Dáil debates

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Traffic Management

4:20 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for choosing this matter for Topical Issue debate. I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, is here because I know she is more than familiar with what has happened in Galway. Many of her colleagues on the council have spoken out on this matter.

It is an issue I raise reluctantly as it should be managed locally. Unfortunately, the event last Sunday, part of an ongoing number of events known as Salthill Sunday, has caused consternation, upset, distress and serious traffic congestion. I spoke to gardaí in Salthill on this matter who said they are doing everything possible. I realise matters of this nature are for the Garda to deal with to a certain extent. I do not wish to intrude on Garda operational matters. However, it is much bigger than that.

All this week the local radio station has been inundated with contact from people affected by this event which has been going on for a number of weeks. It is an organised event but the Garda has told me it is not a controlled one. Therein lies the problem. Last Sunday, Galway came to a standstill. We have restaurants losing business. A person had to be airlifted to hospital because emergency services could not get through. We have had elderly people missing or being delayed for their appointments for vaccination. These are only some of the affected people. We have noise and air pollution, intimidation and people reporting that their children with disabilities have been seriously affected.

I do not want to go into anecdotes about this. However, I am raising it in the Dáil when I would prefer to be raising the housing or health services problems in Galway. It means I am taking this matter very seriously because the councillors have taken it very seriously. More importantly, the people of Galway are greatly distressed.

Members of An Garda Síochána are of the view that we should perhaps be looking at a venue for these car enthusiasts. Certainly, there is scope for that and it is a positive way of looking at it. In the meantime, however, to allow these organised but not controlled events to go on is simply unacceptable. This is bigger than the Garda and it has to work in collaboration with the management of the city council and the councillors, in the first instance to ensure there are enough community gardaí and community wardens on the ground and then to ensure the safety of the community, which is primarily in the Salthill and Claddagh areas, and also down at the Black Box Theatre, all areas with which the Minister of State is more than familiar. I ask the Minister of State to please not read from a script and tell me that it is an operational matter for the Garda. I am sure she will not do that and that she is as concerned as I am about this.

I am not a great Facebook person but what troubles me is that those who are organising this event are communicating through Facebook. They are telling us that they will persist in doing this until they get what they want. This is not a great way to ensure collaboration with the elected representatives and with the Garda. I seek a pragmatic and practical approach to this but at the top of the list must be the safety and enjoyment of the community areas for everyone and not just for car enthusiasts. I know many people who are not easily intimidated but when they tell me that they could not cycle their bike or turned back and would not walk, then I know there is something radically wrong with these events. I will stop at this point and ask the Minister of State to deal with this issue.

4:30 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this issue today. I am glad to speak on a topic of concern for many public representatives, both local and national, and for people from the Galway area, as outlined by the Deputy. I spoke this afternoon to members of An Garda Síochána in Galway about the recent event in Salthill and events that may be planned for this weekend or other future dates. I also have spoken to the Galway city manager about this event. While the Deputy will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is operationally responsible for all policing matters, I am reassured that a policing plan is in place in anticipation of another Salthill Sunday event, if required.

Local members of the Garda are also monitoring social media and will tailor any operations for this weekend or any other weekends as needed. Extra gardaí will be on duty around the city and in Salthill this weekend and they also will be carrying out spot checks.

Those of us from Galway are aware that these recent gatherings have understandably led to significant local concern. On Sunday last, a large number of vehicles gathered in Salthill village and Galway city as part of a Salthill Sunday event. Gardai from Salthill and Galway, together with resources from the divisional roads policing unit, implemented an operation for the management of the event. The public service vehicle inspector for the Galway division was also on duty. The Garda has informed me that 80 road traffic offences were detected by the roads policing unit and by uniformed members on duty at the event and that these will be actioned accordingly with fixed-charge penalty notices or summonses, as appropriate.

While An Garda Síochána has confirmed that there were no public order incidents of note, it has confirmed that the gathering of a large number of vehicles caused disruption to traffic. I fully appreciate the frustration which local people feel about any anti-social behaviour which there may have been around this event, and the concerns they may have in respect of future events.

I have been reassured today by An Garda Síochána in the Galway division that it will enforce legislation and ensure any breaches of legislation are prosecuted as they arise.

