The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
THE AMRITSAR massacre took place on April 13, 1919, when approximately 50 British Indian Army troops under the command of General Reginald Dyer fired rifles into a crowd of unarmed Indian civilians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar. 337 men, 41 women and one baby were killed. The civilians had assembled in the confined square for a peaceful protest to condemn the arrest and deportation of two national leaders and to celebrate a Sikh festival. Dyer, without warning the crowd to disperse, blocked the main exits and ordered his troops to fire. He stated later that this “was not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience. These people had to be taught a lesson.” Dyer ordered his troops to shoot toward the densest sections of the crowd near the five narrow exits, where panicked crowds were trying to leave the Bagh. Firing continued for approximately 10 minutes and ceased only when ammunition supplies were exhausted. Approximately 1,650 rounds were used.
We all probably know many British people and count them among our friends, but when you look at the ultra-right wing cabinet (less than half went to state schools compared to 93% of the public) of the Eton and Oxbridge educated, millionaire chumocracy, appointed by new UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, we might remember the massacre. Imperialism, and its associated bellicose, jingoistic, ‘Wogs start at Calais’, mentality has not been entirely abandoned by the British upper classes.
How to fail
Last week the ESRI, in the first of its kind, published a detailed report highlighting regional deficits and disparities in HSE services. Across 10 different metrics, the report found that Dublin commuter belt areas, like Kildare, Meath and Wicklow (rapid population growth), and Waterford and Kilkenny in the South East fared worst.
In other words, your chance of securing these services (GPs, community nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, podiatrists, counsellors and psychologists, social workers, nursing home beds and home care hours) depends on where you live.
Are you surprised that counties in the west and south did better? In many years of writing about health service provision in the South East, the 1972 vote (14/13) to establish the South Eastern Health Board in Kilkenny (and not Waterford, location of the new regional hospital proposed by the FitzGerald Report) has emerged as the worst ever decision by local representatives in this region.
‘It is undeniable that the SEHB Kilkenny location created significant national doubt, which took years to eradicate, about where the regional capital was’
The desire to halt the development of Waterford at the time, “everything is going to Waterford” has had a huge impact across all state sectors from IDA jobs to health services and education. The regional economy still lags behind all other regions.
It is undeniable that the SEHB Kilkenny location created significant national doubt, which took years to eradicate, about where the regional capital was. The failure to agree service location was a constant negative. This was exacerbated by policies pursued by Kilkenny County Council management who deprioritised all road access to Waterford city, and effectively cut us off from Dublin and our hinterland.
Figures compiled over the years show that state spending on health, education and almost every other sector is significantly below that spent in other regions largely because of regional disunity. In recent years, the South East Economic Monitor Reports by WIT academics has graphically underlined those regional disparities. One seminal bad decision means we find ourselves without 24/7 cardiology or a university, while state services are below what the regional population requires.
A strong region needs a strong regional city. It was true in 1972. It’s true in 2019. Is there any evidence that the local politicians across the South East now have any understanding of that or are willing in any way to support Waterford city?
Marks and Spencer have signed up for a new €60 million retail development at Arthur’s Quay in Limerick. While we still await progress on any kind of retail development here and are gambling a lot on the North Quays, is there any real reason why the Michael Street shopping centre should not be started and brought on stream as quickly as possible? The loss of retail spending to Dublin, Cork and the internet is terrible and our retail product is still way below what it should be. Another year or two with no new offering may cause immense damage to our city centre while the boost from building Michael Street would be huge. Meanwhile, in what is indicative of hard times on the High Street, the mayor of Kilkenny is calling all the stakeholders in that town together to seek answers to a raft of local business closures there.
A political journey
Many people ask if John Halligan will seek re-election to the next Dáil. The answer to that probably lies in UHW and what, if anything, will be under construction there at election time. Mr Halligan says, “Since entering Government I have fought tirelessly for proper, equitable healthcare provision for the people of the South East region and I will continue to do so.” Having gone into government with three “asks”, airport, university and cardiology, progress on all three is scarce. That he was naïve and has an almost gullible willingness to believe everything he is told is beyond argument, but it is also true that he has been lied to and disgracefully strung along by Fine Gael in government.
