Tuesday, July 13, 2021

IT IS an old adage that the only people who complain about power and its use are those who do not have any. Thus, you see Waterford’s conundrum.

We complain about the uses and abuses of political power because we have very little of it ourselves. When we complain we are accused of whinging as this suits the political narrative. We refuse the political push from Fine Gael and its apparatchiks in the permanent government who want the oldest city in the country reduced to a county town. We will not go gently into the kind of urban oblivion they wish upon us.

Even our own Waterford City & County Council seem to buy into that idea with their awful “Waterford Council” bit. That enables the mischievous and uninformed to use the term Waterford County Council to describe our current administration.

Some of our own former county councillors are not behind the door in using that expression either for reasons that I can never fathom, but which probably have all to do with the East/West divide which undermines our ability to present the kind of united front necessary these days.

JJ Lee wrote in his seminal work ‘Ireland 1912 to 1985’ of the massive privilege and power centred on Dublin 2, 4 and 6 in politics, commerce, religion (the National Maternity Hospital anyone?) and finance.

It is to be expected I suppose in a capital city but if you listened last week to the inability of the hospital’s development board to explain to the Oireachtas Health Committee how much the new National Children’s Hospital will have cost by the time it eventually opens in, you know that worrying about project cost is a matter for plebs down the country. Cork being the obvious exception that proves that rule.

“The East/West divide undermines our ability to present a united front.”

Last week, UHW’s new Mortuary opened. It cost less than €10m. It’s a beautiful job. First prioritised in 2001, on the HSE capital Plan list in 2010, planning permission approved in 2015 and finally delivered after the Taoiseach’s faux pas in 2021.

It’s a necessary facility which probably would not have been built at all without our four pathologists standing up publicly for it.

And remember the statistic that emerged that those four do 600 post mortems per annum where 20 pathologists in Cork UH manage 800 per annum! The latter being a grotesque example of Cork power and politics. Worrying about cost and output is for the little people.

Anyone who read Una Mullally’s piece in The Irish Times last week about the Fine Gael candidate James Geoghegan in the Dublin Bay south bye-election held last Thursday will understand completely the combination of politics, power and privilege which defines that area.

Son and grandson of supreme court judges etc, he seeks to follow in the footsteps of Eoghan Murphy of the same lineage, who was elected a TD in 2011 and effortlessly became a full cabinet minister in 2016.

Dublin Bay South is characterised as a “Fine Gael Heartland” by some Irish media.  It has been the seat of Fine Gael leaders John A. Costello and Garret FitzGerald. However, it has also been the seat of Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn,

an outspoken opponent of WIT and university status for Waterford and a smoked salmon socialist of the first order.

I cast my mind back to the 1990s when Brian O’Shea, a decent hardworking Waterford TD was Labour spokesman on education in opposition.

When the party attained power, then Labour leader Dick Spring appointed Niamh Breathnach from the same area as Minister for Education from 1993 to 1997. She would not upgrade WRTC to university, but stopped half way at IT status. She was made a full cabinet minister on her first day in the Dáil. A proper accent and the scent of south Dublin privilege being the qualifications for the job as Minister for Education that Brian O’Shea did not have? Needless to say, she was a poor minister and lost her Dáil seat in 1997.

It is said that Fine Gael politics in Waterford city is completely out of step with the party’s national membership.

Where people like Maurice Cummins and Paudie Coffey would have come from very ordinary back grounds, constituencies like Wexford and Carlow/Kilkenny produce politicians from ‘big farmer’ background – think Ivan Yates, Phil Hogan and/or Avril Doyle. West Waterford produced the Deasy dynasty which had its power base in the strong farmers of that area.

Fine Gael in Waterford city is different, being the remains of the pig buying class who supported John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster.

Its grass roots history probably explains why it still finds some support among the ordinary working people of this city. The fact that the party no longer has a TD here underlines how power is slipping away from FG though.

His biggest political rival could hardly say that Senator John Cummins is from a privileged background, yet increasingly people wonder if Dublin/East coast privilege is a pre-condition for advancement within the FG party?

The rise of the Sinn Fein proletariat, probably running three seats in this constituency in the next election and the expectation that David Cullinane will be a senior minister, shows the kind of political movement that is underway.

The Dunmore Wing at University Hospital Waterford.

Politicians normally love to open new facilities like the UHW Mortuary. It’s the public expression of power. Yet no senior politician cut the tape last week, just as no senior politician cut the tape when the new St Patrick’s hospital was built, or the new UHW Dunmore Wing, or the new Primary Care Centre at St Otteran’s.

There was a major fuss about the opening of Waterford’s new courthouse, but this was led by the judiciary and the Supreme Court. All the other developments opened and came on stream with the minimum of political fuss.

Are Fine Gael politicians nervous about Waterford or do they regard the opening of facilities here as small beer?

Has that malaise spread to Fianna Fáil as well? Could Stephen Donnelly or even Minister of State Mary Butler not be found to do the honours? It’s very strange but redolent of our lack of political power when questions about adequate resourcing (new mental health unit, new ophthalmology unit, extension of the orthopaedic unit etc) and hospital group control of UHW are very much to the fore

In recent weeks, our lack of political power has been in evidence with the lack of movement on WIT’s long awaited new engineering building, first proposed nearly 20 years ago with a new business school, both ready to go in 2011, but cancelled at the very last minute.

Earlier this year much fuss was made about extensive funding being available for WIT once the TUSE was agreed. That has vanished along with Leo Varadkar’s hint of the logical purchase of the Glass factory site to extend WIT footprint.

The latest nasty rumour is that the cost of the new engineering block has seriously escalated and that the project has been delayed beyond a supposed tender date which has already passed: Q1 2021.

The rumour mill suggests no announcement will be made on the development of the engineering building until after the TUSE is created next January.

This would leave the decision on the development of the facility with an incoming TUSE Board who could decide that the funding might better be spent elsewhere, which is all a matter of politics, power and privilege.

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