Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The former Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre at Kilbarry, which has been mentioned as a possible campus site for the Technological University of the South East.


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

IT’S a line from a song in the film “Mahogany” sung by Diana Ross. It goes, “Do you know where you’re going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you?” It’s an appropriate ask for the TUSE process. Can anyone give a sensible rationale for where we’re going or why? Is the rush to get the word university over the door in any form supposed to make us all step into line regardless of the outcome?

Waterford and WIT are being rushed into something that reeks of high politics and political sacrifice. The carcass on the altar is WIT. How will the spoils of battle be shared? We don’t know where we are going, no plans, no money, just talk, but anyone seeing that the CEO of Waterford City and County Council was not appointed to the TUSE advisory board while his Kilkenny and Wexford counterparts were, must surely question the direction of travel.

The proposed TUSE is not a traditional university. It is not UL or UCG. Why not? Why must Waterford city settle for second best? Are we not entitled to seek facilities on par with our one time peer cities of Limerick and Galway? Instead, the noise one hears in the background is the lemming like stampede of local politicians, business, IBEC, the Chamber of Commerce, rushing headlong to support a process which will permanently divide Waterford from the other cities of Ireland and settle it into a kind of second class limbo between the “proper” Irish cities, with real independent universities (offering a full spread of courses) plus a Tech Uni and the county towns?

Despite the placatory language in the Ireland 2040 Plan about Waterford’s place in the sun and growing the city population, is the reality second class city-ship? Is that what we are, what we have become? What did Thucydides say? “Strong cities do what they can, weak cities suffer what they must.”


‘I walked out to WIT today and looked at the engineering school site, which has been abandoned by Fine Gael for 12 years and made up my own mind’


Is the TUSE merely the rattle of baubles and beads to distract the local natives from a humiliation being imposed under their noses, mere cover for the 30 pieces of silver? Unfortunately, it will take a generation to see the real outcome, but as ever, the political horizon extends only to the next election. Just time enough to be banging on doors, like Jack in the Beanstalk, to show us all the handful of magic beans we sold our urban ambition and aspirations for?

I suppose it’s OK for our one time peer cities to each have a large traditional university and a Tech Uni, just like they have 24/7 cardiology and fully resourced Model 4 hospitals with medical schools? After all, we are settling for second best and have decided that we don’t really expect to be treated as a city like the places we used to relate to? It’s not even about winning, it’s about clinging on? Being satisfied with the crumbs that the smug, self-satisfied princelings in Cork and Dublin allow us to have? Whatever happened to pride?

On 28th April next, WIT is likely, having been frog marched by Tom Boland through the TUSE process to the sound of Fine Gael’s marching band and the cheering of its supporters, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Carlow IT inviting an international panel to adjudicate their claim to be a Tech Uni.

Even if the panel rejects it, the Minister will endorse the TUSE on 1st January 2022.The word Waterford will be erased from the world of third level education. Just like our independent city status was destroyed in 2014 by Phil Hogan, just like our two VECs were hijacked to Wexford.

A Waterford HQ location is crucial if anything is to be saved from this rapacity. If the TUSE is created next January, a new board will be installed to decide who gets what. Will it be stuffed with political appointees from Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford, ready and willing to outvote Waterford on any issue? When did anyone, political or otherwise, from any of those counties ever support development at WIT? We last saw such patent gerrymandering in 1972 when the SEHB was established. A majority of members appointed to the new board were from Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny. Lo and behold, they voted for the HQ to be in Kilkenny and a regional hospital, 30% reduced in size, was delivered to Waterford. Quelle surprise!

The old Crystal showrooms at Kilbarry are like Berlin 1945, smoke blackened and wrecked. The whole Kilbarry Cross area has fallen into a deplorable state in recent years. Another fire recently damaged an abandoned warehouse there and the Yellow House pub is awful.

Our council and Noel Frisby Construction (the owners of the Crystal site) are hoping to announce some sort of welcome master plan for the area. Their hope is that WIT or government will buy some portion of the site to extend the WIT Cork Road campus. It would make a sensible and logical addition to the WIT campus and even the Dept. of Further Education are allegedly “interested” in helping. Didn’t Leo tell us as much? But, two hundred yards up the road, at the back of the WIT main building, a site with planning permission for a new engineering building since 2009, lies idle. Plans were drawn up and abandoned several times. Out in Carriganore, WIT has a vast land bank which could easily absorb a new university campus.

Land and property are not scarce at WIT and the purchase of the Crystal site merely extends their property portfolio without increasing much needed teaching space one iota. Why bother? Let Simon Harris announce an immediate start for the engineering building and then by all means buy the Crystal site. But he won’t do that. I heard him on Wexford’s South East radio promising the delivery of a 45-acre campus (more property acquisition to weigh down the new TUSE) there in conjunction with Carlow IT. The man who sanctioned a second cath lab for UHW in August 2018 which is still not built!

Those who have watched the Waterford quest for university designation over the past three generations must be aghast at the scenario now unfolding. We are being dragooned, step by step into a process over which we have no control, other than to reject the process completely. Some say that having the word university over the door in Waterford in any form is worth the effort. The answer to that lies in the treatment meted out to WRH when UCC erected its phallic totem pole outside UHW.

Maybe WIT is strong enough to carve out a future as a tech uni which will give it the independence it so desperately needs to fully deliver on its potential to this region. It may be, as the Wisdom of Crowds tells us, that the sensible thing is to grab whatever is on offer and try to move the needle further in the next generation. I walked out to WIT today and looked at the engineering school site which has been abandoned by Fine Gael for 12 years and made up my own mind.

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By Phoenix
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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