Darren Skelton reported last week that the permanent cath lab in UHW will be closed shortly for refitting. The danger to those experiencing cardiac difficulties will be intense. The closure time span is unknown. Had Fine Gael been honest with Waterford and Mr Halligan been more politically capable, the second permanent lab would be in situ and operating. Now we have no idea where it is. No planning has been sought, no tender has been published. No cardiologist has been recruited.
The mortuary, a priority since 2002 with all the necessary permissions in place, could still not be built until a “dead bodies on the floor” scandal (which reached the international press) broke over Leo Varadkar’s head and forced him to act. That is if he has acted, because no work has started on the new mortuary site.
The problem of litter which once bedevilled the city has largely been solved and grass cutting of open spaces is reasonably regular, but general maintenance still lags behind. The public realm is the face of the city. It is extraordinary that city councillors can raise the condition of the area around the Thomas Francis Meagher monument at council without any subsequent action to clean or tidy it. The heart shaped “flower bed” in front of the equestrian statue; arguably the most visible and important in the city and county, is choked with some sort of small weed. The long island and trees behind the statue have never been maintained. What is going on?
The response “we didn’t get around to it” in a city desperately trying to increase footfall and tourism, is shocking during the most high profile time of the year. Are priorities set at all for the presentation of the city? Who is responsible for seeing they are carried through? Is the council workforce trained enough? Do they understand what needs to be done for the sake of the city?
The difference in presentation between the city and smaller towns across the county is extraordinary. We hardly have a public flower to be seen (those on the railings of city hall look lovely). Many of the main roundabouts on the way into the city are in very poor condition. Flowers planted on the four little islands, approaching the RSC/Cork Road roundabout, were abandoned. They withered and died. The grass is cut in the People’s Park but the central bandstand area is still forlorn. A long high circular Beech hedge, now nearly three meters tall, has not been cut or trimmed this year. Flower beds are ragged and weedy.
A look into the nearby courthouse grounds shows grass being cut and grounds immaculately maintained with trees being planted in little reservations surrounded by a fence to ensure they survive and thrive. The difference with the (now dying) trees stuck hurriedly into the ground in front of the Tower Hotel to remedy the PR disaster brought about by needless felling, is grotesque.
In 2011 people knew that UHW and WIT would come under attack from the Fine Gael government. Those concerns were accurate. The trials of UHW are too well known to repeat except to say that the maladministration and failure to allocate appropriate resources by Cork-based HSE officials has been despicable. The evisceration of WIT since 2011 has been awful. FG promises to upgrade it to university status have been mired in regional controversy. The budget has been cut by 25% and WIT has not seen a new teaching building since 2005. Shovel ready plans for major investment were discarded and long term plans for new facilities at the Cork Road campus are as far away as ever despite John Halligan’s ministry in the Dept. of Education.
The rejection by an international review group of the Cork/Tralee IT merger to create Munster TU probably means that the WIT/Carlow IT merger (stuck because of the failure of TUI Carlow staff to agree proposals) may not proceed. Concerns about what constitutes research activity were raised.
In government legislation criteria, consortiums seeking university status must show 4 per cent of their students are “research active”. This legislation defines a research student as one registered in a programme where not less than 60 per cent of the credits are assigned in respect of a thesis based on research conducted by the student. Obviously, the international body charged with investigating the TU applications will not be easily fooled.
Those suggesting that Carlow IT is larger in undergraduate terms than WIT when the fee income from the student body does not support that theory will have questions to answer. WIT is far more engaged in research than Carlow and PhD education in Waterford in much further advanced than Carlow, but the toxic politics of the South East and the need to spread the TUSE like margarine across the region will determine the outcome.