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Restaurant sector will take time to get back to full tilt



Staying positive....Alice Jary and Richard Kennan, owner of Ruíbín bar and restaurant on the Docks.

Punters made a cautious return to the hospitality sector last week as most Covid-19 restrictions were lifted – as industry leaders predicted it would take time to return to a ‘normal’ level of socialising.

Over last weekend, all social distancing requirements – which had been in place since March 2020 – were scrapped which has given a great sense of optimism to hoteliers and restaurateurs, according to John Ryan of the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway City.

However, there remained a degree of fear in society that would take time to shake off – particularly for older groups.

“People are still very cautious, but we are optimistic that things will return. It may well be April before we see any return to normality,” said Mr Ryan.

“The age bracket of customers determines a lot. Young people are bursting to get out but it’ll take time to get back to a place where things are regularised.”

While things were ‘slow and steady’ for the moment, the real test would be the return to international travel, with inward tourism from the US and elsewhere crucial to the recovery of the sector.

“The international market is so important and that will be the big thing for us – whether that international market starts to travel again.

“In saying that, I do think the domestic market will still be relatively strong this year. Irish people have discovered over the past two years that Ireland is a nice place to travel and holiday in,” said Mr Ryan.

The ending of almost all restrictions last Saturday had given the sector its first real shot at recovery, he said, and while there were still fears of another variant, business owners could look the future with a greater degree of certainty than they had at any time since March 2020.

“We are finally able to put a plan in place and look forward to recovery. Staffing and training in particular have been problematic but recruitment can now get underway.

“You have to be positive and optimistic about this – look to the future and say we are going to make this happen,” said Mr Ryan.

Richard Kennan, owner of Ruíbín bar and restaurant on the Docks, said the lifting of restrictions was ‘the best possible news’.

He and his wife, chef Alice Jary, took the decision to continue closing at 8pm this week, with a plan to return to normal service on Monday.

“We’re looking forward to a long year ahead of us and because we had the rosters for staff all done, we decided to hold off and give them a couple of nights in the pub beforehand,” he laughed.

Bookings have been flooding in for next week and it had been great to return to providing ‘normal’ hospitality, he said.

“It has been really good not to be checking Covid certs for people entering. I completely understand why they were needed but I hated the divisiveness of it – it was never pleasant to have to turn people away.

“Now, we can just welcome people in with proper Irish hospitality,” said Mr Kennan.

Ruíbín was in the fortunate position of having adequate spacing between its tables long before Covid arrived and that wouldn’t change now, he said, but the return of drinking at the bar counter was hugely welcome.

“Our pub had disappeared because everyone was coming in for food – we had a restaurant over two floors which was brilliant, but we wanted to see drinking at the bar return.

“We want the groups coming in for a couple of drinks because you miss that atmosphere it creates, and it can’t be replicated,” said Mr Kennan.

The fears that were lingering among punters would dissipate as time went on, he predicted.

“It looks like younger people went hell for leather over the weekend, and who could blame them? We know there could be more restrictions in the future but I think we’ll put this behind us pretty quickly,” said the restaurateur.



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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