Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Second Bridge Proposed for Waterford City Centre

In recent years I have been continually arguing for long term strategic infrastructure improvements for Waterford City. In advance of the planning framework proposal being submitted for The North Quays I now want to re-iterate my call for a second city bridge for Waterford city centre.
It is my contention that a second vehicular river crossing from the south side of the river at The Tower Hotel should be included in the infrastructure requirements for the development of the North Quays and for the city itself. Or at the very least its future delivery should be factored into the overall proposal.
In recent months I am aware that investigations have been on-going regarding the possibility of building a bridge further down river with access via Maypark Lane. However I am convinced that the results of those investigations will show that this is the wrong location for a number of reasons: namely because the river itself would be too difficult to traverse at that point and perhaps more importrantly because the roundabout at the top of Maypark Lane on the Dunmore Road is already one of the busiest traffic points on one of the busiest roads the city with little opportunity for road improvements in such a densely populated location.
Most importantly I believe a second city centre located vehicular bridge - in addition to the pedestrian bridge - is required to facilitate the amount of traffic accessing The North Quays and indeed to facilitate the amount of traffic already accessing the City Quays. As to whether it would be better to look at a one-way traffic flow system once a second bridge is in place or whether it would be better if both bridges have two-way traffic is something that would have to be examined in detail.
I have included a photograph of where I believe the new second city bridge should be located here.
Proposed location for second city centre bridge
It should cross directly from the end of The Mall (right in front of Reginalds Tower/The Tower Hotel) and link up with the North Quays and Ferrybank Dual Carriageway giving access to both South Kilkenny and indeed on to New Ross and Wexford.

I would ask that Waterford City & County Council executive would examine this proposal with a view to its' inclusion in planning for the expansion of the city centre onto The North Quays.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Good Enough for Waterford but NOT Good Enough for Cork.

The McKinnon Report on Local Government arrangements for Cork released yesterday overturned the recommendations of the Smiddy Report which recommended the amalgamation of both Cork City & County Councils. It is interesting  - both because Cork got a second bite at the cherry in terms of a second report at all and because it takes a completely opposite view on the proposed merger presumably with the same supporting information.

The first report was not well received in Cork City and now, it seems, the local view has prevailed with the second report and recommendation much more in line with local demands. Note the essence of the recommendation with this quote from yesterdays McKinnon Report. “The Group has concluded that Cork would be best served by a City Council that is focused on the development of the city and its immediate hinterland…with the potential to drive the development of the city region, and a County Council that is focused on the needs of county towns and rural parts of Cork.”

Now cast your mind back to the Aylward Report in 2012 which recommended a merger between Waterford City Council and Waterford County Council. This recommendation too was very badly received in Waterford generally and in both Councils which had unanimously rejected it. It is interesting to note the difference even in tone of the recommendation to merge both Councils in the Waterford Report with the following quote. “Whilst proposing one local authority for Waterford City and County, the Committee notes the major concerns of those opposed to amalgamation voiced in the submissions and outlined at the beginning of this section. For the merger to deliver the proposed benefits and savings, and at the same time respond to the concerns raised, it is the Committee’s view that merger must be accompanied by a number of other initiatives relating to sub county structures of government, political representation and the status of the City, rating and deficit issues, and Waterford’s Gateway status. These issues are elaborated in Section 4, and it is the Committee’s view that these issues must be addressed for merger to be successful.”

The Waterford committee seems to have been very taken at the time with an IDA submission in favour of the merger, even quoting it in their conclusions, saying  “the proposed restructuring of the local authorities in Waterford, combining the City and County Councils is welcome.” One might assume from this that the IDA saw the merger as a positive selling point for their efforts to attract FDI to Waterford and you might assume consequently that Waterford has enjoyed an increase in IDA job creation and investment? You would be wrong. Visits to Waterford by IDA have plummeted in recent years from a high of over 30 visits in 2015 (a uniquely high year and something of an outlier in terms of the usual number of visits) back to just 17 in 2016 and just 3 in Q1 of 2017.

Incidentally, none of the ‘other initiatives’ detailed by the Waterford committee in their report or in the accompanying Economic vision document which were required ‘for the merger to be successful’ have happened either.

So Waterford City has no Council focusing on the City as a driver for the development of the region – as is recommended for Cork City and furthermore Waterford County has no Council that is focussed on the needs of County Towns and rural parts of the County.
But that it seems, while not good enough for Cork, is indeed, good enough for Waterford.
But is seems we may huff and puff all we like at the injustice of it all. No one is listening. Oh you want proof? The one report which found in Waterfords' favour - to extend the boundary into South Kilkenny - was rejected by Minister Simon Coveney. For political reasons nothing to do with proper planning and development. But that's a whole other story.
And of course Minister Coveney is from Cork and cares what the electorate there think and not from Waterford.
All politics is local.

Friday, March 31, 2017


During the next 20 years Ireland needs to plan for and invest in serious growth. The failure of the National Spatial Strategy was not in its aspiration but rather in its implementation. Investment did not follow policy and government departments (and indeed politicians) continued to act in a piecemeal fashion with no joined up thinking as if the plan didn’t exist at all. This new plan needs statutory backing in order to ensure that policies coming out of all departments are in line with it. If the opportunity to put in place the correct strategies is lost now Ireland may never achieve its full potential. Equally if the plan once in place can be ignored on the basis of Ministerial geography then we may as well not invest in the effort of even providing a National Planning Framework. Ireland needs to grow up and act in a strategic way, in the national interest in order to extract best value for money on every cent that we invest and to provide the best opportunities for our citizens and for future generations.

