Cool return for city councillors

Cross Street urban area regeneration plan was discussed at Galway City Council meeting

Cross Street urban area regeneration plan was discussed at Galway City Council meeting

The Galway City Council’s first meeting of 2024 began with icy stares rather than heated debate this week.

Despite a well-publicised Covid-19 era ventilation system installed into the purpose-built council chamber last year, the heating was banjaxed on Monday, and several coated council staff and reporters shivered through the three-hour meeting.

Hot-blooded politicians are immune to the cold, with fiery discussions on the local authority’s new Local Economic and Community Plan prompting caustically cool comments.

The LECP is a statutory document which sets out a local authority’s objectives and actions needed to promote community and economic development. It is valid for six years, and a metric tonne of work goes into drafting it.

Councillors Declan McDonnell (Ind ), Mike Cubbard (Ind ), Terry O’Flaherty (Ind ) and mayor Eddie Hoare (FG ) all worried about a lack of staff to implement and monitor the “ambitious” plan. Councillor Colette Connolly (Ind ) thought it was too “wordy” and there wasn’t enough pictures in it.

Salthill’s Niall Murphy (GP ) pointed out the new plan, which includes a stated goal to create “an equal and inclusive city”, does not include the Council’s October 2022 motion calling on elected reps to develop anti-racism protocols. The motion was adopted soon after FF councillor Michael Crowe apologised for snide remarks he made about Travellers in a September 2022 Galway Bay FM interview.

Cllr Crowe remained icily silent after Murphy’s contribution. Minutes earlier, the Bohermore man had warmly accepted congratulations from well-wishers on his recent elevation to the Bar. Murphy has presumably never heard of the ‘chilling effect’ of litigation.

Fianna Fáil’s John Connolly responded to the LECP by calling on the government to reinstate the RAPID programme which targeted investment and other resources into deprived communities. Donal Lyons (Ind ) agreed. Connolly may have forgotten it was a Fianna Fail – Green Party government (remember that? ) which first cancelled RAPID in 2011.

Connolly is hot under the collar that Galway’s primary school children are not securing secondary places in nearby schools, and that University of Galway seems better at attracting students from abroad than from disadvantaged areas of the city. His party ‘colleague’ Imelda Byrne (FF ), who also runs the university’s Access Centre, poured cold water on Connolly’s contention. No love lost there.

The red hot debate of the day however was not planning the social and economic future of the city, it was the burning topic of unauthorised advertising signs at council-owned sports pitches.

Mervue United guru Declan McDonnell raised the issue under an ‘urgent business’ addition to the day’s agenda, after a sneaky council official was clocked taking photos of unauthorised advertising signs across the city’s sports pitches. McDonnell, Cubbard and Peter Keane (FF ) were initially united in condemnation of what they perceived as City Hall’s plans to take away club’s chances “to make a few bob” (Cubbard ) by hanging sponsors’ signs on fences, gateposts and clubhouse gables.

“Club officials are not clueless in selecting what is appropriate for advertising,” chipped in Clodagh Higgins (FG ) when Alan Curran (SD ) worried about booze, gambling or tobacco ads appearing across Galway’s sporting swards.

“If the cat had kittens it would be blamed on alcohol in this city,” exclaimed Mike Crowe, before a heated debate ensued, including Martina O’Connor’s (GP ) worry that school children might be exposed to advertising, Níall McNelis’ (Lab ) queries whether clubs might face littering fines, while Colette Connolly demanded a roll call vote to record for posterity who would support “privatising our public spaces”.

With tempers reaching boiling points, members began forgetting to turn their mics on, prompting councillors attending remotely via Zoom to go nuclear altogether because they couldn’t hear what was going on at all, at all. Meltdown.

Mayor Eddie Hoare realised the core temperature had reached critical: “We can’t have an amendment to an amendment,” he pleaded with colleagues, before Frank Fahy (FG ) tried chill the whole palaver by suggesting a Strategic Policy Committee (SPC ) deal with the issue.

When tempers cooled, Mike Crowe KC explained “the trail of events” that had led councillors to get tangled in their own hot motions. “There’s no charge for that,” the new barrister joked, delighted with himself.

The council’s director of sports and amenities Patrick Greene, by this stage wearing his coat in the cold chamber while councillors vented hot air, informed members that any sports club with a pitch licence can request permission to put up advertising hoardings safely and appropriately, but none had so far done so. Everyone’s heels were cooled.

City planner Eoghan Lynch presented exciting plans to pedestrianise Cross Street and Middle Street in the city centre, creating a main loop rather than the current main drag along Shop Street, High Street and Quay Street.

Cllr Peter Keane, who admitted he was reticent concerning past urban improvements, surprised everyone by suggesting designers should propose permanent canopies over street junctions to be transformed into pocket plazas. He seemed flushed by the approving nods around the chamber, and by this stage -2C outside, at least it wasn’t the red hot colour of emotion.

 

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