The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
AFTER the October 1985 launch of the Bannon Report, which recommended an independent Technological University for Waterford, a senior public servant said to me, “this will never happen”. That comment started the column. The mayor at the time Liam Curham founded a University Action Group with Padraig O’Gríofa, Michael Manahan, Paddy Kenneally, Anthony Brophy (all deceased), Oliver Clery and others. They fought for a generation for university designation for Waterford comparable to UL. Now, as a new MTU is established between Cork and Tralee ITs, we are stuck in a situation where our politician and commercial interests have decided the uncharted TUSE territory is the only game in town. Those who push it, Department of Education, HEA et al, plus senior FF and FG politicians are unable to tell us anything about the future structure, funding, independence and location of the HQ of that TUSE. Waterford has been ransacked by powerful politicians and is reeling after 10 years of antipathetic government.
Remember, TUSE means WIT will be disbanded and replaced with a plethora of competing campuses all over the South East, with a diminution of Waterford research and academic strength. No other proposed TU is exposed to so much internal regional competition. Our decisions should be informed by the fact that for the past decade, while the university sector was stuffed with investment, new buildings and vastly increased student numbers, WIT has been stalled, funding and management eviscerated, with badly needed new teaching space on the long finger.
‘Will we spend the next five years watching Cork steal our dinner? The Cork media are thrilled. Cork is now a counterbalance to Dublin, two universities no less.’
The election in the South East clarified the issue of delivering economic transformation and halting the brain drain. A twelve to fifteen thousand student university is needed. A UCD beater. That is Dr Ray Griffin’s view, who despite being able to talk about little else for years on end, was unusually silent on last week’s developments.
Where is the plan for a university of real substance at the end of the complex TUSE merger? Dublin TU was a rationalisation of Blanchardstown and Tallaght Institutes by DIT, the Cork university of technology, CUT or MUT, is the rationalisation of Tralee IT. But the South East needs an expansionary platform.
Those who spent the last decade practically destroying this city and the region it serves are among those calling to “get the TU done”. I say to them “get stuffed”! But of course, that is what they have been saying to us for a long time.
We gather here today to grieve for our fallen comrade in arms, Kerry. Like many modern Kingdoms, Kerry has absolutely no power and makes bad choices about who to shack up with. They may have got electricity in the 1950s and shoes for their children soon afterwards. But make no mistake, without the magnificent scenic beauty to lift the heart, Kerry is a poor, isolated spot on the map.
Last week it lost its only independent seat of third level learning, IT Tralee. Education is always the pathway out of poverty and backwardness. Kerry is the true rebel county, experimenting with an entirely new model of civilisation and economic development. They are betting their future on ignorance. In this fiercely radical move, they are also trying to get by without access to modern medicine, having lost most of their medical services to a hospital in Cork, two hours away by car, a six hour cycle, or just over 21 hours away by foot. A prospect in every Kerry person’s future! Kerry took the magic beans of university, for their health first in university hospital Kerry, and now in their education, the Munster University of Technology. The hanging insult of the name Munster is just bonus points for Cork, similar to James Bond’s quip to someone who he just killed.
MUT is a dodgy creation. The process of becoming a technological university is set out in law, with particular criteria. The international panel who gathered to review this MUT application did not support the creation of this TU. This MUT did not meet the criteria. The Minister has a power under the act to dissolve the two colleges anyway and create a technological university without meeting the criteria. A Minister whose Government lost power over 100 days ago appears to have created a new university out of a black hole, because it certainly was not produced by the process envisaged in legislation.
Three influential Cork politicians conjured this magic. Simon, “a statutory boundary extension is only advice” Coveney. Michael, “if WIT gets an upgrade CIT does too” Martin, and Michael, “I work in the shadows for Cork” McGrath, will be in the next cabinet. In fact, they may be the whole next cabinet.
Will we spend the next five years watching Cork steal our dinner? The Cork media are thrilled. Cork is now a counterbalance to Dublin, two universities no less. Soon they will need their own Luas, IKEA, velodrome and maybe even 24/7 cardiac care. That’s a joke by the way, no one can have 24/7 cardiac care, it is just a fairy tale creation. At least we are getting a new mortuary, which will cheer us all up.
Cork FF are now in charge of the show and evidence of that was the odd visitation of Senator Malcolm Byrne to our homes via the ever excellent Damien Tiernan’s WLR show last Wednesday. Byrne, a former UCD Student’s Union President no less and a former bigwig in Dublin’s Higher Education Authority, was here to tell us muckers to “get the TU done”. But he must think we came down in the last shower if we buy that. We might be poor, but we’re not stupid.
Pedestrianisation and traffic
In recent weeks our council has opened a new road and traffic system in the Browne’s Lane, Castle Street, Hennessy’s Road area. I drove it five or six times in recent days just to see what all the hub bub on social media was about. We can all appreciate that traffic is very light in these troubled times, but other than an excess of pedestrian traffic lights, the whole system works very sensibly and is actually quite rational. It’s possible to drive from Bath Street up Bunker’s Hill across Hennessy’s Road to the end of Barrack Street in a very efficient way. The little network of one way streets around the Mayor’s Walk is sensible and allows traffic to circulate. I have come to the conclusion that either: people simply cannot drive and don’t understand road signage, will complain about everything and anything simply because the council is doing it, or are complaining about this as a sort of substitute for general unhappiness about the current pandemic or how they perceive the city to be performing.
We saw and heard the same guff (it’s almost ritualistic by now) when Manor Street/ Bath Street and Railway Square one-way system was being laid out. Yet that system has worked very smoothly since its inception and has eased traffic flow. It’s the same with pedestrianisation and traffic flow in the Apple Market and John Roberts Square. Some sort of legion of the rearguard wants every street, everywhere in Waterford city to be open at all times to private car traffic. It’s madness! Now the suggestions are coming thick and fast from all quarters in the face of the pandemic fall out and need for social distancing that whole streets and parts of towns and cities should be closed off to facilitate business in pubs, restaurants and other retail.
Towns big and small are falling over each other to suggest which part of their towns should be closed to traffic to allow business and by extension retail and town centre life to survive. The corollary is that people, bikes and pedestrian traffic (plus buses and taxis) should be given priority in all our town and city centres, over the private car. People will be expected to walk more in the city centre we all love, and what’s wrong with that?