Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The former Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre at Kilbarry, which has been mentioned as a possible campus site for TUSE


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 must be the lock down, as I am reading everything in sight, in great detail, even the Harpic tin. Do you remember the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, or the famous 1950 film starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver? They told you all you need to know about pirates, pirate ships and exotic voyages. I’ll always remember the start of the film when an old sailor named Billy Bones comes to stay in a remote inn. A blind beggar gives him “the black spot” as a summons to share a map leading to buried treasure.

Driving out the Cork Road last week past the old Waterford Crystal offices, the damage caused by recent vandalism was visible. The smoke blackened ruin of the former showrooms, once a top class, beautifully maintained international attraction, lit at night to show off the company products, is now a wrecked hulk. It’s our Black Spot. It summons us to our future, where our buried university treasure is supposedly hidden. At least that’s what the government wants us to think.

“Announcements” about its purchase for WIT were recently imminent, but vanished like the snow of a few weeks ago, without trace. Why is everything around TUSE so opaque?

Can government ever just make a direct announcement in favour of Waterford city? Not while politicians from Wexford or Kilkenny are in power? We have been burned often enough to be wary lest the site becomes the grave of Waterford’s final separation from the other cities of Ireland.


“Announcements” about its purchase for WIT were recently imminent, but vanished like the snow of a few weeks ago, without trace. Why is everything around TUSE so opaque?


In the dramatis personae around this long running farce, quite who might be cast as Long John Silver or Jim Hawkins is anyone’s guess, but there is apparently gold aplenty there if only we could find it. Be patient, says the ministerial Oireachtas claque, sign on to crew the good ship TUSE and all will be well. Until of course the ship sails and the Jolly Roger is hoisted.

We will be captives on a voyage to an unknown destination. Matt Shanahan stood fast on what the TUSE might mean for Waterford in a very unclear process. Wexford senator Malcolm Byrne on WLR last Tuesday actually said that if the TUSE process was brought down that Shanahan would be at fault. Wexford is desperate for something from the process, but more to the point no one in Waterford has seen what is proposed for Wexford, size, shape, scale? Why not?

The news that Tipperary County Council is to develop Kickham Barracks in Clonmel as a campus of the Limerick /Athlone Tech Uni, reduces the entire TU process to a nonsense. It’s worse than the decentralisation farrago, which failed precisely because there is “one for everyone in the audience”! And, does anyone think for one moment that in this scenario that there won’t be a campus in Kilkenny, not yet unveiled in size or scale to public scrutiny? Our public reps, Chamber of Commerce, IBEC et al have all decided it’s TUSE or nothing, blinded by party loyalty or not caring to understand. Maybe they believe we have to grasp this or be left naked on January 1, 2022? Only time will tell if the reward is “fool’s gold”?

Who cares if the crystal building is an eyesore anyway? The Ardree has glowered down on us for 20 years without action. A cleared Engineering Building site at WIT is empty for 10 years. WIT’s share of the €150 million, mentioned by Simon Harris as “already committed funding” in last week’s Oireachtas members meeting, might pay for that. Ten years after the fact with still no certainty that it will go to tender and be built.

Simon Harris sees no eyesores as he drives between North Wicklow and Dáil Éireann through the leafy suburbs of Elm Park and Ballsbridge.

Anyway, the blight is in Waterford, that “once and sometime city” far away on the south coast where the people eat their young, allegedly! No, that should really read, “Where the people export their children on the hoof” every year to find fame and fortune in Dublin or Cork.

Yet, everything is bound up with everything else and confidence emerges from an understanding that you matter in the scheme of things. That understanding is not here. Uncertainty about government decisions is our lot. Have the people of Limerick or Galway, our one time peer cities, ever marched to protest a government decision?

We get panned as complainers, whingers or protestors for simply standing up for ourselves.

Meanwhile, David Cullinane’s Dáil contribution on Tuesday, March 19, with Simon Harris was stunning in its effervescent acceptance of the TUSE for Waterford. It signals a political move by Sinn Fein into the centre to show they are ready for government. David Cullinane now must take equal responsibility with government to deliver equity for WIT and ensure it is not diminished. Simon Harris, meantime, should show Waterford the money.

This column of a few weeks ago, asking the question “Do we know where we’re going to?”, struck a chord with many people. There is a real unease that our city has been dropped by government to the ranks of county towns. The TUSE proposition underlines this. Waterford cannot have a standalone university like Limerick or Galway.

There is similar unease, shared by many councillors in the metropolitan area, that the city is suffering from neglect by our own council. Maintenance standards in the county area seem far ahead of those in the city. Once upon a time the city had its full complement of service directors, nearly all of whom lived here. The forced amalgamation of city and county destroyed that and many people now suggest, north quays planning notwithstanding, that the required focus, to present and maintain the city as a competitive regional capital, is not really there.

The situation which has developed over the past few years in Carrickphierish gives real substance to that claim. This is a smashing area which is now developing rapidly. It contains a three unit Traveller housing site which has been allowed to grow without control from the housing or planning departments to blight the surrounding area. The Travelling community are as entitled as any of us to proper housing and proper living conditions, but no section of the community, be they settled or Travellers, should be allowed to ride roughshod over others.

Box ticking, office bound solutions to Traveller accommodation issues have never worked and Waterford city now has three problematic halting site areas in Ballybeg, Williamstown and Carrickphierish, all with varying levels of difficulty, not because of Traveller accommodation, but because the local authority has not enforced order and dealt promptly with issues as they arose. There are enough horses around the three areas to equip a fair sized cavalry unit yet the owners seem not to own an acre of ground. If people are going to live together in some sort of harmony then the local authority must maintain and enforce its own rules and regulations. Allowing huge mobile homes to be craned onto sites without planning permission helps no one. Those in the settled community in Carrickphierish who have invested heavily in buying their own new homes feel particularly aggrieved at what has happened. The elected members of the council have a duty to represent all sides, but also have a responsibility to call officialdom to order to ensure fair play. Carrickphierish suggests that has not happened.

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By Phoenix
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