Wednesday, 26 April 2017

What if Simon says “No!”

We have already seen the appalling decision made by a certain Simon H to conveniently disregard the highly respected Higgins report on University Hospital Waterford (UHW), in favour of his own Government’s Herity Report. A Report, which we were told, if the readers can recall, was merely a formality. It was a very simple matter of ticking a few boxes, crossing some “T’s” and dotting a number of “I’s”. This would confirm what we already knew. That a second Catheterisation Laboratory for UHW should in fact be delivered, funded and built, ASAP.

But, we now know that we were sold a pup.

The second lab would not be forthcoming and to appease those Deise hordes, it was announced in Dublin, that a mobile unit would be diverted down the M9, to UHW and used to take up the “Slack”. Unfortunately, this mobile unit cannot, at the moment, seem to find its way to Waterford. To add insult to injury, this unit would be “Shared” with other just as needy regions. A big kick in the teeth to us on this matter, from Simon H!

But there would be light at the end of our dark tunnel.

We could, in the short term, forget not securing a second Catheterisation Laboratory, as good news was in fact, just around the corner. Waterford in recent weeks, has bounced back, in a big way. Wonderful, joyous and fantastic news that a €300,000,000 development of the City’s North Quays, would categorically take place, with investment of many, many Middle Eastern Riyal. In fact we would get TWO retail centres built for the price of one – happy days are ahead.

This news, in conjunction with the 2040 National Planning Framework, announced by Minister Simon C, would see accelerated development of our Strategic Development Zone (SDZ), to help double the City’s population. At last we could collectively take a breath and it now looked like Government was listening to the people of Waterford. They were actually going to put their hand in their collective pockets, to find some much needed fiscal money, to feed our economy.

Just like London buses, a third piece of good news landed on our doorstep. That hotel on the hill had finally been sold. The promise of a five star development, garden rooftop bars, largest function suite in Waterford, conference space....the list was endless.

Were we finally beginning to turn the corner? Waterford was surely on the up, or are we?

Amid much whooping and hollering we have to remember that to develop our North Quay’s SDZ we need Government money. Some say €50 million, but in Ireland that probably means that what is needed could well be in excess of €60 million, possibly €70 million. This loosening of the exchequer purse strings will not be easy. It will not be without its challenges and rest assured the political “Flat cap” clout from other regions will be doing their very, very best to divert this money elsewhere.

The bottom line is, that unless this money for the earmarked infrastructural work in our SDZ is not signed, sealed and delivered by Government. Where is this money to come from?

Waterford Council certainly do not have the funds, or the means to allocate anywhere near this level of funding. I suspect that our nearest neighbours in Kilkenny and Wexford will not be too much help either? So we are once again relying on a Government whose track record in supporting Waterford INC is to say the very least sketchy.

We have recently had one Simon saying “Yes” and one Simon saying “No”. A bit like that game we used to play as kids. An outcome completely randomly based on chance. 

Does Simon C really want Waterford City to stand any chance of doubling its population, for the betterment of the whole of the South East? Will he really get Old Father Time (Noonan), to open his dusty wallet and find €50/ €60/€70 million for this City?

The very recent delivery record for Waterford has been extremely poor. The onus is on our Junior Minister, 3 TDs and 2 Senators to now earn their stripes. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

After rolling our Easter eggs, we’ll surely have a sizzling summer!

For some, the wait for Easter was simply too much. An odd sip of Clonmel Chardonnay, or a smaller than usual glass of vino, was by all accounts just about acceptable. A wee nibble of the children’s bar of chocolate, when they were out of sight or better still asleep. Maybe even the odd raiding party on the sealed, time locked biscuit box, which has been clandestinely calling you, for the last few weeks.

After abstinence of many, many weeks, Sunday past brought welcome relief for the masses. The strange habit of devouring far, far too many chocolate eggs than you would have thought possible. Guzzling a copious quantity of alcohol was quickly followed for many, by the annual words of Solomon’s Wisdom “Never again!” Yet we can all look forward to the same purgatory, forgiveness and indulgence, in approximately 347 days time.

