University Hospital Galway is due to open over the coming weeks, the HSE has confirmed.
The HSE – in a reply to a question from Cllr John Connolly (FF) – said that the ‘interim ED’, would have a capacity of 43 patient bays, as compared to 34 in the pre-Covid ED.
However, Cllr Connolly told the Galway City Tribune that while he welcomed the news on the interim ED, he feared ‘this new temporary facility could test the meaning of the word temporary’.
“I want to see a real commitment and urgency about the provision of the new permanent ED at the hospital which is to be done in tandem with the proposed maternity and paediatric units.
“As things stand, the whole process hasn’t even come near the planning stage and is currently being looked at under a public spending evaluation process. This needs to get moved on,”” said Cllr Connolly.
At this week’s Regional Health Forum, the HSE in a written reply, told Cllr Connolly that the new ‘interim, temporary ED’ – a project started in June, 2021 – would offer an improved service as compared to the previous facility.
The temporary ED will provide 43 single closed cubicles and extra resuscitation bays providing greater dignity and privacy for patients,” the HSE stated. The organisation also confirmed that the opening date for the new ED unit was the end of September or early October .
In a letter last March to the Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath, Cllr Connolly recalled that in December, 2015, the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny had highlighted the problems in ED at UHG.
“On December 1, 2015, the Taoiseach told Dáil Éireann that the Emergency Department at UHG was one of the most inadequate facilities in the country and needed to be replaced and that the staff there worked under extraordinary conditions,” Cllr Connolly outlined in the letter.
He also said that while he acknowledged the need to ensure value for money in public expenditure, this shouldn’t be done at the expense of providing adequate and appropriate levels of emergency health care for people.
“Can I specifically and purposely ask, that as Minister for Public Expenditure, you would agree to tempering the demands of the Public Spending Code in a bid to hasten the progression of the project.
“I would also ask that in conjunction with the Minister for Health you would endorse this project [the permanent ED/Maternity units] progressing to planning, procurement and construction forthwith,” Cllr Connolly stated in his letter of March 29 last.
Stars for businesses who offer proper services to disabled people
Maggie Woods is always ready for a challenge. The latest is serving as project director of the Galway Gold Star initiative, which is designed to improve accessibility and services for disabled people at businesses in Galway City.
It will be launched this Tuesday, October 4, in the Connacht Hotel from 11am-2pm and all are invited to attend
Based on the Gold Star Disability Project developed by the HSE, this scheme will allow restaurants, shops and other businesses to be rewarded with Bronze, Silver or Gold Star awards for the services they provide for people with disabilities.
Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte and Mayor Clodagh Higgins will lead the launch, which is being run through the Galway City Partnership (GCP), and will be headed up by Maggie, a long-time disability advocate.
She started in the new position this year.
“I am delighted to be part of the Galway City Partnership (GCP) team and get the opportunity to work on a project so close to my heart,” she said.
“Like a lot of people, I love Galway but know from first-hand experience that it’s difficult to navigate the city when you have a disability, whether you use a wheelchair or have a less-visible condition like chronic fatigue or an intellectual disability. This is a way to address the lack of services and accessibility – as well as educating people about disability issues.”
She said the goal of the Gold Star initiative was to make Galway a city that was accessible to everyone, doing that through positive reinforcement rather than focusing on the negatives.
Maggie will be working with Galway restaurants, shops and other businesses along with GCP and the Access for All Galway network, finding common ground on ways to improve access and services for disabled people.
Removing barriers for disabled people is a cause she is passionate about and has been advocating for all her life. As one of the youngest survivors in Ireland of the Thalidomide drug disaster, she has faced a lifetime of adversity and succeeded through hard work and a positive outlook. She worked most of her working life for The Irish Wheelchair Association in several capacities, in Tuam Resource Centre. She was also chairperson of the Irish Thalidomide Association and negotiated with government for people born with disabilities caused by the biggest drug catastrophe in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In addition, when she was in her 30s, she organised a fundraiser for the Galway Hospice Foundation, flying a small Cessna plane from Galway to Shannon and back, and raised €8,000.
The mother of two sons and two grandsons, she celebrated a big birthday this year with family and friends, but her fight for disabled services is not slowing down.
“I came to Galway about 38 years ago with a weekend bag and never left. I know the people of Galway will work with me in making the project a success,” she says.
The Galway Gold Star initiative, which is officially titled Access Together Galway, will be administered by GCP, using money provided by the Disability Participation and Awareness Fund approved in December 2021 by Minister Anne Rabbitte.
This initiative will follow the design of similar successful Gold Star programmes in Cashel and Tipperary towns. These support the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which was ratified by Ireland in 2018.
The guest speaker at Tuesday’s launch will be Anne Bradshaw of HSE Tipperary, where the original Gold Star initiative was rolled out. Declan Brassil, CEO of GCP, will speak on how the Gold Star will benefit the entire Galway community, not just people with disabilities. Access for All chairperson Marian Maloney will give the closing address. Members of the Chamber of Commerce will also attend. Entertainment will be provided, along with light refreshments.