Social Time Bomb Looms in Galway City
It was expected that the wealth generated by the Celtic Tiger would transform Ireland into a more benign inclusive nation. Unfortunately this phenomena spawned a developer-driven country that created a congested suffocating urban sprawl lacking any proper transport and amenity infrastructure to meet the needs of all ages and where building levies were not sufficiently re-invested back into neighbourhoods. In the process the community cohesion and values that were once the hallmark of Irish society are being seriously if not terminally eroded. Local and state government have to take full responsibility for this. The partnership Galway City Development Board Strategy 2002-2012 adopted in February 2002 was designed to tackle this gross oversight with its commitment to provide qualitative recreational and community facilities in tandem with all housing developments. Sadly years of intense campaigning before and since the adoption of this historic agreement by local residents groups has failed to see this strategy implemented in Knocknacarra, Ballinfoile, Doughiska and elsewhere. There is no doubt that individual politicians and officials have done their best to try to secure progress. But with little or no success. Particularly betrayed are our young people. For while the era of economic prosperity provided few indoor public leisure centres and a solitary GAF café in Galway city, government policy facilitated the opening of ‘off-licences’ everywhere with their sales of cheap alcohol leaving us with huge social problems that will be further exacerbated by the rising levels of unemployment now occurring. Communities feel increasingly powerless and disengaged from the decision-making process as they witness the recent curtailment of public services, a withdrawal of police from suburbs at weekends and little progress on securing meaningful NGO involvement in the management of parks.
The onus is on local and national politicians to re-double their efforts between now and the June elections to implement those policies that were signed off in good faith with the community sector and the other social partners. I sincerely hope that they rise to the challenge and work together to achieve progress. Otherwise their legacy to the nation will be social exclusion and ghettoisation on a huge scale.