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Carers speak out in bid to get proper supports



Proactive Carers Galway members Ann Boland (left) and Sandra Byrne. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Galway mum Ann Boland – whose daughter Margherita was born with Down syndrome – sums up what it’s like to care for a child with special needs.

“When a child with extra needs is born into the family, it’s like playing a game you don’t know the rules to; where the goalposts are continuously changing and there are more referees than actual players”.

Ann, who lives in Rahoon, is one of thousands across the city and county caring for a dependent with special needs.

The Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI), the umbrella group for 120 member organisations in the voluntary sector providing services to people with disabilities, has calculated that there are 10,133 people in Galway with at least one disability.

More critically, DFI says that the chances of these families living in consistent poverty have more than doubled on a national basis in the past decade – now at 24%, up from 11% in 2011.

But poverty is only one of the issues that families have to deal with; access to care and education – offering the chance of advancement in life – are also critical problems, as Ann Boland revealed.

Her daughter Margherita is the youngest of five children.

Her family moved from Rome to Galway when she was ten years old. She had no English, so Ann not only needed to find her daughter a school that was able to provide adequately for her, but she needed to learn a new language on top of that.

She got there eventually, and completed a diploma course in NUIG where she was in classrooms and lecture halls with other students who became her friends.

She got into third-level via a programme which still run in Trinity and in Limerick – but is no longer in NUIG.

But that’s just another impediment; and there are countless problems with the system that people with disabilities are thrown into, without choice.

Once they and their carers get used to this system, they are finished school, turning 18 and are on their own once again.

Their parents grow older and neither they nor their parents have the supports to keep up the care they so desperately need as they begin adulthood.

“If we build houses and put them in it, three or four people with roughly the same needs, and give them a housekeeper to check in, overlook the cooking and stay overnight so our children have someone if they need them, then when we’re gone – which will someday happen – they will be prepared for it,” said Ann.

“There will always be a minimum of care needed, and if this is done then it would be very cost-effective for the Government at the end of it all. Whereas if she goes into emergency care, it would cost a lot of money.”

Another Galway mum, Sandra Byrne – whose adult son Karl is on the Autism Spectrum – said that independent living is a huge word that gets thrown around.

“None of us are living independently. I hate that word,” said Sandra, from Salthill. “It’s more assisted living.

“We as parents, when we are no longer here, we want to think that our young person is in a lovely environment, is happy, can go about their day and be assisted by an adult.

“They don’t need constant minding, their needs are not that great, but they do need assistance.”

But the problem with service provision is that there is one staff member for six or eight people – and as none of them are on the same level, they have to cater for those with the greatest dependency, which just doesn’t fit everybody.

Dr Joanne McCarthy is head of policy and research at the Disability Federation of Ireland – and she says that Ireland is the worst country in Western Europe to be a person with a disability.

“There are 643,131 people in Ireland living with a disability. That is more than 13 per cent of the population,” she said.

“The good news is we have solutions – comprehensive solutions. Poverty, unemployment and social inclusion are interrelated problems and the measures that address them must be across all Government departments,” she added.

DFI is seeking a series of key commitments from the political parties, which include an annual investment of over €200 in community services for people with disabilities; providing proper supports for people with disabilities in the jobs market, and addressing the additional cost of disability in terms of jobseeker’s and disability allowances.

“There is also a housing crisis for people with disabilities. Accessible housing, adaption grants, and living supports packages are urgently required,” she said.

It’s a battle they will take to all of the political parties during this election campaign – but they know it won’t be solved by February 8.

As Ann put it: “We’ve told our children they have a right to a future, to living a normal life, whatever is normal for them but the services just are not in place in Galway at the minute.”

Photo: Proactive Carers Galway members Ann Boland (left) and Sandra Byrne. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.


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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