A number of city councillors defended the Christmas Market during a heated debate about the event at this week's local authority meeting. The debate followed the release of a report about the market by director of services for recreation and amenity, Tom Connell.
While the report acknowledged it was a welcome addition to the city with substantial benefits, a number of issues with the event were outlined. It was stated that the location of the market stalls on Eyre Square's grassed area could not be sustained due to the severe damage being caused. A number of pictures accompanied the document to demonstrate the adverse effect on the grass in Eyre Square.
It was noted that the week before the market began, the city council issued warnings to the organisers, Galway company Milestone Inventive, in relation to safety and welfare concerns about the site. On November 19 last year, the city council issued a written warning notifying it would close the site if its concerns were not addressed.
The report was also critical of the huge demands which were being placed on the city council's parks section, to facilitate the event. The document stated that discussions have begun with the Galway Business Association to consider other locations and new ways of organising future Christmas Markets.
Fine Gael representative, Peter Keane, said the market was good for 'Brand Galway' and for promoting the city as a great place to visit. "The knock-on effect for other businesses of the tens of thousands of people who visit the city for the market is phenomonal."
Sinn Féin councillor, Anna Marley, said she did not feel the report reflected the positivity of the market for the people of Galway.
Councillor Frank Fahy also thought the report was very unfair. "It cost the council nothing to have the market here. Indeed, we received money for the development of Eyre Square. As a taxi driver, I carried several people who come to Galway specifically for the market. It is a positive thing for the city, there are some issues, but let's resolve them and stop the negativity." Cllr Fahy was scathing of the mention of drainage problems in Eyre Square. "Fifteen million has been spent on the area and we are told we have a drainage problem. It is an absolute joke. I actually think the grass is doing mighty."
Labour councillor, Billy Cameron, labelled the report a 'whine,' a comment he later withdrew. However he remarked that ''every time I read the report I hear violins in the background."
Fianna Fáil's Michael Crowe said the situation had flaws but to consider moving the market from Eyre Square would compound the problem as opposed to solving it. "What needs to happen is the executives need to sit down with the operators, and Galway Business Association, and make a plan together. The market is needed by the city, we need to come up with a solution that works so the market operates in a way that the people of Galway deserve."
Independent councillor, Terry O'Flaherty, proclaimed herself a big fan of the market and the numbers of people it attracts in to the city. She was not in favour of the event being moved from the square. ''The Galway Business Association would not thank us for moving it."
Fellow Independent Declan McDonnell also believed Eyre Square was the only place for it. "It brings huge benefit to businesses, who pay the rates that keep this city running and this is one way of supporting them. Maybe we could look at restricting the way it is laid out - have more stalls on the hard ground opposite the Skeff.'' Cllr McDonnell was one of a number of representatives who remarked that there was a need for more craft stalls, similar to other continental markets which take place across Europe. Councillor Mike Cubbard spoke about the large number of stalls which were held by Lidl last year. "Why would people go to the market to get things they can get in their local supermarket."
Cllr Padraig Conneelly who had previously expressed serious reservations about last year's market, was extremely critical of Lidl's involvement and the overall composition of the stalls. "I welcome a market but not the variety of stalls we have seen. This is not the type of continental market which is seen elsewhere. We have to change its structure."
Tom Connell said the matters being dealt with now were the future location of the market and how it would be managed. "The overall objective is to showcase Eyre Square as a focal point of the city, to preserve and have it looking as pristine as possible. The market is running for five years and the issue with the grass continues. The report is not a whine, it is factual, it reflects what recreational staff were dealing with, and outlines the time and energy set aside by staff to manage the event and maintain Eyre Square."
Mr Connell said the request for a greater variety of stalls would be taken up with organisers. "There is regular engagement with the operators. We are satisfied that once we overcome the issues with the grass, Eyre Square will be the location for the market."