Thursday, December 19, 2019

IT’S rightly the flavour of the month. None of us ever thought that we would see homeless people on the streets of Waterford and to be fair the council and other stakeholders have worked hard to prevent it by ensuring beds are available. Some weeks ago there was a man camped in the People’s Park and when people talked about it, stories of whole families living on the edge of the canals in Dublin emerged. It’s really hard to believe it.

Local councils once built social housing and Waterford City Council had a fairly exemplary record having built social housing as long ago as 1887. The decision to sell council houses to tenants and give special grants and lump sums to people who left council houses to buy a house of their own was done in the name of enlightened social policy but has not worked.

Council divested themselves of housing stocks and solutions were left to the market. Inevitably better off local authority tenants, with good jobs, surrendered housing leaving many local authority estates without a socially inclusive mix. Many became home to problem tenants, with unemployment and other social problems to the fore. In former times, it was common in Waterford to have all manner of people in local authority houses, but that mould, which fostered community spirit and inclusivity, has been broken.

 

‘In former times, it was common in Waterford to have all manner of people in local authority houses, but that mould, which fostered community spirit and inclusivity, has been broken.’

 

They do things differently in Vienna, in Austria. There, a single person earning €44,000 pa, qualifies for social housing, as does a married couple earning €66,000 and a married couple with two children earning €83,000 pa. The average monthly rent is €4.75 per square metre. An average council house in Ireland might be 90 square metres indicating a monthly rent (on an Austrian basis) of €426.75. Most social housing in Vienna is high quality apartments built by the city or by local companies.

Increasingly there are calls in Ireland for more apartments. Approximately 8% of our population live in them compared to about 40% in continental Europe. The three-bed semi, stand-alone house with front and back garden is deeply ingrained in the Irish psyche. When local authorities in Ireland built apartments many degenerated quickly into uncared for, ill maintained and unloved grottiness. Many were demolished.

Are Irish people afraid of apartments? If they buy or rent one, will they have any supports if trouble erupts above, below or beside them? We have laws to deal with these issues in Ireland but local authorities will tell you of the prolonged difficulties they face in decanting very troublesome tenants. Yet apartments must figure on the solution to our housing problems and to climate change. Urban sprawl is in no one’s interest, with new facilities having to be constantly provided ever farther from the urban core in response to new housing developments.

Increasingly we see, even locally, new traditional housing estates designed and built with car ownership and transport in mind. Concrete driveways have replaced gardens and concrete footpaths invariably omit grass verges. Landscaping, where it is provided, is of the stalky engineer’s trees stuck down at random in unused corners of new developments. This cannot be good for us or good for the planet and our local planning authority has a major responsibility to ensure that housing is high density and well landscaped and surrounded by suitable tree planting. Think globally and act locally is apt. We have a bit to go on that yet.

 

One swallow?

Does not make a summer, but it was heart-warming to hear oncologist Paula Calvert speak at the opening of 17 new specialist single rooms in UHW’s Dunmore Wing for the treatment of haematology cancer patients. This development is long overdue and, with the forecast opening in 2020 of the Palliative Care unit in the same building, begins to give us hope of a future for UHW as a Model 4 hospital.

There are nine major hospitals in Ireland, five of them in Dublin, and four in the provinces. The latter are in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway. Only UHW does not have its own independent CEO, but is controlled by the CEO of the Cork-based SSWHG. That has been, to say the least, a difficult relationship. How local management can push UHW when the Cork agenda always intervenes is anyone’s guess, but happily, the appointment of UHW manager Grace Rothwell has brought change.

The James Reilly inspired hospital group policy, putting UHW under Cork control, was done with the intent of reducing our hospital to the Level 3 status of Kerry General. It is to the eternal discredit of medical staff in CUH that they tried to discredit cardiology services at UHW in the national media when the Herity Report emerged by suggesting that our hospital was doing minor level treatments instead of the full panoply of cardiology services that were subsequently proven. The lure of a bigger budget for themselves perhaps?

