From the Galway City Tribune – Twelve minutes before the advertised start time of the public meeting organised by Cost of Living Coalition Galway last week, a dozen souls took the bare look off the restaurant to the rear of the Western Hotel on Prospect Hill.
Sitting patiently for the event to kick off, some perused free copies of The Socialist newspaper, its lead story headlined: “Profiteers fuel inflation crisis” with a sub-heading, “Double-digit pay increases now!”.
But just like the cost of living crisis that ordinary Galwegians had come to discuss, the crowd increased rapidly. By 7.30pm, attendance had multiplied five-fold to 60-plus people – a decent turnout for a Monday in September.
They were mostly young people, in their twenties. A generation, the meeting heard, that was emigrating again, priced out of Galway and Ireland.
“The way this country treats its young people is shameful,” declared Imogen O’Flaherty, Vice President and Welfare Officer of the University of Galway’s Students’ Union.
She cited a National Youth Council of Ireland study showing 70% of people aged 18-24 are considering emigration.
“The conversation among me and my friends is not about if we will emigrate, it’s when,” Ms O’Flaherty said.
“For us it’s a no brainer. Cheaper rents, cheaper car insurance, cheaper bills, cheaper to socialise, better nightlife, better quality of living and to be respected by Government; why would we stay here?”
She said she was inundated daily with students in “panic mode” faced with the choice of going to college and being homeless, or dropping out.
With rents soaring, and fees among the highest in Europe, “the University of Galway is essentially selling a €10,000-a-year package deal”.
“Working class families are putting themselves into thousands of euro of debt to enable their child to go to college. It isn’t how it should be, and it isn’t normal,” Ms O’Flaherty said.
She said Government failed to act, and she hoped it would be remembered at the next election, “as me and my friends won’t be here to vote”.
Eager to capitalise on that disaffection was Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell (SF).
“People are really angry, and rightly so. People feel failed by the political system because they have been failed by the political system. But it’s up to us to give voice to that anger and to channel that anger for the greater good,” she said.
Ordinary people struggle “to keep the lights” while “billionaires of this world are engaged in a space race”, she fumed.
She cited Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) figures showing 90% of the Government’s inflation supports were not targeted.
“That means wealthy households, who we know increased their savings during the pandemic, are getting the same support as people who literally can’t put food on their tables,” she said.
Deputy Farrell declared the housing disaster was deteriorating. On Monday, on Daft.ie there were 18 properties to rent in the city, and 49 in the county, but simultaneously 604 properties were available on Airbnb in Galway, she said.
Adrian Curran, People Before Profit representative in Galway, said local people faced a choice of “heating or eating”.
He gave the example of his friend, a hospitality worker, whose girlfriend is a care worker. They’re both working full-time but “simply cannot afford to live in Galway City”. They moved back into their respective family homes, on opposite sides of the county, and commute into the city but don’t see each other often. “What exactly are young couples supposed to do?”
He advocates eco-socialist policies, including price caps on electricity, energy, fuel, and home heating oil.
Mr Curran said private energy companies are duty bound to maximise profit, “and so be it if people freeze to death in their homes”.
“I reject that logic,” he said.
Mr Curran said that energy usage should be reduced “not in the way Eamon Ryan wants us to – only washing our clothes at night or sharing a kettle with the neighbours or growing cabbage on window sills”, but by saying ‘no’ to more data centres and providing free public transport.
Conor Burke, local Socialist Party representative, said costs had spiralled long before Covid-19 or the Russian war on Ukraine.
“Rents and mortgage repayments were already through the roof. Insurance premiums were at exorbitant levels.
“Childcare costs are like a second mortgage for many households. People are considering whether it’s worth their while to go to work when nearly all the money they’re earning is spent on childcare costs,” he said.
Mr Burke said workers need a pay rise “to keep the lights on, to keep the heating on and to avoid becoming homeless”.
“Families are one pay cheque or increase in rent away from finding themselves in emergency accommodation,” he said.
To address “blatant greed and profiteering” he called for price controls “to keep essential food, energy and fuel at affordable levels”, he added.
Urging people to attend a cost of living demonstration in Parnell Square in Dublin on September 24, Deputy Farrell added: “Let’s rattle them [Government] three days before the budget, and make sure that when they get up in the Dáil on September 27 and announce their budget, that at the very least, they can be ashamed of how little they will do for the ordinary people. Let’s put them under pressure.”
This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 16. 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.