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Surveillance operation thwarts phone thief’s escape



A Garda surveillance operation, set up two years ago to target the theft of mobile phones from unsuspecting pub patrons in the city by Dublin-based criminals, has paid dividends.

Sergeant Fergus Gaughan gave evidence at Galway District Court that he was involved in the surveillance operation, set up at the time to target those involved in a spate of mobile phone thefts from people socialising in the city centre.

He said he kept a car, which was parked at Woodquay on October 4, 2015, under surveillance for a number of hours and observed a man return to it at 3.40am.

He saw the man rummage around in the back seat of the car for a while before he drove off.

Sgt Gaughan said that with the assistance of other colleagues involved in the Garda operation, he followed and stopped the car at Bother na dTreabh.

A subsequent search revealed two high-end phones concealed under the floor covering of the car under the rear seat.

Darius Rostas (23), 138 Carrigwood Estate, Firhouse, Dublin 24, was subsequently arrested and charged with handling a €600 iphone 6 and a €400 Samsung Galaxy S4, knowing they were stolen.

Sgt. Gaughan said both phones were reported stolen by their owners shortly afterwards.

He said there had been some communication via text between the accused on his own HTC phone and the owner of one of the stolen phones about recompense for the return of the phone before he took possession of it.

Judge Fahy noted Rostas had been brought before a special court sitting later on October 4 where he had been refused bail, but he had subsequently secured bail in the High Court in Dublin.

Sgt Philpott said Rostas had 22 previous convictions, which included 16 for thefts. He said he had received a five-month prison sentence in Dublin last year for possession of stolen property and had received suspended sentences for other thefts in 2013.

A barrister, who represented Rostas under the Free Legal Aid Scheme, told the court his client lived in Tallaght and his wife was expecting their first baby in five months’ time.

He said Rostas was in receipt of €100 a week in Job Seeker’s Allowances and he worked part-time as a pizza delivery man.

Judge Fahy said the court had to consider disqualifying Rostas from driving as he had used his car to travel to Galway to commit a crime here.

Judge Fahy noted the phones were recovered due to the good work of Sgt Gaughan and the other Gardaí involved in the surveillance operation and she noted from the court file that Rostas had taken 15 bench warrants in the past.

“He was probably in collusion with others at time of this offence,”   the judge observed.

She sentenced Rostas to six months in prison for handling the stolen iphone 6 and she disqualified him from driving for two years.

She imposed a concurrent three-month sentence for the theft of the second phone and she suspended both sentences for two years on condition Rostas be of good behaviour and not reoffend for the next two years and stay away from Galway city and county for the next two years also.

Leave to appeal the judge’s orders were granted.

Rostas smiled broadly in obvious relief when he heard the prison sentences were being suspended.  He thanked Judge Fahy a number of times and then shook hands enthusiastically with his barrister and with Sgt. Gaughan.

He agreed to pay €150 witnesses’ expenses to one of the victims – a student – whose phone had been taken that night, as she had come to court on three different occasions previously to give evidence should Rostas not plead guilty to the charges.

Mrs Rostas took a wad of cash from her pocket and handed over three €50 notes to Sgt. Philpott, which he handed to the student.


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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