The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
CONOR Brady, former editor of The Irish Times, was a member of the committee that recommended the changes which are the basis for the Garda reorganisation currently being implemented by Commissioner Drew Harris. Mr Brady wrote in the Irish Times last week, “Elected representatives and lobby groups will rail fiercely against Harris’s plan. The Government can hardly claim the high moral ground, having agreed to reopen Stepaside Garda Station for Shane Ross against Garda advice. So why should any rural town with a cattle mart and a GAA club be denied its own superintendent?” Is that where we’re at?
The headline in this paper last week was “a city in waiting.” I understand that the local Joint Policing Committee will meet on September 2 when the Garda plan will be discussed. That being the case, when will we know where the HQ of the proposed new Waterford/Kilkenny/Carlow division is to be located? Already we have people nonsensically suggesting that Kilkenny is the geographical centre when that patently is not the case. Can people even interpret a map correctly in this country? Waterford is equidistant from both Carlow and Lismore. It is the largest, by far, population centre in the proposed division, bigger than Carlow and Kilkenny towns combined, and is the third or fourth busiest Garda station in the country.
‘Already we have people nonsensically suggesting that Kilkenny is the geographical centre when that patently is not the case. Can people even interpret a map correctly in this country?’
We all know by now that the weight of logical evidence for anything in Waterford can be disregarded by politics. If there is a politically driven decision against Waterford city then we can assume political interference. Conan Doyle said it in Sherlock Holmes. “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” It will also underline once and for all the inability of this government to support Waterford. The idea of a city in waiting will have to be rewritten as “a small town in the making” except I think we no longer have a cattle mart!
The Taoiseach speaks
Mr Varadkar’s 2017 speech at Bausch and Lomb where he said “Waterford, great city, will not be forgotten or overlooked as long as I am Taoiseach etc, etc” has been quoted here. The latter parts of that speech are telling. “Later this year, the Government will publish a new National Development Plan which will plan for the Ireland of 2040. I believe that plan should provide for significant population growth in this city. Waterford should aim to be a city of 75,000 by the middle of the century thus ending arguments about numbers and critical mass. It makes sense. You are the largest urban centre in the South East, you have good access to the motorway network and to the ports. You have relatively inexpensive housing. You have undeveloped land on the North Quays and elsewhere that can and should be unlocked. I share your ambitions to do exactly that.
“The Government I lead will work with Waterford, her politicians, her council, her business and community leaders to make all of this possible. Much of the work will need to be done here and led from here. Success has to be home-grown and led from home. Government will help – by removing barriers, blockages, building infrastructure and opening up new opportunities so the city can prosper. And we will give you the means by which you can drive the regeneration of Waterford yourself.” If, after that the HQ of the new Garda Division is not in Waterford, what then? The lack of visible evidence underpinning the Taoiseach’s lavish verbal support provides a clue.
Give us a hint
Is our political class non-functioning? The seemingly inevitable and persistent thrust of government policy is against Waterford, people ask, “What will we be left with?” The train crash merger, forced by Phil Hogan, which backed Waterford County Council (the most financially dependent on government of all Irish counties) into Waterford City has undermined the ability of the city to operate. The development of the lovely Greenway has denuded the city coffers of €17m as political promises to fund it have not been realised.
The Department of Education announced a €500m scheme last week for new buildings in UCC,UCD, Maynooth, NUI Galway and Sligo IT to create 15,000 new third level places. Not a single one of them will be at WIT. Not a cent has been invested in new buildings at WIT since 2004. Meanwhile, Minister at the Department of Education, John Halligan, who has been paid well in excess of €1m in salary and expenses since his 2011 election (value for money for Waterford?) has almost vanished. His social media presence is a vehicle for the regurgitation of facile government press releases. John Deasy has indicated he will retire after what seems to city folk as a life time of non-involvement.