The longer Cork control has persisted, the more obvious just how important UHW is to the national health services. The HSE cannot deliver its remit without a fully functioning UHW. The volume of patients and treatments make decanting any South East services to either Cork or Dublin utterly ridiculous.

Recent moves to deal with the mental health unit at UHW also suggest the difficulties experienced by the poor staffing at UHW are coming to the fore. Still, like for like comparison of UHW and Limerick UH show the latter hospital with 900 more staff. That is an awful comparison.

Recent ads for new nursing staff at UHW across all specialties point to an increased awareness of UHW’s importance. Good news about the long awaited mortuary and second cath lab would copper fasten that situation. The ultimate necessary solution is for UHW to have an independent CEO like all other major hospitals. Ms Rothwell’s name should be in the frame for that promotion.

 

Moving

A new Jobs.ie survey suggests 7 in 10 Irish workers have thought about moving to a different county for work. Most choose Galway, Cork or Dublin. A reasonable number would choose to move to Waterford. The research discovered staff no longer want to work for a specific company, but are prioritising quality of life. Jobs.ie General Manager, Christopher Paye says Waterford is becoming a popular choice: “16% of those surveyed said they would move to Waterford, which is actually a fairly substantial amount seeing as it’s not one of the major cities.”

There are only five official cities in Irish legislation. Places such as Sligo, Kilkenny and Drogheda push the title relentlessly although none have metro district legislation as Waterford does. It is hard to accept the “not one of the major cities” bit, but that is the inevitable judgement of the Dublin market.

Whether we like it or not we still have a poor profile, albeit improving, in the capital. Marketing of our city there still leaves a whole lot to be desired. That being said, being at the heart of government concerns in investment and job creation is what’s really important. That, coupled with the location of a university, is the discriminant between the “major cities” and us. Fine Gael’s promise of university status for Waterford based on WIT goes back to 2008. It has not been honoured. Last week, the RCSI was upgraded to full university status, making it the state’s ninth university.

WIT is 50 years old in 2020. It would be nice to celebrate that birthday with university status. The reality is that WIT has been undermined at all levels since Fine Gael came into power. Not a cent has been spent on new teaching space there since 2005. Money talks and political influence counts, WIT has not seen either in recent years.

This and the previous government have found it almost impossible to discriminate positively in favour of Waterford, despite much talk of doing so. In vital areas like WIT and UHW has there been a presumption against Waterford? Leo Varadkar came here often and told us how much we mattered. In the end of the day, were they just political words? We never expected anything from him because his mother is from Waterford, but thought in our innocence that the connection would allow him see more clearly what is needed and necessary here and act accordingly. Has he? After nine years of Fine Gael government and facing into a general election, people in this constituency will face choices at the ballot box. The continuing lack of university status will influence many in the local electorate.

 

Identifying City Hall

Some councillors suggest that City Hall is not as identifiable as it should be. They might start a process of improvement with small signage pointing to the building. They might also act to ensure the main central doors to the building are opened and used as a formal entrance. In recent years many dignitaries have been admitted through the small staff and service entrance on The Mall. It does nothing for us. City Hall is a wonderful 18th century building with a magnificent foyer shared with the Theatre Royal. The mayoral exhibition on the ground floor is worth a visit and must surely be of interest to locals and visitors. There is also a wonderful painting of the city in 52 separate segments by Dublin artist Blaise Smith in the foyer. It would help a lot if the front elevation of City Hall was properly floodlit and presented.

The tragedy of the four ornate lamps presented to the city in 1869 by Mayor Cornelius Redmond underlines a lack of care and ambition to show the building as the council HQ. One of the lights is missing its lamp for more than a year. Another has been hit by a heavy vehicle and is leaning at an angle and the lights have not been lit for a very long time. Seeing the frontage of City Hall in darkness during the winter highlights the perception in many places that the council is actively disinterested in presenting their HQ building as their urban centre piece. Why this should be so is anyone’s guess. Is the council amalgamation agenda at play?

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By Phoenix
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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