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Ex-Boyzone star Duffy for city autism opening



Galway Autism Partnership (GAP), a local charity formed in 2011 by five proactive parents to help each other with information and general support, will celebrate the opening of their newly-renovated building in Newcastle on Wednesday with special guest Keith Duffy, formerly of Boyzone..

The charity aims to empower families caring for persons with an Autism diagnosis, by providing access to relevant training and education with the support of a positive ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) community. Six out of its seven board members have a family member on the Autism Spectrum.

Autism is referred to as a ‘hidden’ disability as people on the autistic spectrum often show no significant physical difference to their peers. Their behaviour is the distinguishing factor. Three main areas of difficulty for people with autism include social communication, social interaction and social imagination.

According to the latest figures Autism occurs in one in sixty-eight children. GAP founding member Miriam Jennings says: “Autism is now an epidemic.”

Much ambiguity surrounds the condition, and there is still no definitive answer as to what causes Autism Spectrum Disorder, though it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function.

For people and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, services like those offered by Galway Autism Partnership are invaluable.

GAP’s headquarters is situated in Laurel Park, Newcastle on a site purpose-built in the 1980s as a diagnostic centre for people with autism – ‘Autism West Limited’. The driving force behind the original centre were Christy and Maisy Dooley; a parents’ labour of love for their son Ronan, who was diagnosed with ASD at age seven.

The newly-renovated building, now occupied by GAP is called ‘Tigh Ronain’ in honour of the Dooley family. Ronan is now in his fifties, his mother Maisy is in her eighties and they are warmly remembered by Galway Autism Partnership.

The autism spectrum, as Miriam Jennings from GAP, explains “refers to the broadness of what you could be living with.” And she knows all about it, the mother of four has three children on the autistic spectrum. Her eldest Jonathan (20) does not have ASD, but her son Alex (14) and twins Elliott and Isaac (8 ½) have all been diagnosed with Autism to varying degrees.

Her son Alex attends an Educate Together School and is currently accessing some of the Junior Cert Curriculum. At the other end of the spectrum is her son Elliott, who is completely non-verbal. Originally doctors suspected he may have Angelman syndrome, but he was later diagnosed with a severe case of autism.

GAP focus on key points such as: education, awareness, advocacy, inclusion, and support and community involvement. They provide fourteen active weekly social and respite clubs and run life skill workshops in schools. GAP also actively organise courses for parents, facilitators and volunteers (e.g. Lamh training, ASD Awareness Courses, CBT Courses, Studio III training and First Aid Training).

Furthermore, GAP runs Holiday Camps during Easter and Summer. And they do all of this without any state funding. They are totally reliant on fundraisers, donations, parents and grants.

“Those three hours that an individual is at a GAP club, a parent can have some time to themselves, knowing that their child is in a safe, supportive environment. It can be the difference between a very stressed and anxious parent to one who gets that essential time to look after themselves so that they can be as strong as they can to support their loved ones,” Miriam explains.

GAP is gearing up to launch an ‘Autism Friendly’ campaign. It is described as a simple business/retailer autism awareness induction so that staff members in shops, restaurants etc. can have a basic understanding of customers needs if he/she is on the spectrum.

“We have agreed with 10-15 businesses in the Latin Quarter,” said Miriam. Each business will send a representative for a two-hour training course, whereupon they will learn about the ASD spectrum and be given a run-through scenario.

Galway Autism Partnership was voted Medtronic Charity of the Year 2015.

The services they provide greatly benefits the lives of families living with ASD. They are holding a launch event on Wednesday to celebrate the opening of the newly-renovated building. It took two years of fundraising to raise the €70,000 necessary to complete the renovation.

Ex-Boyzone and Coronation Street star Keith Duffy, former ambassador for Irish Autism Action, will attend the launch in a personal capacity. “It’s going to be a colourful, happy event with children, teens, and adults from every breath of the spectrum,” said Miriam.

For further information visit their website or find them on Facebook.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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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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