The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
LEO Varadkar was Taoiseach for three years from May 2017. A man with local roots, we thought the word Waterford would resound with him. We believed he was a man who understands our difficulties. We wanted him to do something about them on the basis of equity rather than parochialism. We were wrong, cynically fooled, even.
Real parochialism was made plain by the selection of three cabinet ministers from one Cork constituency and three Green party ministers in Dublin. We saw first-time Kerry TD Norma Healy plucked from obscurity and appointed as Minister for Education in a defensive move against the Healy-Raes.
This was similar to Dick Spring pushing Waterford’s Brian O’Shea (Labour’s then spokesman on Education) out of the way in 1992 so that he could appoint Niamh Breathnach as Education Minister on her first day in the Dáil.
And we also had Green Party leader Eamon Ryan disregarding dedicated Waterford Green cadre by selecting Laois-Offaly-based Pippa Hackett – Grace O’Sullivan’s Seanad co-optee – and then appointing her as a super junior minister at the expense of Waterford TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh. Talk about an offensive political snub.
‘We are supposedly governed from Dublin but it appears that every major decision related to Waterford is also passed through the Cork government filter as well.’
This politically engineered nonsense played to the Dublin media commentariat view that “cabinet ministers should be elected on their capacity and not have anything to do with this awful rural parochialism”. The sentiments expressed from the Dublin bubble do not reflect our reality in Waterford.
Leo Varadkar was Minister for Health in 2015 when he simply gave a second cath lab to Beaumont Hospital. He promptly announced that no more cath labs (meaning UHW) were to be built without a national review. He effectively destroyed Paudie Coffey (Waterford’s real hope of cabinet representation) in the 2016 election by not granting the UHW cath lab.
He then destroyed Paudie again come the 2020 election when Fine Gael decided to field three candidates in Waterford rather than two. Coffey had supported Simon Coveney in the 2017 FG leadership election, in which Varadkar ultimately prevailed.
We are supposedly governed from Dublin but it appears that every major decision related to Waterford is also passed through the Cork government filter as well.
Waterford is being blatantly and deliberately undermined at every hand’s turn on anything to do with acute medicine, third level education and most things in between.
Varadkar left his own people be ridden into the ground over the past three years, copper-fastening the kicking we got from the Kenny brigade in the previous five years.
Tánaiste Varadkar now promised a “radical and far-reaching” stimulus plan for jobs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in the guise of the July Jobs Stimulus Plan.
Mr Varadkar promises it will “help our country recover, repair the damage that has been done, and restore confidence and prosperity.” He said there is “no time to waste.”
Mr Varadkar has an opportunity to help Waterford. Will he do so? It is amazing how quickly (after having full planning in 2015) a new mortuary could be put in train at UHW when Varadkar discovered he’d been poorly advised about the mortuary situation. It appears that no-one ever came up with an explanation as to why four pathologists in UHW could do 600 post mortems in 2018 while it took 20 pathologists to do 800 in Cork University Hospital. How could this be.
The Government is fully aware of the North Quays project but has failed to embrace it. Full planning may have been granted by the time you read this. Either way, Waterford City & County Council has blown its resources to get this huge project over the line. We will know soon enough the real extent of FF/FG support for the development.
FF haven’t been too publicly enamoured about the project up to now although Mary Butler did reference the need to get the development across the line when interviewed by this newspaper recently. But the poof of that pudding will only be revealed in the eating, of course.
Wednesday last, July 8, was the 35th anniversary of the first Ryanair flight from Waterford to London. An application for planning for the runway extension that should have happened in 1990 will be submitted shortly. Knock and Kerry Airports have carved a niche in Irish aviation because they have Boeing 737 capable runways.
Is there anyone, anywhere in Ireland who believes that the development path of Waterford Airport would not have been significantly different had we had one?
But of course, a jet runway might have impinged on the activities of Cork Airport, an airport which only survived because its massive debts were taken over by Dublin Airport Authority.
Funnily enough the DAA must now stump up to save Dusseldorf Airport in Germany as our state company has a 20% share in its ownership! Will the new FFG government give Waterford Airport a fighting chance or will Mr Ryan’s Green agenda torpedo that as well?
Last week Sinn Féin politicians described as ‘positive and progressive’ a meeting which took place with representatives from IT Carlow. The purpose of this meeting, which was attended by party councillors and Wexford TD Johnny Mythen, Dr Patricia Mulcahy (ITC President) and John Moore (Chairperson), was to progress the South East plan and to find a site for a Wexford campus.
We all know that the caretaker Minister for Education rubber stamped the Munster TU merger of Cork and Tralee ITs without bothering to resubmit the application to the international panel which had refused to support the idea a year ago – Cork political power and exceptionalism at play again. We have become inured to the notion of different rules for us and them.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin should be reminded of his statement from FF HQ of February 3, 2016. “The Minister’s attempt to force mergers and consolidation is a cost saving measure pure and simple. There are absolutely no academic or logical reasons that just because an IT merges with a neighbouring IT that it should be any more, or less eligible, to be given University Status,” he said.
“We need to ensure that Fine Gael and Labour are not involved with the next government and are not able to proceed with this regressive Bill which will decimate the IT sector. Fianna Fáil will not support the Technological Universities Bill in next Dáil. We support the establishment of Technological Universities; however, we believe that ITs should be eligible to apply for Technological University status on their own without the necessity of a merger. ITs should not be forced to merge.”
There is not an adult in the third level sector who believes the forced merger between Waterford and Carlow ITs is anything but a ministerial device to re-organise the IoT sector.
Stand-alone small campuses spread all over the place have not worked in Wexford, Kilkenny, Clonmel and Nenagh or and they will not work for a TUSE.
What Irish university has them? Neither staff nor students like them. But who cares? Sinn Féin is supportive of this for party political reasons and nothing else. That does not make it right or sensible. The future of third level education in Waterford is at stake and a new department of higher Education headed by Simon Harris and former Department of Health Secretary General Jim Breslin is now in place. Don’t expect any favours from this odd couple who screwed Waterford royally in their previous department.