In the meantime, we can ALL begin to look forward to a regenerated Waterford City, with the exciting plans of the SDZ (Strategic Development Zone) on the North Quay. Sadly, no longer to be part of a bigger, better and brighter “North Waterford”. That hotel on the hill, finally being sold to a man with a vision and a passion for Waterford. The promise of a rapid build, development and delivery of the Michael Street Shopping Centre. These projects and many more, according to media accounts, will mean that we have to wait slightly longer for all our ducks to truly line up.

But in the very short term we will surely have a “Summer to savour” in 2017.

The annual Waterford City in Bloom collaboration, between Waterford Business Group and the Council, has in the past two years expanded beyond all expectations. Not to sit on their laurels, the organisers have expanded once again and this year there will be in excess of 300 baskets being displayed across the whole city. In particular, the businesses along O’Connell Street have come on board in abundance and this should be commended.

The 2016 Tidy Town judging panel, purposely singled out City In Bloom, as part of the increased points allocated to Waterford City. They also specifically stated, that they wished to see this noteworthy collaboration continue and expand for 2017. This is just what will happen over the next few years. Hopefully, in conjunction with supplementary proposals that have been presented to the Council, for a unique sculpture/display on the city centre entrance roundabout, at Plunkett Station, and a flag project that will festoon Rice Bridge with tricolours of the world – and not before time, I hear far too many of you say!

Summer In The City returns this year, after an absence of twelve months. Due in part, to the music festival that was Summerval, having been dropped from the playlist. There is a promise that this will be a return, to delivering what our populace and our visitors want. Good old street entertainment. A busking themed festival, has been much talked about. Maybe, if someone is prepared to grasp the mantle, this could take place during a future Summer In The City. Thus, expanding the offering and attracting an ever growing audience.

On the retail front we can already see business owners investing in our city centre. There are new premises opening, on what seems like a weekly basis. Many buildings are getting a fresh shiny, or matt coat of summer paint. It is great to see the variety of colour being displayed on our shop fronts. As individual as the shop products on offer.
The Apple Market’s new roof is taking shape and boy does it look great. Its steel frame, to this boy of the seventies, looks just like one of the Star Destroyers from the Star Wars series of films. Maybe we could ask some of the cast to officially open this multi-tasking space?

Running in tandem with the Apple Market’s brand new roof are the other open space/public realm works. These too will also transform our City to all who care to visit.

This City is at long last beginning to shout just that wee bit louder.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Has Government interest in Waterford reached a plateau?

Last week at a clandestine, undercover meeting over the border, the news about the Waterford City Boundary Review extension decision was strategically leaked. Once again via the source of instant information that is social media. To be more precise, I read the news across a number of Facebook posts and of course the local Kilkenny newspapers had their “Scoop”. In no small part, due to the rumbustious nature of those Cats supporting TDs and Councillors, who have been very, very vocal and noisy on this topic.

The issues surrounding the expansion of the City, to a size of reasonable and significant consequence, are very complex, emotive and “Raw!” The fact is, that for the South East to grow and have any chance of competing with the other regions of Ireland, our City must be of much greater scale, than the one we currently recognise today.

For far too long we have been told that Waterford will be that “Gateway City” to the South East region. Despite report after numerous report, that goal is still as far away as ever. In spite of Minister after Government Minister promising to deliver for Ireland’s Oldest City, our competitive towns and cities steal yet more and more ground from under our feet, in relation to the greater good of the South East.

Last Monday, 3rd April 2017, the recommendations from the recent controversial review committee were NOT going to be implemented by the current Government. The report findings would be ignored and some “Fudge”, promising fields of green, would be put in place to appease the Deise natives.

This independent body, which we were constantly assured was set up with no political allegiance, came to the self determined conclusion, that Waterford City must be helped to grow and expand. That growth is necessary to assist the region to compete and attract future investment.

Now, this Government’s record with report findings for Waterford, is to say at the very least extremely woolly. We have one report being slickly and secretively rejected. Partly I fear, due to the political Grand National that is a looming FG leadership challenge. Only one report being implemented, despite the deep rooted flawed foundations, realising a single unacceptable outcome.

For the sake of protecting their identity we will call the two protagonists Simon C and Simon H!

These two men have just delivered the most bizarre of all Government spin. One, Simon H, has taken the Herity Report and stuck steadfastly to ALL of the findings and recommendations. Stating that the report was independent and as such must be adhered to, because as a Government Minister he cannot interfere with these outcomes!

