Galway city cannot run the Christmas market without contracting an operator according to a report given to the city council.
“Galway city council staff do not have the ability to run the Christmas market.” said Gary McMahon, Acting Director of Services at the city council.
An interim report on the Christmas market with feedback from visitors and traders was delivered to the city council at the May meeting this week.
Councillor Declan McDonnell pointed out that in the budget for 2018 adopted by the council last November €150,000 was allocated by the council to take over the running of the Christmas market, “It was not for any operator,” he said.
Councillor Mike Cubbard added that while the council was debating the funding, they were never told that that there wasn’t the capacity to take over operations.
The €150,000 allocated for overhauling the Christmas market was added on the day of the budget as part of amendment proposed by councillor McDonnell to fund community projects.
City management had not asked for or expected to to receive that funding, or a mandate to take over the Christmas market, said Mr. McMahon, “it came as a complete surprise to me.”
But Mr. McMahon said that his understanding was that the money would be used to enhance the entire Christmas experience across the city and he hoped to bring a proposal to the June meeting.
The majority of the council accepted this position from city management, with councillor Mark Lohan saying he would like to see if the council could run the market itself, but acknowledged the interim report says that the current model has the least risk to the city.
Councillor Billy Cameron was another voice of caution against making drastic changes to the the running of the Christmas market saying that it, “isn’t broken, and doesn’t need fixing. It needs a little debating, a little tweaking.”
However, not all members of the council were satisfied with last year’s operator, with councillor Pádraig Conneely saying it was, “cheap, shoddy, badly run, and badly organised.”
Mr. McMahon was quick to reassure councillors that the money budgeted last year wouldn’t be going in the pockets of an operator, In fact the operator pays a fee to the council to run the Christmas market he said.
He also said that just because the council wouldn’t be handling the day-to-day operations of the market, that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be overseeing it, “There’s a difference between operating a Christmas market, and managing one.”
A final report on the Christmas market has not yet been delivered as engagement hasn’t yet completed engaging with stakeholders like promoters and taxi drivers to get their complete feedback.
A meeting was scheduled to take place in January with Mayor Pearce Flannery, but that didn’t happen as the promoter couldn’t attend at the time.
A number of councillors expressed frustration that they were only receiving an interim report in May, as they couldn’t make any decisions until the final report was received.
Councillor Peter Keane urged Mayor Flannery to meet with stakeholders as a matter or urgency to avoid a last minute rush of decisions on the market as happened last year.
Other issues related to last year’s Christmas market at the meeting included a perceived overabundance of food stalls, the beer tent, and how to accommodate taxi drivers losing space to the market for several weeks.