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Annual scramble begins in Galway to secure secondary school places



From the Galway City Tribune – The annual minefield of getting into a secondary school in Galway City begins in earnest this month, with most schools likely to be once again heavily oversubscribed for 2023/24.

Under changes to the Admissions to School Act 2018, schools must now publish their admission policy and outline how students are allocated places. They must give a window for applications to be received in a move designed to remove discrimination of children who have moved into the catchment.

But there continues to be a preference for children with long-term ties to the city in most schools, leaving parents who have moved here to jostle for places in preferred institutions.

Each school allocates places based on different criteria with various closing dates applying. Most school close applications within the next five weeks.

Since September 2020, schools are no longer permitted to hold waiting lists depending on when the application was received. The applications to be considered are based on what was submitted in the current application window.

However, two girls’ school will continue to allocate some of its places based on the applications it has received before 2020 and until the academic year 2025/26.

Salerno in Salthill made 116 places available for this year’s cohort of first years, with 279 applications received.

The all-girls’ school allocates places first to the sisters of current and past students, then to the students of Scoil Íde and next the daughters of school staff. Under these first three categories, there were 39, 29 and one place allocated. The next category was daughters of parents who attended Salerno, but no student accepted a place under this criterion. The remainder of the first-year intake – 47 pupils – were taken from the waiting list.

“This list having been compiled prior to February 1, 2020 applies only up to and including the academic year 2025/26,” states the policy.

The Dominican College – Taylor’s Hill – accepted 53 from its waiting list. It had 298 applications and took in 116, the same number set for next year. Some 63 students were accepted under the siblings, feeder school (Scoil Róis) and close relative categories.

Coláiste na Coiribe had no breakdown of its intake this year, or how many applied to join. The only key information on its admission notice was that 150 people would be accepted next year.

While other schools expressly state that academic ability would not be a criterion for acceptance, the Knocknacarra-based school put this at the top of its preference.

“A student’s academic ability, skills or aptitude; unless: evidence of same is furnished by the applicant as evidence of the student’s level of fluency in the Irish language and the school is oversubscribed,” the school states.

Surprisingly – for the self-labelled ‘world’s largest all-Irish language education institution’ – having attended one of the 12 gaelscoileanna in and around the vicinity of Galway only put students fifth in the list for consideration of a place.

The second category by priority was the sons or daughters of staff, next was siblings and then parents or grandparents having gone before them.

In Salthill, the mixed school Coláiste Éinde had to close its registration early for the open day held on Wednesday night due to the huge numbers applying for tickets. Last year the Salthill school had 144 places and 544 applicants.

It allocated 67 places to children of siblings, two places to the children of staff and the rest to names drawn out of a hat in a lottery that is supervised by an independent observer.

St Joseph’s Patrician College – The Bish – will have fewer places next year – down from 150 to 130 for the 2023/24 intake. This will be bad news for parents aiming to get their sons into the popular Nun’s Island school.

Last year there were 267 applications – 51 places went to the brothers of past or present pupils, two places were allocated to the sons of staff, 27 places were sons or grandsons of past students, one place went to the grandson or nephew of a staffer while the remainder – 69 places – went to students from city primary schools.

Preference for St Pat’s sixth class students – up to now always considered a feeder school – has been removed, which will come as a blow for parents who placed their son in the Lombard Street school specifically to avoid the stress of trying to find a second level place.

That rule does not apply to students of Scoil Iognáid, a feeder school to Coláiste Iognáid – better known as The Jes. But not all of their students will be guaranteed a place.

Of its 104 places for this year’s first years, 20 were allocated from Scoil Iognáid while 21 came through a lottery from pupils of other schools who did not fit the other criteria. Some 37 students were siblings of present students, five were siblings of past students, three were sons or daughters of staff or nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews of Jesuits, who got priority over the sons and daughters of past pupils – 18 of these won places in a category which has been capped to a maximum 25 per cent of the annual intake.

This will be the first open day for the newly amalgamated Coláiste Muire Máthair – made up of girls from Our Ladies College who joined the boys at St Mary’s College.

Spokesperson Anthony Carey said their first year places will go down from 168 this year to 144 – it was 182 the year before that. The fact that there will be six classes of first years, down from seven and eight in previous years, will add further pressure on the race for city secondary school places.

“We’ve almost reached capacity – it is fairly packed – as we reach the end of our second phase of building in what is a five-year plan to upgrade the school. The maximum we can have in the practical classes like woodwork is 24 so with six classes that’s why we’ve set them at 144 for the next year,” he explained.

There were 281 applications for this academic year but the places did not fill up immediately.

“Some parents pay the voluntary contribution but then go somewhere else and don’t tell you. So until you have bums on seats you don’t know whether all places are filled. The fact that all schools now have a similar window for accepting the applications equalizes things between the schools.

“We would never have had a waiting list. Each year is a fresh year. We do get patents coming in and wanting to sign up siblings for a couple of years down the line but we’re unable to do that.”

Once the third phase of building is completed, the school is on track to have between 900 and 1,000 pupils.

That’s the long-term magic number for the Educate Together Secondary School, which recently moved to its second temporary home in Newtownsmyth. It will accept 72 first years next intake – up from 48 in its first three years in existence.

Principal Sarah Molloy said it hopes to facilitate more students once it moves to its permanent home, but just where that will be has yet to finalised by the Department of Education.

The Department made a submission about improving transport links in the next Galway City Development Plan in relation to a site in Garraun on the Oranmore coastal Road, which could indicate it has its sights on this location for the new school.

Coláiste Muirlinne in Doughiska had at least 200 parents show up for its open night this week, an indication of its popularity. It was also heavily oversubscribed, with 251 applications for 120 places.

Its offers prioritised catchment area (70), feeder schools (93) and then siblings (44).
This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, October 7. 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.”

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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).

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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.

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