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Deep concerns in arts community over unanswered Galway 2020 questions



Attending a special Galway City Council meeting when the CEO and Chair of Galway 2020, Hannah Kiely and Aideen McGinley, were updating councillors on how the project was progressing, was a thoroughly depressing experience.

Apparently, the purpose of the meeting was to allow councillors to ask questions and seek answers to issues around 2020, following the resignation of its Creative Director and the appointment – then non-appointment – of a Business Engagement Director.

There were – and there still are – other questions around sponsorship, communications and the overall financial status of this company charged with delivering Galway as European Capital of Culture in 2020.

These are serious questions, ones that are causing deep concern among the arts community of Galway – hard-working people who have thrown their energy behind this project and who have been faced with problems ranging from funding to issues around ownership of intellectual copyright in their dealings with 2020.

As someone who has reported on the arts in Galway for three decades, I know the contribution the people on the frontline have made to this city. Before Galway won this designation of European Capital of Culture, these people had made it world-renowned as a creative and wonderful place in which to live. I’d go so far as to say; Galway City had a comparatively easy ride during the economic downturn compared to other cities because of its brilliant arts community.

They are the people who stand to gain – or to lose – most, depending on how 2020 pans out. And, in a project such as this, our primary duty should be to them. But as councillor after councillor expressed their outrage on Tuesday night at what was going on around 2020, most of them – bar a few resolute challengers – chose to target this outrage at ‘the media which had an agenda’ and ‘the whisperers’ who were ‘undermining’ Galway 2020. There were questions around finance and communication issues, but from where I sat, this looked more like a damage-limitation exercise than a serious attempt to explore the concerns that exist around the progress towards 2020.

Galway, according to one councillor, was simply the best and let not the likes of Limerick be thinking they were in our league. What arrogance. Yes, Galway won the bid, defeating Limerick and the ‘Three Sisters’. And that was great. But now we have to deliver on it – leaving room for neither complacency nor arrogance.

For starters, let me tell those councillors who were taking potshots about whisperers, nobody in the arts community is whispering – they are talking openly about their livelihoods, and those I have spoken to were not reassured after this week’s meeting.

Many questions still remain and while City Chief Executive Brendan McGrath gave a rousing speech at the end, in which he pointed out that 2020 was about the artists, it contained very few cold, hard facts about sponsorship raised to date or about tangible artistic progress.

He did say that ‘new exciting’ appointments would be made towards the end of the month. These would be producers. Producers are a vital component of 2020. But what about a Creative Director? This is the person charged with offering artistic direction to the entire project – and according to the page 92 of the Bid Book which won us the Capital of Culture designation, that person would have responsibility for delivering the artistic programme, 70 per cent of which was outlined in the book. That left 30 per cent of the programming to the Creative Director. The previous incumbent, Chris Baldwin, has resigned. But 2020 still needs creative direction – in artistic organisations, producers are normally appointed to implement the Creative Director’s vision, not to provide it themselves. Different roles, therefore different skills required.

Mr McGrath made no mention of a Creative Director in his rousing speech. It’s a worry.

Secondly, let me turn to those councillors who were having a dig at the media on Tuesday night.

The media have a duty to ask questions, particularly when all the money that has been allocated to 2020 so far has come from public coffers – ie, from us, the taxpayers, including this town’s artistic community. So, it’s appropriate that the media will continue to ask questions. And we won’t apologise for it.

We all want Galway 2020 to succeed, none moreso than the artistic community.

But burying our heads in the sand and pretending that issues don’t exist won’t make things right. One of the braver councillors, Ollie Crowe, pointed out that as of now, 2020 is €10 million behind budget – in an overall budget of some €45.7 million. That’s not insignificant. It’s just one of the many issues.

We need to wake up to the reality and the challenges we face. Starting with our city councillors.

■ Judy Murphy is Arts Editor of the Galway City Tribune and has been reporting on the arts in the West of Ireland for more than three decades.


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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