A small box advert in The Connaught Tribune and in the Galway Advertiser last week brought about 20 interested citizens to a city centre venue on Monday evening, 19 June, to discuss the question of planning and related matters in Galway. Eoghan Mac Cormaic went along.
`We are here this evening to ask two simple questions' announced Thomas Glavey Junior at the beginning of the meeting last Monday in Richardson's Hotel in Galway: `Have you been unfairly treated by the planning authorities?' and `Would you like to see Justice Flood coming to Galway?' You could feel the tension in the room.
If there is truth in half of what was alleged about the numerous dodgy decisions made in respect of planning in Galway, the place will soon be renamed the City of the Bribes
Tom Glavey Senior was the cause of it all. A couple of years ago, he decided to build a kitchen extension at the rear of a house he owned in a Galway estate called Riverside. Built on reclaimed land on the site of the old city dump, Riverside was at one time a well off suburban setting but with the progress that Galway is experiencing, the town has long moved beyond it. Many homeowners were replaced with tenants; students, nurses, workers from the nearby factories and the many building sites.
Vacant land, 50 or 60 feet yards below the estate was earmarked as an industrial estate and from the brow of their hill the Riversiders watched the pile drivers pounding away below them, and felt the tremors running up through their not so substantial foundations.
Cracks appeared on the social and physical fabric of the area. As the cracks climbed up the walls the prices tumbled down and properties were being sold off - to developers - at half the market value. The lower end of Riverside, upwardly mobile once, was now quite literally downwardly mobile as owners like Tom Glavey wondered would their homes slide down the banking into the industrial estate. With no requirement for planning approval for the single-storey extension he envisaged, Tom began building. The cracks were racing up the walls as fast as the extension was rising and Tom looked about for a solution. He saw one a few doors down the street - a two-storey extension, and so, he followed suit. Without planning approval.
With the building successfully shored up and with a smart new kitchen and bedroom to his house, Tom Glavey lodged his application for retention, was duly turned down, and as expected appealed the decision. Unfortunately, he neglected to include £100 with his appeal - not as you might suspect ,a tiny bribe, but the standard fee. His appeal came back, he relodged it and included the cheque but as ill luck would have it, he was a day late. The appeal was rejected.
Galway Corporation sought to have the extension demolished and so it went to court. Over 18 months of legal tangles the Corpo, and the Judge in the case, were determined to have the building levelled. In May of this year the worst case scenario arrived when, five weeks into a six-week stay, Tom Glavey was arrested and bundled off to Castlerea prison for contempt of the order to knock the building. He was there for the next six days, on hunger strike, before finally agreeing in court to demolish the building by 11 July and thus purge his contempt.
Back on the outside, the Glavey family began reflecting on their plight. They could not believe that justice was being done. They accept that they had an unapproved building, but in a city like Galway that seems to be nothing new. All around them retention orders were being granted, with planning laws flouted and bent, it seemed. And not a sinner in prison as a result, except Tom.
They are not stupid people, these Glaveys. They suspect, but can't yet prove, that all is not as it should be in the procedures. Tom thinks that ``the remedies offered via `appeals' are actually worse than the initial problem''. He thinks too, that it is bizarre that the appeal into a decision taken is often made to the same organisation which made the decision in the first place. He wonders how the small man or woman can end up in prison over a kitchen extension, while retention orders seem to be the cement binding large developments together.
He won't accuse anyone of corruption. Yet. He asks, however, if it might not have worked out a lot cheaper on him, with his spiralling legal costs, his loss of liberty, and the looming demolition of his kitchen; if he had slipped some willing hand an adequately stuffed brown envelope, paper bag or shoe box and had taken his chances that way.
The meeting agreed. In fact, the audience at the meeting seemed to know of numerous dodgy decisions made in respect of planning in the City of the Tribes, so much so that if half of what they alleged be true, the place will soon be renamed the City of the Bribes.
The Glaveys were given some support at the meeting and, no doubt, met others in similar circumstances to their own, powerless in overturning decisions, shocked at the scale of allegations, angry and demanding that something be done to make the system fairer and transparent.
They are going to invite Flood to visit Galway and unearth what he can. That small `box ad' might be just what Galway needed and might spell the death of what is obviously a much reviled system. As the death notices used to say years ago, `other papers please copy'. The Flood Tribunal could soon be sitting in a courtroom near you.