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Easy access ‘fuels’ booze culture



An oversupply of alcohol through off-licences in the city is fuelling binge drinking among groups of all ages, a local councillor has warned.

Cllr Níall McNelis (Lab), who is a member of the Galway Healthy Cities Alcohol Forum, said of the 305 alcohol licences in the city, just 117 of those were pubs.

As of August last year, there were 41 retailer off-licences and 29 wine retailer off-licences – with the remainder made up of 90 wine-retailer on-licences (wine bars); 11 special restaurant licences; 15 wholesale dealer; and two manufacturers in the micro-brewery sector.

“I think we really need to have a serious conversation about alcohol in this country and ask ourselves the question – have we too many licences?

“Successive Governments have failed to act on this and, looking at the figures for Galway licences, I think we need to map out the off-licences and look at how many should be in such close proximity to each other,” said Cllr McNelis.

Figures from Revenue show that alcohol consumption dipped by just 7.7% during lockdown, while pubs were closed. Cllr McNelis said this indicated where the problem lay, and it wasn’t with public houses.

“Why were the off-licences allowed to remain open all during lockdown, while the pubs were forced to close? If consumption was only down by 7.8%, you can see where the issue is.

“Don’t get me wrong, the off licences aren’t breaking any laws, but do we have an oversupply of alcohol in our city.

“I would always say that a bar is the safest environment to consume alcohol in – someone having a few drinks in the pub, where there is control over measures and how much you can get served, rather than someone drinking six cans in a short space of time at home, is obviously preferable,” said the Labour councillor.

While the Vintners Federation backed long-mooted legislation to introduce minimum unit-pricing for alcohol, Cllr McNelis believed problem drinking was as much to do with ease of access as it was with pricing.

“I don’t believe that putting 20 cent on a bottle of beer will make much difference – if you look at what the students are drinking, they’re actually buying cheap bottles of wine and mixing it with 7up.

“We have rules about locating fast food restaurants next to schools and yet you can have an off licence wherever you want.

“The City Development Plan for the next number of years will be formulated in the coming months but there’s nothing we can do to change that – it has to come from a national level.

“We have a problem with alcohol in this country – all you have to do is look at all the Communions and Confirmations that were cancelled because of Covid and now that they’re back, we have a return to the drinking sessions afterwards,” said Cllr McNelis.

The delivery of alcohol was also a growing problem, with apps such as Just Eat and Deliveroo now offering the service.

“You can order drink online with no ID, pay by card and it’s delivered to the door. What makes this worse is the only person in breach of the law if it’s sold to an underage person is the delivery driver – the person on a pittance of a wage in the gig economy – not Just Eat or Deliveroo, or even the restaurant who sold it,” said Cllr McNelis.

In a week where student drinking has been in the spotlight, he said binge drinking wasn’t related to any particular age group.

“I was shown CCTV footage of two men in their mid-30s, both langered drunk at 2am on the same night the students were in Spanish Arch, trying to get into a city car park to drive home.

“They were so drunk, they couldn’t actually find the door of the car park and pulled down the barrier instead, doing thousands of euros worth of damage.

“And what’s worse, they came back an hour later and drove out,” he said.


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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