The Phoenix opinion column has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
Update: The below column originally stated that a commercial lobby group was assured by Senator John Cummins two years ago that a ‘deal was done’ in relation to the purchase the Waterford Crystal site. The Waterford News and Star would like to clarify that Senator Cummins never stated that a ‘deal was done’ on the site.
TWO years after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke of increasing the footprint of WIT with the purchase of the Waterford Crystal site to facilitate the development of SETU, nothing has happened. The purchasing saga drags on. The contract for the “new” engineering building, promised since 2008, has not progressed. Two years ago, the business and commercial lobby for a Waterford University, Friends of South East University (FUSE), WIT lecturers and the plain people of this city were assured by Senator John Cummins, a young and ambitious politician, that everything was in hand, the future was here and it was bright. Waterford surrendered. The commercial and business lobby and FUSE withdrew all opposition.
Two years later, we have a SETU merger with Carlow, which no one wanted, a proposed new campus in Wexford, which may never see the light of day, and possible campuses in Wicklow and in Kilkenny. No other TU has had this scattergun, pseudo expansionary load piled onto it even before it started. New third level buildings are going ahead all over the country. Money is hosed on facilities in TU Dublin with more than a billion already spent and another new building granted last week. What has Waterford seen? Not a cent spent on new teaching facilities in WIT for nearly 20 years. Quite incredibly, no other third level college in the entire country has been treated this badly, this shabbily. None!
‘It is deeply ironic that opposition TD David Cullinane absents himself entirely from the university debate, having publicly stated that he supported the regional university rather than a Waterford university. What has he to say now?’
We have been eviscerated by Fine Gael. As with the provision of the second cath lab, when this paper showed beyond doubt that the people of Waterford were being lied to by the HSE and Dept. of Health, can we publicly accuse Mr Varadkar of being economical with the truth regarding WIT/SETU?
Senator John Cummins, a young man starting out in politics, took the word of his senior party colleagues and smoothed the resistance to SETU that erupted two years ago. He poured the Sudocrem on the revolution. And since then? SETU established in May 2022 with “permission” to negotiate for the glass site “granted” in October. In the national scheme of things that purchase is minuscule. It has been kicked and dragged by the department, by the HEA, by the Office of Government Procurement and has not been brought over the line. The machinations, official delay and sheer humbug that surround this mean spirited mess defy reasonable comment. The goodwill is not there.
Let’s say good bye to SETU and present a coherent demand for a separate standalone Waterford University akin to UL. Senator Cummins will guide us on that path, for as a Limerick alumnus he knows exactly what UL is and how it differs from SETU. We have had the name and signage change. We have seen the future, and it sucks! A rancorous intercounty tug of war beckons. Is Fine Gael congenitally unable to deliver anything to Waterford?
It has not escaped attention that the funding for the North Quays arrived while a Fianna Fáil minister was in power. Were it the remit of a Fine Gael minister, would it ever have happened?
In 2011, Waterford city had three “legs” supporting its status. An independent WIT, WRH as a regional hospital and city status with a stand-alone council equivalent to a county council. Fine Gael and its ministers, aided and abetted by Labour interests, took an axe to each of these to degrade our city to the county town level.
Who recalls the chopping of the UHW budget in 2012/3/4? Or the behaviour of Wexford and Kilkenny ministers happy to cannibalise WIT in an egregious attempt to spread it like margarine across the South East? They will set back third level education in the South East a generation.
WIT and Carlow IT students’ union heads were interviewed by Damien Tiernan on WLR last Tuesday. It was as if they had been brainwashed into accepting nonsense.
“There can be no HQ, no centre, no main campus (lest anyone offend anyone), but of course we must retain different campus GAA teams.” Awful stuff! Does the Waterford SU president know or even understand what happened? That in a decade where Carlow was given every resource by FG to try equate it with WIT, that development there was beaten into the ground and halted out of spite, while Waterford city was treated as a third level pariah?
The Sage of Omaha, investment advisor Warren Buffett, once said that “it’s only when the tide goes out that we see who has been swimming naked” i.e., who has been codding us. Two years after Leo Varadkar said the footprint of WIT would be expanded and the glass site bought, six years after he told us (as a man of Waterford roots) that we would not be forgotten, we see that Fine Gael has been swimming naked. There is no intent, no delivery, just endless process to suffocate Waterford city’s century old third level ambitions. Not a crumb has come our way. The new engineering building has retreated into the distant future.
We have been deceived and without rancour I suggest that Senator John Cummins, who with his family is steeped in Fine Gael, has been misled. The humiliation heaped upon Waterford city by this penniless SETU farrago, this pretend equality, which is in reality all smoke and mirrors, should never be forgiven.
The FUSE group issued a statement on 16th April 2021 which ended “Oireachtas members Mary Butler, Marc O Cathasaigh, David Cullinane and John Cummins have assured us that the Government will provide the funding and structures needed to deliver a University of substance for Waterford and the South East and we truly believe the people of Waterford will hold them to account on this promise at future polling booths.” Only Matt Shanahan stood back from the mad gallop towards futility that we now see. It is deeply ironic that opposition TD David Cullinane absents himself entirely from the university debate, having publicly stated that he supported the regional university rather than a Waterford university. What has he to say now? What have any of them to say?