Yet his colleague, Simon C, has taken another independent report and applied his OWN recommendations! Completely ignoring “The free from outside control and not subject to another's authority” independence of the Boundary Review Committee!

I suspect the outcome of both these reports, has far more to do with political posturing, than the good of the people of Waterford and the South East! Both FG and FF see the 5-deputy Kilkenny/Carlow, as a potential three-seat constituency. Thus these main stream heavyweight parties, view the Kilkenny/Carlow constituency, as a far more important political battleground than Waterford. Probably returning a similar political map after the next general election, as we always do?

With Simon C trying to reach his own political summit, leadership of FG and ultimately an Taoiseach for Ireland. He needs to find supporters, keep them sweet and there just so happens to be, two of his own good men across the River Suir. In addition he should need the help of some allies from this side of the river. Alas, that particular political “Scarlet Pimpernel”, holds court with no man, just doing his own thing – so no guarantees where the swing vote from Waterford will eventually go.

With these sorts of odds, is it any wonder that Simon C is hedging ALL his bets? There will be no need for him to cash out early, as he appears to have all the aces in his hand.

“Flip-flopping” report findings, our new politics!!!! 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Help float our boats on this rising tide!

Believe it or not, it has been over one year since we last went to the ballot box to vote in the 2016 general election. 403 days have passed, when we all trouped in damp wet conditions, into our local polling station. We were filled with the promise of new politics and a new dawn for Waterford City and County. There was much trumpeting across the local airwaves and all forms of social media. Alight with candidates promising to fix our woes. The theme running throughout most of the campaigning, was that “I” can get Waterford back into the premier league of Irish cities.

It was with excited hearts that we placed our mark onto the ballot papers. I know that many a first time youthful voter, countless having registered to vote in the same sex marriage referendum, were looking for a “New Politics”. Our elected representatives would hopefully deliver exactly what they said on the tin – just like that decking varnish we annually spread on the wood in the corner of our gardens.

When all the dust had settled, we had two new and two returning politicians, making their way to the Dáil. To a man and a dog, we had entrusted our votes to our elected representatives to deliver for Waterford. The Proportional Representation system we use, pretty much ensures that people can, in reality, vote for every elected TD. I am sure that people who gave John Halligan a first preference, would have voted for David Cullinane and a vote for Mary Butler, may also have sneaked a second preference for, dare I say another closely related political party? But of course nobody will openly admit to this close “Vote sharing”, or “Strategic voting”, which does happen. Consequently, we are all in part responsible, for what we the circa 52,000 voters, elected to the Dáil on 26th February 2016.

So, one year on from the last GE and we are still waiting for that hot political potato, which is the second Catheterisation Laboratory to come to University Hospital Waterford. The promised report was delivered and the findings were the polar opposite, of what we were lead to believe was merely a formality, a done deal! Back to square one. But there was light at the end of the tunnel. We would get an interim mobile Cath Lab delivered to Waterford City, to service our unacceptable waiting list numbers. Even this mobile unit has failed to materialise and appears to be wandering aimlessly around Ireland looking for Waterford City, its new temporary home.

Maybe we can borrow this one!
Our regional airport, which has not seen any commercial flights since last summer, was also apparently, promised revenue for the much needed and long awaited runway extension. This would ensure its future viability and a capability to fly small jet engine passenger planes to the UK and further afield to European destinations. This too seems to have been put on the very back burner and with Minister Ross currently up to his elbows in ever escalating industrial discontent. We may never see in the near future a positive resolution to our airport’s woes.

What of our Technological University status for WIT? The insistence of a merger with Carlow, is simply allowing other regions to get ahead of us and possibly scupper our plans to develop our third level offering. Drive passed Carlow IT and you will see that they are expanding and expanding. With lots of new buildings and hoardings, stating regional “University” status will be with them soon.

These three; UHW, our Airport and Technological University status, are still game changers for Waterford and the greater South East region. Without these, are we really going to get our fair share of future development? I read a recent report, which stated there is a very real possibility that 60%-70% of jobs, and therefore the population, could migrate to the Greater D-region in the next number of years.

Our recent good news story, of the €300,000,000 investment, will help our profile and create more interest in Waterford. But to raise all our boats, on this rising tide we need our elected to remove some more ballast.