It is also important to note that the Garda is continuing to provide enhanced support to the public health effort to combat Covid-19. In this context, we are continuing to appeal to the public to avoid large gatherings and crowds at this time. Personal responsibility and compliance with the public health measures that remain in place continue to be key in minimising opportunities for the virus to spread.

I fully appreciate and it is important to say that in normal times, car enthusiasts may wish to gather and enjoy the company of like-minded people but I would ask that everyone adhere to the public health regulations and I appeal to the organisers of such events to consider the impact they are having on the local population in Salthill. I also ask people to refrain from meeting in large numbers and to follow the continuing public health advice and the necessary restrictions As our society and economy re-opens, we are also being asked to socialise outdoors and to make the most of our community spaces. With that in mind, all of us have a responsibility to residents in places such as Salthill to be respectful when we gather outdoors. I appreciate how difficult the past 15 months have been for everyone and how many sacrifices people have made to maximise our collective safety against Covid-19. I join all Deputies in welcoming the freedoms that have been restored in recent weeks. However, we are all called upon now to ensure that we can enjoy the outdoors as safely as possible and that we all take responsibility for our own actions.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I am a little disappointed that the Minister of State is reassuring me that there is a policing plan in place and that she is appealing to the public not to gather. This is not about the public gathering but about a relatively small number of people organising an event that is not controlled. It is about the Garda being overwhelmed because when I spoke to some members of the force, they said that they were applying the law as best they could. I empathise with them. This is bigger than the members of the Garda, who are just one aspect of it. We need collaboration with the city council and we need community wardens along with members of the Garda. Before I came in today, I looked out the window and counted 28 gardaí minding us in this august establishment here. I would like to see that presence on the ground in Galway.

The Minister of State is appealing to people who are not listening. I have read their Facebook communications. They are not hearing but are telling us that they are going to keep going until they get what they want. I would call that, at the very least, defiant language. I am all in favour of car enthusiasts when acting in an organised and controlled way. This is not a controlled event but is depriving the majority of people of the enjoyment of public space. This is interfering with people's safety and health where people are turning up. I know that the Minister of State is aware of this but I am asking her to take a hands-on approach in this regard. At the very least, we need a meeting of the Deputies from Galway with the Garda superintendent. We then need an absolute plan for this matter for the next number of Sundays in order that we can reassure the people in Salthill, the Claddagh and the other areas of Galway affected that this will not continue. We cannot have a situation where someone is airlifted because they cannot get through the streets of Galway. At the best of times the traffic congestion is unacceptable because we have utterly failed to deal with traffic congestion but this is an extra element. Once again, I appeal to the Minister of State to take a hands-on approach in this matter in her position as a Minister of State and at the very least to let us sit down together with the superintendent and with the city manager to ensure that this does not continue.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I reiterate that I spoke to the senior members of An Garda Síochána in Galway and they have assured me that there is a dedicated policing plan in place for this weekend and for any future events. They are monitoring social media and will be deploying extra Garda resources in the Salthill area or indeed any area where that deployment is needed. If anyone has concerns, the Garda asks that it be contacted directly and to be alerted to any anti-social behaviour. I have also received the assurance of An Garda Síochána that resourcing is not an issue and the force will be deploying its full resources as needed this weekend or any other weekend on this issue and it is important to make that point. I was categorically assured today by An Garda Síochána on that point.

There is engagement between the city council and the Garda, which was also confirmed to me today. I spoke to the city manager and I know that the local city councillors are directly engaging with An Garda Síochána locally around other solutions. Whatever resources the Garda needs, we have always said that we will support it in that. I will be guided by the local Garda information that I received and its members are saying that it will deploy all its resources, will be carrying out spot checks within the city and on the outskirts as well this weekend and will be monitoring the activities as they arise this weekend or over future weekends. Of course, this will be constantly monitored and we need to ensure that we support the Garda in whatever way possible.

In my communications with the city council, I am happy to assist in any way I can. I have been assured today by An Garda Síochána in Galway that it has the resources, it will deploy them and it will monitor events this weekend and every weekend in Salthill and Galway.

4:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Minister of State, and Deputy Connolly for raising that issue. I suspect that if the matter does not find a resolution, the Deputy will return to it, although I hope that will not be necessary.