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Support group for LGBT Galway teens



‘That’s so gay’ is a phrase often uttered which may not intend to cause offence.

But for a young person who is unsure about their sexuality or if they have a sibling who has come out, it can be very damaging.

“It’s such a loose term that is really popular right now,” reflects Ann-Marie Hession, a youth worker with shOUT!, a support group for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) or who may be questioning their sexual identity.

“Pupils in national school can use it without knowing what it means but it’s being used in a negative way. It could be about pink football boots and you’re buying into that stereotyped idea that gay boys like pink. Just don’t use those terms. It’s a form of discrimination, it’s a form of bullying.”

Language is one of the things focused on in workshops conducted by Anne-Marie at schools in the city and county, the only full-time LGBT youth worker in Galway.

After securing funding from Galway County Council before Christmas, shOUT! has completed 20 workshops aimed at raising awareness of LGBT issues in country schools already this year. In the past four months students in six city schools have undergone the programme.

“We look at what is the correct terminology, what is not appropriate. We examine what homophobia and transphobia are, what ways it comes across either directly or indirectly. We look at the process of coming out and how difficult that can be. Then we go through how to change a few things that might make it less difficult for people who identify as LGBT,” explained Anne-Marie.

Statistics show that one in ten people identify as LGBT. That means no matter which class or group you are in, the likelihood is at least one person is not straight, or at least not sure if they are.

“If that person sees their friend John or brother Paul is not laughing when somebody makes a homophobic remark, that can create a space for them to go and talk about what they’re going through, maybe even come out.”

Another exercise classes engage in is what is involved with the “coming out process”.

“It can either be positive, negative or neutral. We ask them to prepare a few lines and practise them to help make it a positive experience. Maybe inside you’re shocked but that’s for you to process later. Instead maybe say, ‘thank you, you obviously think I’m a very good friend, you trust me, I know how hard it must be to say that’.”

A Gort Community School Leaving Cert student came out to his best friend in January of last year.

“All my friends were 100% behind me. Once people see your friends are with you, they back off. I knew I was gay when I was twelve. I just wanted to be like the rest of the lads but it just got too much,” he recalled.

It was on his suggestion that the workshops were held in the school, where there are several openly gay students.

“It was one my main aims before I left here. I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I did. I had nobody to talk to. I was afraid to. At least now any new student is aware of what LGBT means and you can talk to people about it.”

The workshops have also been well received by the entire school community. The school’s social education teacher Carmel Neylon said the school is a lot more open since all students underwent the programme.

“There’s been absolutely amazing feedback from students and parents and the school management, in fact some LGBT students approached me as a result and it spearheaded another project.”

Applied Leaving Cert students have created a mosaic to signify that Gort Community College is an LGBT friendly school.

“It’s going to be hanging in our assembly. It’s a positive response to what we see as a human rights issue,” Ms Neylon remarked.

Schools who hold the workshops have reported a noticeable reduction in homophobic comments.

Last week was Stand Up Week, a national campaign launched by Belong To, a LGBT youth group in Dublin, and supported by the Department of Education to encourage young people in schools to stand against homophobia and support those who identify as gay or lesbian. A family day was held in Eyre Square to mark the occasion.

Research from 2009 found that 58% of young people experience homophobia in their schools, with 34% of that coming from teachers. In the local workshops, students talk about hearing homophobic remarks at least once a day.

Same sex relationships have never been so much to the fore with the upcoming Equality Referendum, reflects Anne-Marie. Yet they are being bombarded with negative comments about homesexuality.

“The lives of our local young people will be affected by this referendum, yet they have no say over it.”

In the three years Ann-Marie has worked with shOUT!, she has noticed the age profile of those using the services decline.

“Young people are definitely coming out younger. Research has found that twelve is the average age when they first realise their sexual orientation whereas 17 is the average age they come out. That’s dropping because it’s starting to become normalised.”

ShOUT! organises drop-in sessions for young people in the community – on Saturdays, midday-1.30pm for 14-17-year-olds; for 18 to 21 year olds on the first Friday of the month. The groups feature a host of different activities – drama, art, film, cooking.  ShOUT! also organises summer camps as well as one-to-one talks with teens not ready to come to a group.

For further details email or call 087 773 8529

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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