Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The campaign for university designation for Waterford has been going on for nearly 80 years.

The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years, as published in this week’s print edition

 

THE idea that everything in Ireland must be fought for in the political arena, unless you count yourself among the favoured, is a constant mantra in this area. We used to have a notion in these parts, largely fed by local politicians, that Waterford city counted, being the fourth city and third port of Ireland, in the national scheme of things and that if we only voted for x or y then everything would drop into our lap. Alas, government funding thought differently and we find ourselves as the fifth city and down the list in terms of the port’s importance. Politics had different priorities and in different parts of the country.

Other than Martin Cullen, who is the exception that proves the rule, waiting for something to be delivered from government in the absence of political power is a very dispiriting experience. These thoughts came very much into mind when reading in the Examiner last week that a new €77m elective hospital of 200,000 square feet, about two and a quarter Dunmore wings, will be built in Cork before 2024. There has been much talk of those over the years and indicative drawings show yet another high quality architectural set piece for Leeside, the ramifications of which have yet to be seen and felt here. In any event Cork gets architecture and Waterford gets blocks.

The CUH development has been signposted in the Sláintecare programme but it is amazing how a Cork project can progress in the background without any of the crippling steps that HSE projects endure here. A seamless transition from idea to completion overseen by the Taoiseach and two senior ministers! It has been reported before in this paper that HSE projects have 11 different steps, for the likes of us, before completion. Someone has to fly over the cuckoo’s nest or land a space shuttle in Ardkeen Stores before eventual sign off on a Waterford project… presuming they get signed off.

 

“The Friends of the University of the South East (FUSE) are the fifth pressure group pushing for university designation for Waterford in the near 80 years of the campaign.”

 

Delay is the favoured tactic. It is desperately hard to understand (politically, not really) how a mortuary which was identified as a priority in 2001 could only now be coming to completion, 20 years later. The latest wheeze I hear is that it will take many months to commission for 2022. The new St Patrick’s hospital was ready to go in 2008 but was pushed back and back in the HSE priority list for a decade. Is this politics or corruption? A group of dedicated people stood and protested at St Patrick’s every week for 10 years to bring attention to the delay. Even when government green lights a project in this area, the good is inevitably been taken out of it by delay.

One hesitates to even mention the proposed second UHW cath lab, which has all but vanished into the ether nearly 2.5 years after Simon Harris agreed to its construction.

Some months before Christmas, Minister (Department of Health) Mary Butler welcomed a HSE “announcement” of 12 new consultant posts and a new mental health unit at UHW. One would imagine that being in that department Ms Butler would be in apposition to give these matters the necessary political push? But, the posts have not been authorised by the Consultant Appointment Advisory Committee or advertised on the Public Jobs website and no design, planning or tender related to a new unit has been advertised on the government’s e-tenders website. Is Ms Butler regurgitating fake news?

It is already the case that Fine Gael has no TD in this constituency and has been decimated across the South East. Ms Butler is Fianna Fáil’s only representative in this constituency. Current soundings and opinion polls have Fianna Fáil at a miserable 15%. At that level it is doubtful, even by clinging to a traditional rural vote, that Ms Butler will hold her seat at the next election. The Green Party is on 3% and at that level, the seat of Marc O Cathasaigh will not survive beyond the first count. John Cummins probably believes that Fine Gael’s 28% will deliver him a seat but there is now such antipathy to Fine Gael in this area that such hopes are firmly in the lap of the gods.

The reality is that the next election may be four more years away and massive decisions affecting Waterford will have been taken and embedded by that time. In particular, the Model 4 status of our hospital and the proposed Tech University. In the last government it was common to hear locals calling for the resignation of Minister John Halligan. The popular response was that he was better off as a minister trying to change things and staying in government. That option will not present itself to current government Oireachtas members.

Ms Butler has tied herself and her party leader to the delivery of 24/7 cardiology at UHW with a now (in)famous photo outside UHW. A decision to locate the HQ of the proposed TUSE anywhere other than Waterford will explode local political options in a welter of blame and recriminations. That location will probably be known later this year. If it goes anywhere but Waterford it will never come back and the status of this city will be diminished for good. Game over! Mr Cullinane supports the TUSE with the luxury of being outside government. Should such a monumental and humiliating decision go against the oldest city in Ireland, it is impossible to imagine Ms Butler, Mr O’Cathasaigh or John Cummins ever being elected as a TD in this constituency. Indeed they would be rightly ashamed to stand for election in the face of such humiliation. Do they get the point that their political futures are intimately connected with the HQ of the TUSE and the Model 4 status of UHW?

There has been no public comment indicating their thinking on the HQ issue. It’s all very well saying the “TUSE Is the only game in town”, and government is emphatic on that point, but the natives are getting restive. That bodes ill for local politics. It is unsurprising that the Friends of the University of the South East (FUSE) have reformed. They took over from the Waterford University Action Group circa 2008 to push for university designation for Waterford and are the fifth such pressure group with that aim in the near 80 years of the campaign. A TUSE with its largest campus and HQ in Waterford is the only chance of delivering the university the city and region needs, regardless of what is developed elsewhere in the region.

In recent weeks there has been more talk of work on the old Glass factory offices on the Cork Road. The current state of the building is disgraceful and offensive. The site would make a very attractive addition to WIT but people should remember that WIT is not short of property solutions for expansion or growth. It has a huge and largely undeveloped site at Carriganore. A site, with planning permission for two (now combined into one) major buildings at the Cork Road, has lain undeveloped for 10 years. Plans for building on that site may not proceed for years. It is a shocking state of affairs that some €30m has been pumped into Carlow IT in the past few years with zero funding for any new teaching space at WIT. The TUSE HQ for Waterford is a must or else there will be boots on the streets again in this city to the detriment of current and aspiring political careers. Nothing survives without being fought for. A battle royal looms for Waterford.

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By Phoenix
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