The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
OUR capacity for calm was being tested to the limit with the inaction of this government on our acute hospital services. People began to wonder if the Dublin expectation that we would tire of protest and give in to the gruelling underfunding and under resourcing of UHW and just go tamely into the night would come true. Would we leave our dead behind us on the floor of a mortuary which has been out of date since 2002, while waiting for any move on the development of a second cath lab and expansion of cardiology services? The death of 40-year-old Tom Power in June 2017 was horrific. The death of Una McDermott in March 2018, having presented at UHW in adequate time, was appalling. The death of 58-year-old Dick Sullivan who was sent home from UHW with a prescription, in common with the death of Tom Power and Una McDermott, was probably entirely preventable had they had access to appropriate interventional cardiology at UHW when they arrived there.
‘People in other towns and cities are not sitting around on their haunches waiting for Waterford city to catch up. It’s a dog eat dog commercial world and opportunity must be fought for and worked at.’
We know of these three deaths because they were high profile and the families of those involved spoke out publicly. How many cases ended in silent tears and private bereavement away from the glare of publicity, without the public ever being aware of those personal tragedies? If we believe last week’s announcements from Minister for Health Simon Harris, of an imminent start on a new mortuary, planning application for second cath lab and full funding for palliative care unit, it’s because the public and media scrutiny around those three deaths has finally begun to work. It was never easy for the families involved, but their pain has been a sacrifice made for all our benefit. Everyone in Irish healthcare and from the Taoiseach down knows that UHW has been under resourced and underfunded for years. It’s time for that to end and for the disgraceful manipulation of its budget by the SSWHG in Cork to be ended.
Wriggling on a political hook
What doesn’t kill you makes you strong! It has never been easy to follow that advice if you live here. Like mackerel on a spinner, we are forced to fight to retain what we have and attain what we need across the spectrum of state services. Ours is not a single issue city. There is not a single facet of state policy where we do not have a vital interest, be it our port, our hospital, our third level institution and so on. Neglect and lack of state investment has almost brought us to our knees. All with the intent of distracting us so that we can’t fight and organise properly for what we really need. Distraction politics as a spectator sport for the government and its senior mandarins.
Has anyone in the past 50 years ever heard of Galway, the poster child of Ireland’s West of Ireland love affair, ever having to fight for anything, ever? It’s the City of Culture 2020 brought about by a tidal wave of artistic investment over the years, not least of which has been €9 million for a new arthouse cinema. That’s the cost of two fully fitted cath labs to you and me.
Not having to fight for industry, commerce, education, health allows the burghers of the western city ample time to concentrate on their next artistic interlude, their next festival offering. Sometimes it has been insufferable and I sincerely doubt if it is only the people of Waterford who take silent umbrage at the hubris and privilege that our western friends often display. We wish them well, but we also wish for a fair share of what’s going. The Ireland 2040 plan and its identification of Waterford city as one of the key urban areas to drive the plan gave us some comfort, but being listed in a government plan without follow up investment and action, further undermines confidence.
The latest news gives us hope that “Waterford” has percolated into the mind set in government buildings and that our Oireachtas members are able to access the corridors of power. But, people should remember that the mortuary at UHW was identified as a priority in 2012 and put on the HSE National Capital Plan in 2014 and still nothing was done until the scandal about bodies decomposing on the old mortuary floor broke in this newspaper. And, that a proposed planning application for a second cath lab is coming a year after the commitment to build it was given. The reality is that cranes on the site of UHW will have a huge political impact at the next general election.
Meanwhile, to continue the battlefield analogies, the fight continues on our northern flank. Funding for issues around the North Quays development has been opaque from the start. When the first tranche of ERDF funding of €6 million was announced in November 2018 it was greeted with real scepticism. It was followed by government announcements that there would be a second bite of the cherry to be had in February 2019. That has not happened and although Waterford has been given some assurance of further funding to come in the next round, that process has not even started. It is expected within the next month or so with a decision in February 2020. It will also be very competitive with projects from all over the country fighting for a share of the available funds.
In the interim, the planning application from the developers has still not been submitted. It is expected within weeks, but a trawl of the internet comes up with headlines like “Planning application to be submitted within days for North Quays”. It’s obvious that the developers are still waiting for a visible sign of real commitment from government for this project. There has an expectation in council here that the project would be well under way by now with the Michael Street centre, which would have a huge retail impact in the city centre, being built. That has not happened.
It is worth remembering that the Horgan’s Quay development in Cork is now signing up its first tenants. The Abbey Quarter development in Kilkenny has been launched by Leo Varadkar and work is under way. The Trinity Wharf development is emerging from planning in Wexford and the Opera Centre in Limerick is underway. I am sure that there are more such developments all around the country. All of them seek the same space and opportunity that has been targeted by the North Quays.
People in other towns and cities are not sitting around on their haunches waiting for Waterford city to catch up. It’s a dog eat dog commercial world and opportunity must be fought for and worked at. It never stays still. If work could be seen to start on the new pedestrian bridge, it would be a real sign that the long awaited renaissance at the North Quays was finally under way. That point is not lost on anyone.
A regular reader sent some photos of the Walton Park in Dungarvan. It looks lovely, with lights, flowers, foundation and immaculate grass cutting. Dungarvan is emerging as a lovely tourist destination on the model of Clonakilty or Skibbereen in West Cork. A lot of that success has been on the back of the Waterford Greenway. The amalgamation of city and county shunted the county with very few resources into the city. Some in Fine Gael will tell you that the city was adequately recompensed for that move, but from a professional analysis, the county was really strapped for cash if not bankrupt as an entity. It always had an extremely low rate base. Anyway that’s in the past. However, the amalgamation did dry up whatever liquidity that Waterford city had and there are rumours of the council being under the financial cosh, presumably because of the costs associated so far with the North Quays.
While Walton Park is rightly beautifully maintained, the same could not be said for the city’s People’s Park. The grass is cut there but the rose garden around the bandstand is full of weeds, massive thistles and generally looks unkempt.
The ornamental Crystal Ball fountain has not worked in years and is now full of mud and debris. This was the situation on Tuesday, October 2. On the same day I drove to Tramore and saw council staff clearing a small field adjacent to the first roundabout one meets when entering Tramore. They were doing an excellent job. The approaches to Tramore deserve all the care they get as the town is very important to Waterford but there must be a single standard of care and maintenance all across the city and county. That does not seem to be the case at present. Litter collection from the city centre to WIT, a hugely trafficked stretch of street is also problematic. A lot of progress has been made on the one city one county story, but the city as the economic driver of the whole county must get the attention it requires.
A member of the city council brought me on a tour of the Travelling community halting sites in the city. Sadly the situation which has been allowed to develop in Ballybeg over many years and which has largely gone unchallenged is turning up in other areas. Unauthorised developments can be seen in both Williamstown and Carrickphierish. Scrapping of cars and willy-nilly spreading of refuse and loose horses everywhere, is widespread. This is in no one’s interest, and is acknowledged as being difficult. But that is not enough for people in the vicinity of the various halting sites who have paid dearly for housing. Everyone is for live and let live and Travelling families deserve decent living space and this is all tied up with the local Traveller Accommodation Plan, but there has to be some sort of quid pro quo.