Monday, November 14, 2022

“The North Quays funding indicates the realisation in government of the need for a city of scale in the South East.”

THE terrific announcement of State funding for the North Quays brought two things to mind.

One was a piece on WLR a couple of years ago from an academic at WIT/SETU who said that in the absence of political power, the only course of action left to any community like Waterford is to complain, complain, complain until the government is forced to acknowledge the equity of what is being sought.

The second was something the late Padraig O’Gríofa used to say, that Waterford was looking for a fair share of what was going by way of state investment and nothing more. Those two ideas encapsulate our position.

Anyway, the announcement presages better times for Waterford and is hopefully the beginning of rational support in accordance with Project Ireland 2040 where our city is fairly treated as one of only five cities in the country.

I am sure that our Oireachtas members, Minister Mary Butler, Marc O’Cathasaigh TD and Senator John Cummins are rightly wearing big smiles this week. This is a huge political positive for them.

The nature of the Oireachtas means that government representatives rarely get a chance to be heard in the Oireachtas putting the case for Waterford. They end up lobbying their ministerial colleagues in private, leading to the classic phrase ”working in the background”. Far too often over the years this phrase was used as an excuse for failure and denial of appropriate resources.

David Cullinane is shadow spokesman on health for Sinn Féin and as possibly the next Minister for Health, he is understandably forced to concentrate (often to the exclusion of Waterford) on his national brief.

Matt Shanahan very often has the opportunity to speak at leader’s question time to the Taoiseach, Tánaiste or relevant minister and put the case for Waterford. He has used his time judiciously and put the case forcefully for Waterford on the Dáil record.

His latest excursion into the fairness or regional funding allocations was on November 8 when questioning Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath. In fairness, all our public reps deserve real praise on this funding allocation. The government reps, Cummins, O’Cathasaigh and Butler have had a real shit-kicking over obvious inequities in third level and acute medical allocations. That is a politician’s lot. What else can people do except complain about unfairness and inequity when all the oldest city in the land is asking for, is a fair share?

While there is much political backslapping going around, we should not forget the massive input of Council CEO Michael Walsh on this project. Without his determination (and people had begun to doubt this) the North Quays funding  would not have happened.

It is also certain, despite the many naysayers in national and local government who sought to pooh, pooh its findings, that the regular and invaluable SEEM economic report, compiled by academics at WIT/SETU has highlighted enormous regional disparities and embarrassed the government. The money and resource trail does not lie. We have to keep asking for a fair share. How much easier is that when you have the statistics to hand?

In truth, the funding for the North Quays indicates the realisation in government of the need for a city of scale in the South East.

Reading a bit by Daniel Immerwahr which suggests that we are all prisoners of geography, hence the expression geo-politics in its fundamental sense, we can appreciate that other areas and other politics in this region might not support that idea.

We might also believe that sense will ultimately prevail and that there is strength in unity? While on the subject of fairness and equity, an article by Cathal Doherty in the Limerick Leader newspaper caught the eye.

“Latest figures released show Limerick city’s student population has grown to just under 30,000. Students studying at the University of Limerick (UL), Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) and Mary Immaculate College (MIC) make up the student figures. A further 15,000 full and part-time students are undertaking post-leaving certificate or further education courses.”

When you consider that SETU has approximately 9000 students you appreciate the disparity and the inequity of what was done to this city and its third level ambitions over the past decade. We have a long way to go to reach the kind of third level student numbers and courses in Waterford that would represent a fair distribution.

We can also see why the existing university sector has been so opposed to the development of WIT in recent decades. University students from this region have been exported on the hoof to bolster university finances all over this country. This brain drain sucked money and our future out of the South East on a vast scale.

Hopefully, the proposed investment in SETU will be sufficient to right previous wrongs. The purchase of the old Waterford Crystal site is emblematic and overdue. The time for promises from Simon Harris and government has long since passed.

Meanwhile, now that finances and a development partner of real repute have been secured for the North Quays, could we return to the South Quays and the historic city with a view to making a diamond out of it?

Recent road works on Parnell Street and The Manor have seen really top class finishes with clear and well laid road markings. Parnell Street desperately needs new lamp standards and new lighting.

The utility companies are a law unto themselves and seem able to erect timber poles without control in the most sensitive of places. This has to stop. A timber pole stuck down in limestone paving in the nice amenity area next to Hardy’s Bridge opposite the courthouse gives a clear indication of how not to do things.

The creation of an amenity area around the clock tower on the south quays should be a real boost to the idea of creating linear park from Rice Bridge to Reginald’s Tower.

The reality is that our small city is in competition for investment of all kinds.

The revitalisation of the quays – north and south – with a strong focus on the historic city and the retail, cultural and amenity spaces within it, should be the aim of all stakeholders. Onwards and upwards!

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