The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
The proposed transfer of the Waterford Garda Divisional Headquarters to Kilkenny, leaving Waterford city (one of the country’s busiest stations) with an inspector as its highest ranking officer, prompted column inch references to the Waterford Division’s standalone status “since the foundation of the State”. “Ab urbe condita”, as the Romans used to say.
It is a reflection on the sorry state of public administration in this increasingly benighted country, that politics might trump good sense.
Waterford city was always the heart of the Waterford/Kilkenny Division and retained its status when the divisions were reorganised on a county basis some years ago.
One fears the influence of GAA mindsets, or else a return to the constabularies of years gone by, when police forces in England were formed on a county basis. If only crime and criminals obeyed such static borders.
‘We are desperate for strong voices in Leinster House, fighting for Waterford’s future.’
The National Planning Framework and direct comments made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar underline the status of Waterford city and its importance to the future development of Ireland.
It would be unthinkable not to have the divisional Garda HQ in Waterford city, even in geographical terms. Carlow is 80 kilometres north of Waterford and Lismore is 80km west of us. So we are dead centre to the proposed new division. That doesn’t stop politics trumping sense.
Waterford’s confidence in government has been utterly destroyed. If Fine Gael in Waterford is to retain any credibility, let alone survive, sense over the Garda HQ must prevail.
The party is in utter disarray here, largely because of John Deasy who is to leave politics at the next election. His lack of local engagement while we’ve been so terribly vulnerable has damaged Waterford.
We are desperate for strong voices in Dublin fighting for the future of this city and county. Mr Deasy’s departure offers us an opportunity to put that person in place. Paudie Coffey, who we feel should have been elected last time out instead of Mr Deasy, will be the likely replacement. He is not short on determination.
It’s nice to see the Mountain Warehouse open on Broad Street. Hopefully others will follow. The long awaited development by Wetherspoons on the same street may have moved a bit as “Coming Soon” signs proclaiming their imminent arrival adorn the various units they own. It is hard to understand, in their terms, just what “soon” means.
Quite a few new little Italian restaurants and cafes have opened around town, which is good to see. The Italians have a way with service and food that appeals to many people.
Some suggest we have too many cafes and restaurants, but that is nonsense. Choice is a good thing and every city centre needs choice in eateries as well as normal retail.
City centres are inevitably becoming more of a focus for events and festivals. What Waterford city centre needs in Barronstrand Street and Broad Street are more pubs/restaurants like Geoff’s which open after normal retail hours and have a seating area on the street. That is self-evident.
At present the whole John Roberts Square area shuts down at 6pm, and people complain about no footfall. If people want footfall then there must be something like a large gastro pub operation (a latter day Egan’s) which will start to make it happen. It’s not magic.
In general though, a drive around town shows an awful lot of very nice presentation. The grass is cut, the verges are trimmed, the city is clean in a way it rarely was before. The blots that do exist on the landscape are, to these eyes, all in the private sector.
The Quays look terrific and recent paintwork on the Shine building at Barronstrand Street and on the block from Jordan’s pub to the Reg Bar looks superb.
As you come across Rice Bridge from a great floral display at the Railway Station, the city looks very well presented.
The Mall is, as it should be, the centre of all official effort as befits the HQ of the Council. There have complaints from many sectors, including City Councillors that the presentation of the city was lagging behind other parts of the county. This could never be tolerated and someone in Council has taken it to heart.
The People’s Park looks well, other than the area around the central band stand and grass has been cut properly and regularly. We only get one chance to make a first impression and a lot of that is within our own gift. The Council seems to be getting things right. One hopes that business will follow. Retailers, especially in the city centre, must understand that no one owes them or us a living.
Sales have to be fought for. Business has to be fought for and we must always remember that Waterford city is surrounded by three of the best presented towns in the country, Clonmel, Kilkenny and Wexford. Waterford is the regional capital, and it behoves us to look and act like it.
The North Quays
Some time ago, Minister John Paul Phelan from Ferrybank publicly said that “Waterford is the capital of the region”. An unexpected comment from that source or a distraction in light of the Garda Division moves perhaps?
Mr Phelan has also said: “The big issue now is to ensure that Iarnród Éireann moves the station into that central position on the North Quays. They’ve given their word that is going to happen. The next round of capital calls for the National Planning Framework will be in October this year. (It was supposed to happen last February). Waterford, having got €6 million last time, needs to get something similar again”. It is no secret that the €6million received last year for North Quays funding went down like a stone. Something like €12m/€14m was expected given the NPF and the Taoiseach’s support. The works necessary to deliver the North Quays infrastructure are estimated to cost about €105m. No one expects the Government to write a one off cheque for that amount, but sums like €6m per annum means the project could take 17 years before the infrastructure is fully in place. We need to see a real statement of intent in this tranche.
Electing savvy TDs
Some say that the column headline last week, “FG must go” should more aptly have read: “This government must go”. Whether we like it or not, FG and or FF – with support from another party or group – will be in power next time out.
We need dogged, determined TDs who will work and fight for the city and the constituency. David Cullinane, Eddie Mulligan, Paudie Coffey have the necessary qualities. Waterford’s voice is not being heard at present. For far too long, we have elected too many party hacks with no hope of cabinet level.
If you want to keep exporting your children, your taxes and your money to other areas you will do what we always did in this city: tolerate incompetence.
Over the past two generations, Finglas, Tallaght, Blanchardstown grew and acquired University designation. Your city can be described by the scribes and Pharisees of the Dublin political and media ascendancy as “in terminal decline”.
You can watch that nonsense turning into a meme, managed by local politicians unable to do anything except acquiesce to their party line. Think about the future of this small, historic city and your own children.
We have all the potential in the world on our doorsteps: excellent location, access, transport, good general facilities, etc but we must acknowledge the realities.
We urgently need equality of resources and investment in acute medicine, third level education and in IDA job supports. Those three areas of activity determine our future. Resistance to delivery is intense from those who already have them. Just think about 24/7 cardiology. We need dogged persistence. That persistence is a recognised quality of people in Waterford except we have often allowed it to be misdirected.
Why the hard work must continue
There are so many people working so hard to make progress in Waterford that it would be difficult to name them.
City & County Council Chief Executive Michael Walsh does heroic work which is often not properly acknowledged. Without him, his drive and initiative, who knows where we might be?
We have had city managers whose sole purpose was to occupy the top seat on the way to somewhere else.
Many people will fondly remember Manager Eddie Breen whose tart response to a media suggestion that people in Waterford were always complaining was “People in Waterford don’t complain enough!” Maybe he meant that we do not complain enough in the right places?
Social media campaigns are never enough: complaint needs follow up action and persistence. Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city. We have been the biggest urban area in the South East for over 1100 years and still are by an order of magnitude. The present Government has overseen a systemic attack on third level education and acute medicine here. They have not, thus far, succeeded, but we have been hurt and damaged.
Many people suggest that Leo Varadkar does actually care about this city and county and that his preoccupation with Brexit is at the heart of his apparent disinterest. That may well be the case, and no one denies the challenge posed by Perfidious Albion, but we will not go quietly into the night while his ministerial minions persist in kicking us with their “managed decline”!