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Galway’s €10.5 million Traveller hardstand site



The history surrounding the sale of this empty site (pictured) which is at the centre of controversy in Knocknacarra stands as a legacy to the excesses of the Celtic Tiger.

It sounds like a Galway-version of a Carry On movie, except the story of Keeraun is no joke.

Developer buys land during boom, and plans to build houses. Just before the bottom falls out of the property market, local authority buys land from the developer.

Local authority pays roughly €4 million more than what the developer had paid, and pledges to build social housing.

Some months later, property market collapses. Ireland becomes bankrupt. Local authority’s income evaporates, and at behest of Government policy, abandons all plans to build new social housing.

The site, along with others across the city, is not accepted in the Government’s NAMA for local authorities, the Land Aggregation Scheme.

This means the Council was obliged to continue to pay the loan it used to acquire the site. The interest-only loan payment on this and other sites will cost the Council around €600,000 in 2017, according to the Council budget meeting; or €4.8 million if extrapolated out over the eight years.

Other than paying interest, local authority does nothing with the site for over eight years. Not one cent has been paid off the actual loan of €10.5 million.

During that time the social housing waiting list soared to 5,000 households, or around 15,000 people, and homelessness became the norm, with 20 rough sleepers on the city’s streets every night.

Meanwhile, the potential of the site, which the local authority paid €10.5 million for, is stunted because now there are plans to build a road through it. The ‘newest’ version of the Galway City Outer Bypass – or Ring Road as it’s now known – will cut through the site, landlocking part of it, and ‘freezing’ part of the site that comes within the road corridor.

And just to add another twist to the tale, the local authority appears to have now abandoned its commitment for social housing for this site, and instead wants to use it for Traveller-specific accommodation, and possibly a halting site.

You couldn’t make it up!

The history of Keeraun can be traced through extensive documentation released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) and seen by the Galway City Tribune.

Ballybane-based Sawgrass Properties Ltd bought the Keeraun site, off the Ballymoneen Road, in two lots.

In November, 2005, it paid €5.6 million to a local family for 6.89 acres of land. It purchased a further 0.76 acres in November 2006, for €750,050 bringing the total parcel of land to 7.65 acres, at a cost of €6.4 million.

Five months after that sale, Galway City Council on April 30, 2007, received a valuation, carried out by Rooney Auctioneers, which gave approximate values for the land depending on how many units were built, and assuming the site was fully serviced, with full planning permission.

It gave three different approximate values: €7.5 million for 10 units per acre amounting to 76 homes; €9 million for 12 units per acre, which would be 92 units; and €11.3 million for 12 units per acre, which would amount to 114 houses.

A handwritten note on correspondence that was released under FOI, between Joe McGrath, the then City Manager, which was copied to Joe O’Neill, the Director of Services for Housing, suggests the City Council did not pay for the Rooney valuation, which was done on behalf of Sawgrass.

The note added: “We had our own property manager do an independent valuation, which agreed with Rooney’s”.

This admission arose after City Councillor Pádraig Conneely (FG), in a fax to officials at City Hall, queried if the Council was using the valuation, which was drawn up for Sawgrass.

Helen Connaughton, the Council’s then property manager, inspected the site on June 25, 2007, and valued it “in the region of €11.14 million”, which was slightly higher than Rooney’s highest value.

Weeks prior to receiving this in-house valuation, the Council had already embarked on purchasing the 3.108 hectares’ site.

On June 5, 2007 Joe O’Neill wrote to Anne Holmes in the Department of Environment and said the Council “is to purchase” the site, “for the purpose of providing social and affordable housing”. Mr O’Neill requested permission “for the raising of a loan of €11.307 million from the Housing Finance Agency”.

There was much toing and froing before a cheque was handed over.

City Councillors discussed the site and borrowing, on June 11, 2007 in the Council chamber. Seven days later Frances Mullarkey of the Council’s housing department received contracts from solicitors Blake & Kenny for the purchase of the land for €11.136 million, which represented a 74% increase on what the developer had paid.

The contracts contained special conditions attached to the sale, which were agreed between Sawgrass and the original owner.

But on June 27, 2007, Sawgrass dropped a bombshell – it said it was withdrawing from the sale, although the documents released under FOI do not indicate why.

Two months later, on September 7, Joe O’Neill emailed Frances Mullarkey to confirm Sawgrass, had changed its mind, and “was now in a position to proceed with the sale”.

On October 24, a handwritten Council memo, written by Joe O’Neill, indicates that he told Colm O’Donnellan, of O’Donnellan and Joyce Auctioneers, in a telephone conversation, that the Council was seeking to buy the land but at a reduced price of €10.5 million.

The memo stated this was to “reflect the change in market conditions” but there was no evidence to suggest new valuations on the site were carried out.

The cheque from the Council to Sawgrass, dated January 23, 2008, amounted to €10.5 million, which was €4.1 million more than what Sawgrass had paid for it in two lots some months previous.

Prior to City Councillors signing off on the sale at a Council meeting on November 12, 2007, Joe O’Neill wrote to them seeking approval to borrow.

“The Council wishes to purchase the land as it will enable us to erect approximately 100 social and affordable units, and will help in meeting the needs of those on the housing list who are seeking accommodation on the West of the City.”

In his letter, Mr O’Neill said the lands have been valued by the Council’s property manager and “the purchase price does not exceed the valuation and is considered good value for money”.

So, after eight years, expenditure of €10.5 million, plus hundreds of thousands of Euro in interest payments on the loan (almost €5 million when other sites are included), Galway City Council hasn’t applied for planning permission or built one house on the site, which is now going to be split by the proposed new ring road, and there’s a potential of a halting site being built there, prompting local residents and elected representatives on the Ballymoneen Road to wonder – where’s the value for money?

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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