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No minutes of meetings ahead of controversial Crown Square vote



Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

In the week leading up to the single most important vote city councillors have taken in a generation – approving a multi-million euro loan to buy Crown Square and relocate City Hall to Mervue – the Chief Executive of Galway City Council Brendan McGrath held separate meetings with elected members.

But agendas for the meetings, and minutes of the meetings, do not exist, according to a Council response to a Freedom of Information request.

Programme announcements about this summer’s Galway Arts Festival remind us that the first anniversary of the controversial vote is fast approaching.

On Monday, July 11 last year, at a hybrid meeting, held online on Zoom and in-person at the Galmont Hotel, councillors approved raising a loan of €45.5 million from Housing Finance Agency.

A 43-page presentation from Council management, outlining why they should buy Crown Square offices to relocate City Hall, had only been circulated to councillors on Friday, July 8.

Three days later, they approved the deal to buy the new property, costing €56.6m of public money, including €11.1m fit-out costs from the Council reserves.

Now, it has emerged, through FOI, that CE Brendan McGrath held separate briefings with individual councillors days before the vote. But the Council has confirmed that agendas and minutes for these meetings do not exist.

According to his diary, released under FOI, McGrath held a series of meetings with councillors on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, July 5, 6 and 7, days before councillors voted (16 for, one against, one absent), for the loan deal.

McGrath met Declan McDonnell (Ind) first, at 4.30pm on July 5. No minutes or agenda exist for this meeting. He met Niall McNelis (Lab) second, at 5.30pm. No minutes or agenda exist.

McGrath then met Donal Lyons (Ind), Terry O’Flaherty (Ind) and Noel Larkin (Ind) separately at 7pm, 7.30pm and 8pm respectively. No minutes or agendas exist.

The following day, the CE’s diary notes that at 10am, McGrath met with Fine Gael councillors Clodagh Higgins, Frank Fahy and Eddie Hoare. No minutes or agenda exist.

Immediately afterwards, at 11am, McGrath met with members of his management team, Ruth McNally and Patrick Greene, for a diary entry marked “office accommodation”.

From 9pm-10pm that Wednesday, July 6, McGrath met Fianna Fáil (Councillors Peter Keane, Mike Crowe, Imelda Byrne, John Connolly and Alan Cheevers). The following day, he met Collette Connolly (Ind) at 11.30am. No minutes or agendas exist.

All meetings were virtual on Microsoft Teams. Several councillors confirmed they were briefed about Crown Square but the conversations were not minuted.

McGrath did not meet Owen Hanley (Soc Dems, who voted against the loan) or Greens Martina O’Connor and Niall Murphy. Nor did he meet Mike Cubbard (Ind), who instead met Patrick Greene online at 4pm on July 5.

The Friday before the vote, an entry in the CE’s diary noted a 10.30am “visit to Crown Square” for elected members and two Council officials. The CE was “not attending”.

Briefing councillors in advance is not necessarily unusual. But doesn’t the public deserve to know what was discussed at these meetings, ahead of a vote that committed €880,000 from the Council’s budget every year for 30 years to fund the loan repayments for a project that was not put out to tender and had no public consultation?
This is a shortened preview version of this column. For more Bradley Bytes, see the April 21 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.


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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