I have always tried to look at various solutions to a problem in my time as an Independent TD for Galway West — there’s rarely just one answer to a question.
I feel, however, that there can be a tendency in Ireland, and in Galway at present, to put all our eggs in one basket, sometimes to the exclusion of perfectly good alternative or complementary options.
Take the example of two of the Galway issues on which I have worked very hard over the years — the difficulty accessing healthcare at University Hospital Galway, and the never-ending problem of traffic congestion in Galway City.
Every year, about 66,000 people present themselves for treatment at the Emergency Department. I remember, during a visit there, being struck by the message that comes up on a TV screen in front of the people waiting, often for hours on end, to be seen, diagnosed and treated — advising them that one way to avoid long delays was for them to go to a minor injuries unit instead.
There are 11 of these units dotted around the country, where people with less serious injuries or ailments are seen and treated in a fraction of the time it takes at the ED — in less than an hour, for instance, at the one in Roscommon.
There’s one big problem with giving that advice to people in the waiting area at UHG — Galway is the only major urban area that doesn’t have one!
Transform the picture
But if we did have such a unit here — based at Merlin Park Hospital — it could transform the picture at UHG, because less than a quarter of the people who come to the Emergency Department actually end up being admitted to hospital. So most of the 45,000-plus people who are allowed home after treatment could have been looked after in a minor injuries unit, without having waited for hours.
I have received support from a number of senior medical consultants for my proposal and both the current Taoiseach and his predecessor both agreed with me in the Dáil that it is a good idea.
However, the HSE and successive governments have looked to the building of a new Emergency Department, and a new elective hospital, as the only solutions to the problems here.
But we’ve been talking about a new Emergency Department at UHG for more than a decade, and it’s going to be years more before it is built. And it will be a decade or probably much more before any new hospital is built at Merlin Park.
In the meantime, thousands of people could have their hospital emergency department experience transformed at a minor injuries unit that could be very quickly provided at Merlin Park, and it would continue to play a vital role in reducing pressures of numbers into the future.
There’s reluctance, too, to look at complementary ways to solve the problems of Galway’s long-suffering commuters, other than the ring road or bypass. And we could find ourselves, decades from now, still trying to find ways to build the road while complying with environmental restrictions.
I do believe that we need the Galway City Ring Road to be built as soon as possible, but I also feel that not enough consideration has been given to other ways of reducing traffic congestion, including a free-flow system on the main arteries during peak morning and evening traffic. I have proposed the establishment of Galway Transport Authority to deal specifically with the movement of traffic in and out of our city.
I have been involved in talks with local landowners to come up with a solution to the traffic problems where they at their worst, in the Parkmore area on the east of the city.
Two landowners have agreed to offer land for the building of two new roads that would greatly relieve the pressure on the current approaches to Parkmore, used by 10,000 people to get to and from work every day. Another landowner has agreed to cede a strip of land to allow for the provision of an extra lane on the existing Parkmore road.
One of the new roads would link Parkmore with the Tuam Road, near Roadstone, and the other would run from the Monivea road up to Parkmore — which could also be used to accommodate shuttle buses running to and from a park-and-ride facility I have proposed for the Galway Airport site.
Unfortunately, the idea has so far been rejected by City Council officials, concentrating on the ring road solution as the only one in town.
These are just two examples of how we have to ‘think outside the box’, to be prepared to look at new and radical solutions to the worst of our problems, if we are to arrive at the best outcomes for our city, our county and our country,
I, for one, will continue to look at all alternatives and, if re-elected, continue to work with the other TDs in the constituency to secure the best solutions for Galway, as I have done in the past — such as my very recent role in helping to land more than €30m in funding for Connacht Rugby’s Sportsground development, the Renville Sports and Community Grounds, and the Galway Regional Aquatic and Fitness Centre in Knocknacarra.