The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
SOCIAL media comment now rarely mentions the August bank holiday but rather the Spraoi weekend. They have captured the local and national imagination and made their own of the bank holiday. It was obvious around town from the huge numbers of people from all parts of the country. This is a wonderful, free weekend for families in Ireland at a time when the word “free” has almost dropped from our lexicon. How nice it is to have visitors who come back to the house full of praise for what is happening with the added bonus of “how clean every place is”! For long enough it was never a priority to have the city pristine and we tolerated low standards for reasons unknown. Now, at last the public realm is always clean. The council cleaning staff do a very good job. We can complain about detail, and there is a list as long as your arm of things that could be done better or that need attending to, but litter and public cleanliness seems to be under control. It’s that aspect of our lives over which we, as citizens of Waterford, have direct control.
As for Spraoi itself, there is little one can add at this stage to the list of superlatives, except to say that it is only when one is in the company of children at the daily performances, or at the fabulous parade and fireworks, that one appreciates the true magic of the event. Even “bored” teenagers or “jaundiced” twenty-year-olds are to be seen enjoying things and soaking up atmosphere while still trying to look cool. But that’s the way of things.
‘Maybe though, less is more and true artistry comes from producing real excellence with limited means.’
Some people say that events in Spraoi could be bigger and better or whatever, but this is a function of available money and community effort. I daresay that if we had cabinet representation in this area, an extra hundred grand would be easily found as it always is for the Galway and Kilkenny Arts weeks. Hope springs eternal that artistic excellence rather than political patronage will be recognised and treated accordingly although I would not hold my breath on that score under any heading in this country. Maybe though, less is more and true artistry comes from producing real excellence with limited means. Since I first saw Spraoi in 1992 (I think) the company has been on an ever changing artistic journey. Quite where they will end up is anyone’s guess, but as a vital part of the fabric of Waterford life, I do not know where we would be without them.
Over the years the small town of Portlaw has had its own difficulties and often been portrayed as one of the most disadvantaged towns in Co. Waterford. The loss of industry hit the area hard and what recovery there was has been slow. Many fine buildings in the town were lost. What has survived is the lovely location at the entrance to the Curraghmore demesne, the lands of Lord Waterford, one of the finest estates in the country and of course the planned layout of the town, like France’s Versailles, in the shape of a hand with five roads meeting at a central plaza.
Last week the All Together Now (ATN) music festival was held for the second year in Curraghmore. It was a wonderful event, but the first days were spoiled by major traffic problems. These are not unique to ATN, but the euphoria of the magnificent 2018 event was damaged by perceived traffic mismanagement.
I remember going to Slane in 1995 (REM), driving for hours through heavy traffic, parking the car miles from the bridge over the Boyne and walking to the concert site. That’s the way festivals are. We were not sent by the organisers on a 25 mile detour from the main entrance to Slane Castle as was done with last week’s ATN. The national road network deposits people in Kilmeaden, at the end of a motorway journey from Dublin and with easy access from all points, yet visitors were sent via Carrick and Kilmacthomas on very difficult routes trying to gain access. It could not have been made more difficult.
Social media is replete with suggestions that council planning insisted on the route, that Portlaw politicians or people in Portlaw did not want it or its associated traffic, that the organisers skimped on traffic policing, etc, etc. Regardless of who did what, if ATN returns in 2020 to Curraghmore, a traffic plan which allows people to access the estate via its main entrance in Portlaw should be put in place. That offers easy access from Waterford city and gives a huge opportunity for Portlaw to piggy back on ATN while developing a festival atmosphere in the town itself as it welcomes visitors from everywhere.
ATN has immense possibilities. Bringing people to Waterford city and east Waterford and then redirecting them on a twenty five mile detour via a secondary road network is simply wrong. Curraghmore is in Portlaw and that should be the end of it. It would be a shame if bad planning and/or local resistance, or whatever, ruined something magical.
This is an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means. It would be fair to say that the success of Kilkenny hurling is a meme. It’s an element of cultural behaviour which is passed down the generations. There are those who say that the inability of Waterford hurlers to close out and win a senior All Ireland is also becoming something of a meme. Those with more sporting expertise than this writer will have their own opinions. In any event, the resignation of Pauric Fanning as hurling manager again throws the situation into focus.
The inability of the Waterford Co GAA board to deliver a re-developed Walsh Park in time for the 2020 championship and to fail to commence the redevelopment earlier this summer as promised, suggests the managerial inability of Waterford GAA to develop a system fit for purpose. They persist, in one of the smallest counties in the country, with divisional boards and a main county board. This set up followed the east west council division created administratively in 1899 to suit ascendancy politics in West Waterford. It has undermined the whole county and destroyed real integration. It has embedded systemic failure in Waterford GAA. It is maintained, not because it is a good administrative model, or works well, but because too many people benefit from county board office status. If we want success we should model ourselves on those who succeed in hurling. There is only one county board and one unified structure in Kilkenny. While Waterford persists with three county boards, we plan to fail. That failure will continue while this east/west malignity is maintained. GAA people speak of fears in the west that office holders from that area might never be elected in a unified structure. We need only look at the amalgamated city and county council to see the number of people from west Waterford who have held the office of Mayor since the amalgamation to see the falsity of that argument.
In recent years, the hurling crest of the county GAA was changed from the three ships, under which banner All-Irelands have been won, to a crest featuring three ships and a round tower. This was supposed to indicate unity across the county and city but in reality it was done to emphasise and embed division. Unless Waterford GAA changes its structures to reflect the reality of present day transport and indeed the desire to achieve ultimate success on the field of play, there is a danger of hurling failure becoming a very ugly meme.
The new €50m paediatric outpatient and urgent care centre at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, opened last week. This is a satellite unit (one of two in Dublin) of the €1.7 billion new National Children’s Hospital. The two satellites were built in Dublin because of academic medical and hospital politics. They are state-of-the-art paediatric outpatient and urgent care facilities offering a range of services to children, young people and their families in Dublin north city and county and surrounding areas in Kildare and Meath. Matthew (13,12) got it right in his gospel. “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance, but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” The more you have, the more you get. That’s why the HSE have failed to honour commitments to open the new regional Palliative Care Unit at UHW. Spending every shilling this country has on vanity projects in Dublin. Gross overmanning, as evidenced in 2018 by 20 pathologists doing 800 post mortems in Cork University Hospital versus four pathologists doing 600 post mortems in UHW goes untackled under the heading of “historic” staffing anomalies.
Meanwhile, over 660 elderly patients were left to wait over 24 hours in A&E in the first six months of this year in another sign of the absolute lack of capacity at UHW.
David Cullinane has published an extensive document indicating a UHW wish list for expanded services, but in reality there is no evidence that the HSE system has any wish or desire to do anything about any of the elements on that list. The delay over the second cath lab has reached hysterical levels of black humour and the failure to progress the new mortuary is indicative of an absolute and blind determination by SSWHG management to string UHW along. Mr Halligan, the absent Mr Deasy plus Mary Butler of the supporting, do nothing FF party, must ensure that the multiple funding applications made by management for long overdue increased capacity at UHW are realised. That UHW is not getting its fair share of resources is (word of the week) fast becoming yet another tragic meme.