Every summer, a handful of survivors of St Anne’s Industrial School return to Taylor’s Hill. Some travel from as far as England and elsewhere to lay flowers at the grotto.
It’s an emotional trip each May. For them, the grotto was the one place that offered beauty, colour and solace during their childhoods in the religious orphanage.
In 2017, survivors of religious institutions, including some who spent years at St Anne’s, called for a National Centre for Survivors to be included in plans for the site’s redevelopment.
Among them was Seamus Ruttledge, who spent seven years of his early childhood there.
A national survivors’ centre, he said, would act as an information and resource centre, as well as a historical and archival space. It would also act as a place of healing for survivors and their families.
It was “essential to advance the cause of justice for all survivors and their families”, according to Mr Ruttledge at the time.
The call was ignored. Instead, without prior consultation with survivor groups, Galway City Council announced a proposal to redevelop St Anne’s as a “children and young people’s creative and cultural hub”.
The transfer of the property from the Sisters of Mercy, who ran the industrial school, to the local authority, was portrayed as a ‘gift’.
But this angered Galway West TD Catherine Connolly (Ind), because the building was part of the settlement reached in 2009 following the Ryan Report into child abuse.
Its owners had ignored calls from elected members of City Hall, in a motion proposed by then Councillor Connolly, and passed by majority, for the site to be handed over to the city.
The Sisters of Mercy subsequently identified it as a property to be transferred through the State Redress Scheme by way of a contribution towards the costs incurred by the state in responding to residential child abuse.
It has been empty since at least 2011, and possibly 2009. It is five years since City Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath unveiled plans for a children’s hub at the site, but still it lies vacant and unused; the vision hasn’t progressed.
In the interim, the protected structure has been damaged by wear and tear, and by vandals. Its metal roof had been targeted by thieves several times.
Now, in the latest twist, Galway City Council has invited tenders from private security firms to fortify the building. In the tender documents, the Council wants to pay a private company to install twelve CCTV cameras at the site.
It also wants a further twelve built-in motion detection cameras, and eight horn speaker public address systems.
The council wants a system that can monitor the building remotely. The successful contractor will be paid to provide a system that alerts security patrol, City Council staff or Gardaí of any site “incident”.
The framework agreement is for a maximum of five years, according to the tender.
Deputy Catherine Connolly, Leas-Cheann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, said she was ‘horrified’ that the Council was now commissioning security cameras at the site.
“I welcome that it is now in public ownership, and did at the time, but it is abhorrent to me that it is still vacant after over a decade. It is abhorrent to me that they still have not come up with a plan that recognises and gives due cognisance to what was there before, as an industrial school,” she said.
“To talk about further fortification, and monitoring of cameras, is really ironic in the extreme because people were locked in there and now we’re going to be putting cameras in there to monitor a building, a protected structure, that we’re allowing to fall apart,” added Deputy Connolly.
She said that there were ‘so many uses for it’, that it beggars belief that it has been allowed to deteriorate.
“It’s a disgrace on so many levels. That it took so long to get it, and then when we got it the narrative was twisted that it was gifted, when it was actually part of redress, and now to leave it vacant, and to tender for security cameras, in a city of culture. This would’ve been a wonderful legacy [of Galway 2020].
“To me it is abhorrent, that so many years after a building became vacant, and something that was given as part of a redress scheme to make up for the suffering of children in that industrial school, that we’d leave it vacant, having no plan, it’s abhorrent,” added Deputy Connolly.
This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 2. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.
Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises
From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.
Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.
She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.
“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.
“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.
She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.
In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.
But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.
“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.
“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.
Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.
However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.
“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.
“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”
In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.
“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”
Official opening of Galway’s new pedestrian and cycle bridge
The new Salmon Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge will be officially opened to the public next Friday, May 26.
Work on the €10 million bridge got underway in April 2022, before the main structure was hoisted into place in early December.
A lunchtime tape-cutting ceremony will take place on Friday, as the first pedestrians and cyclists traverse the as-yet-unnamed bridge.
The Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, previously said the bridge, once opened, would remove existing conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and traffic “as well as facilitating the Cross-City Link public transport corridor over the existing 200-year-old bridge”.
The naming of the new bridge has been under discussion by the Council’s Civic Commemorations Committee since late last year.
One name that has been in the mix for some time is that of the first woman in Europe to graduate with an engineering degree – Alice Perry.
Ms Perry, who was from Wellpark, graduated from Queen’s College Galway (now University of Galway) in 1906. The university’s engineering building is named in her honour.
The bridge was built by Jons Civil Engineering firm in County Meath and was assembled off-site before being transported to Galway. Funding for the project was provided in full by the National Transport Authority and the European Regional Development Fund.
(Photo: Sheila Gallagher captured the city’s new pedestrian footbridge being raised on the south side of the Salmon Weir Bridge in December. It will officially open next Friday, May 26).
Minister branded ‘a disgrace’ for reversing land rezoning in Galway City
From the Galway City Tribune – Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Kieran O’Donnell was labelled a “disgrace” for overturning councillors’ decisions to rezone land in the new City Development Plan.
Minister O’Donnell (pictured) confirmed in a letter to Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath last week that he was reversing 25 material alternations made by councillors to the CDP 2023-29. He made the decision on the advice of Office of Planning Regulator (OPR).
Minister O’Donnell directed that 14 land parcels that were subject to land-use zoning changes by councillors as part of the Material Alterations to the Draft CDP should be reversed.
He directed that a further 11 land parcels in the city should become “unzoned”.
The Minister found that the CDP had not been made in a manner consistent with recommendations of the OPR, which required specific changes to the plan to ensure consistency with the national planning laws and guidelines.
At last week’s Council meeting Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) asked for clarity on the process by which councillors could rezone the lands that had been changed by the Minister’s direction.
Cllr Declan McDonnell said, “What he [Minister O’Donnell] has done is an absolute disgrace”.
And he asked: “Do we have to have another development plan meeting to deal with it?”
Both Cllrs Hoare and McDonnell wondered what would become of the lands that were rezoned or unzoned by the ministerial direction.
Mr McGrath said the Council had put forward an argument in favour of retaining the material alterations in the plan, but ultimately the Minister sided with OPR.
He said if councillors want to make alterations to the new plan, they could go through the process of making a material alteration but this was lengthy.
The Save Roscam Peninsula campaign welcomed the Minister’s decision.
In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, it said the direction would mean the Roscam village area on the Roscam Peninsula will be unzoned and a number of land parcels would revert back to agriculture/high amenity.
A spokesperson for the campaign said: “the material alterations made by city councillors following lobbying by developers continued the long-standing practice of councillors facilitating a developer-led plan rather than an evidence- and policy-based plan that meets the needs of the city.
“The Minister’s direction is an important step in restoring confidence in the planning system. It is clear from the City Council’s own evidence on future housing projections that there was no requirement to zone these lands for residential purposes in order to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029,” the spokesperson added.