The UHW saga continues with no visible progress on the second cath lab. Announcements by government last September of the recruitment of an additional cardiologist have been exposed as an outright lie. Construction of a new mortuary has not commenced. In fact, the whole of Waterford seems to be flailing around waiting for some never coming delivery by government of something, anything to indicate that this city has some relevance on the national stage. With the exception of one TD and two or three councillors, the over-riding impression is of political inertia and drift.
Additions and subtractions
Last week the lovely Viking longboat at Reginald’s Tower was moved to Mount Congreve, ostensibly to facilitate minor maintenance and oiling of the boat’s timbers and also allow the boat participate in a “maritime event” at the house. The eventual rationale, as relayed by councillors, being to spread tourism to various parts of the city and county.
The boat is a central and much loved part of the Viking Triangle. That area is slowly coming to the prominence and success it deserves. It still requires much more effort and marketing to fulfil its potential.
The proposed maintenance could (allegedly) not take place at Reginald’s Tower. The current “excuse” being, that complaints were received about the oil used for maintenance dripping on the paving. That happened when work was last done, because the pavement under the boat was not adequately covered. Moving the boat underlines the lack of a proper tourism plan for the city and county and a concerning, ad hoc approach.
We had a lovely attraction next to Reginald’s Tower where the boat obviously belongs. It is the most photographed item in the city according to social media records. Robbing Peter to pay Paul and thus diluting tourism development effort already made and obviously working is not a strategy. I fear for Waterford city’s future as a destination if this is the extent of our ambition.
Fragmenting tourism experience is not a successful growth idea. Of course develop something new at Mount Congreve, but don’t take away from something working well in the city and send a loved asset to stand forlornly in an undeveloped farmyard as a basis for a “maritime” festival. That is zero sum nonsense. A simple pontoon based at the old Mount Congreve/ Greenway/ Railway loading jetty would have allowed the Viking boat to sail up there in splendour and return quickly to its home in the city. No one could possibly object to the boat being thus used as it was intended. But the silly episode was worsened by poor communication and the original council intention to leave the boat in Mount Congreve until Winterval starts in November. That lack of understanding speaks volumes.
WIT’s South East Economic Monitor (SEEM) analysis has upset people in government. Gorey Guardian reports that Alan Quirke, Director of the government’s South East Action Plan for Jobs, has lashed out at a report published by WIT which bemoaned a lack of “high quality jobs” in the South East region. He described the report and the resulting coverage as “damaging to the region” and as “clickbait”. While the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described Wexford as “a county that is going well”, pointing to decreasing unemployment, the WIT report made grim reading.
Mr Quirke (on secondment from the Dept. of Enterprise) strongly disputes SEEM figures, stating that they neither accurately nor fairly depict the situation in the South East. Anyone who has read SEEM knows that its statistics are all from government sources. It constantly acknowledges the progress being made, but its independent research fairly suggests that the South East is playing catch-up at a very slow rate. There is an element of officialdom seeking to shoot the messenger about Mr Quirke’s response.
While An Taoiseach proclaimed that unemployment is down by half in Wexford since his party came to office, detailed research undertaken by independent WIT academics indicates that, while it may be decreasing, it is still more than twice the national average and while the economy of the South East is growing, it’s at a slower pace than the rest of the country. The Gorey Guardian newspaper says, “What can’t be argued against, however, is a lack of IDA interest in Wexford. Looking at the record of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, this report found that just over 5% of all IDA supported jobs were in the region, while population numbers suggest that the figure should be nearly twice this. The South East received just 6% of IDA visits across the state in 2018, which according to SEEM “suggests little appetite to address the deficit in IDA-supported jobs in the region”.SEEM also suggest that the Action Plan for Jobs was some way off the target of bringing unemployment figures in the South East to within 1% of the national average and even Mr Quirke acknowledges this is “challenging”! While government officials dispute the SEEM research, Wexford Fianna Fáil Deputy James Browne was taking them seriously when he raised the neglect of the South East in the Dáil. “The South East consistently has the highest rate of unemployment in the country,” he said. I put my faith in SEEM.