Primarily, though not exclusively this submission focuses on Waterford City and the South East Region. In June 2016 Drs Ray Griffin and Cormac O’Keeffe from the School of Business in Waterford Institute of Technology produced a South East Economic Monitor. You can access it here South East Economic Monitor and I include it as a part of this submission. This demonstrated clearly the inequity of investment in the South East Region in comparison with other regions. I would like nothing more than, at the end of this new National Planning Framework phase, to be able to read in a future Economic Monitor that the South East had received its fair share of the national pie. If this is to have happened in 20 years, the South East will have transformed from underperforming to becoming a net contributor to Ireland Inc., delivering in terms of jobs, lifestyle and opportunity for the South East region. We will top lists that we are currently bottom of and we will be acting, along with other cities and regions as a functioning counter-balance to Dublin.

Waterford and the South East is the closest region to the Dublin area and it is located in a naturally rich and fertile area of Ireland. It is also the closest geographically to the UK and Europe. We are the only Irish City which can claim to be fully flood proofed. With a fair share of investment and focus Waterford can and will deliver spectacularly for the future of Ireland.

I believe that the South East Region needs to be recognised as an identifiable structure. As should all regions. A unified, recognised, regional structure should then be embedded into every Government Department. When every department - as they do now - uses a different geographical structure it becomes impossible to compare or even hold to account their delivery or lack of it, in comparison to other regions.

For example Waterford & Wexford are now tied together in the ETB set-up; the HSE has Waterford located with Cork and Kerry; Garda regions are structured differently and the IDA have their own geographical areas. It makes consistency of investment, measurement and indeed target setting - which should be on-going requirements of the new NPF - almost impossible. Perhaps the regions used by the Central Statistics Office is the structure that all departments should adopt.

Waterford City has suffered from a lack of joined up thinking and needs a number of higher order investments to allow it to achieve its full potential as a regional (and even national) economic driver. I am sure that Waterford City and County Councils submission will give the detail of specific priorities and more information in terms of numbers and justifications.  From my perspective I have always argued that, given the tools, Waterford can and will deliver. Unfortunately, without an arsenal of investment and support (commensurate with other regional cities, no more and no less) it will continue to be unable to fully deliver on the potential of this region for Ireland. The city needs to be facilitated to take a quantum leap to double in size with the consequent infrastructural, social and environmental investment that this requires.

I am not blind to the fact that prioritising Waterford City in the South East region presents political challenges. The South East region, unlike any other region, is home to substantial population centres that have seen themselves as alternatives to Waterford City (although the largest of these is less than half its’ size). The National Spatial Strategy bottled it when it came to this very issue. Perhaps another reason we have not seen the development of the South East region that we should? We need to make brave decisions in order to reap the rewards and I would entreat the drafters not to repeat this fudge. The entire region needs focus and is submitting a regional document as far as I am aware but if Waterford City is not prioritised we condemn the entire South East to further decades of unjustifiable stagnation where we see each other as the competition as opposed to other regions, Dublin and indeed, other countries. We have seen (indeed we live) the results of failing to do so.

As it has already been through a statutory process I will briefly mention the Boundary Extension. I assume I do not need to rehash the arguments other than to say that its implementation or otherwise will demonstrate the seriousness of the Minister and the Department in tackling the spatial and strategic anomalies that will present. The case was made, and against the tide, the case was won. I and others will watch carefully to see what happens on this front. Needless to say I am of the opinion that it should be implemented as recommended by the Independent Commission.

Infrastructurally the PLUTZ along with the recommended 3rd River Crossing needs to be progressed as does the €50m investment required to support the planned €300m development of the North Quays SDZ. This is a gift to the NPF and single-handedly could facilitate the significant growth of Waterford city as well as deliver on aspirations in relation to concentric and balanced growth on the north side of the river along with the potential to deliver 3,000 permanent jobs and 1-2 million tourists annually.

University development is critical to redressing the educational apartheid that the whole South East region has suffered for decades. WIT is crucial to growth across many headings. I (unlike most other submissions I am sure) am not on board with the Technological University status being mooted. It has already cost the region 5 years at least in delays and is an unnecessary and internationally valueless construct in my opinion. But be that as it may, whatever it is called Waterford and the South East needs EQUALITY of third level provision in terms of autonomy and funding across the Teaching & Learning and Research & Development spectrums. A question which needs to be asked is simply, will TU designation mean equality of third level provision for Waterford with other cities? As currently proposed, it will not. I would urge government to get on with the business of University provision. Although, on a negative note, the specific actions of the Department of Education and the HEA in continually undermining the reputation of WIT and starving it of investment and funding in recent years does not give one hope and is a prime example of where strategic national priorities will be required to stand up to departmental bias.

The same goes for Health funding (see attached Economic Monitor). It is difficult to juxtaposition the aspirations of Ireland 2040 with the actions of the HSE in continually underfunding and indeed divesting the South East of services. UHW needs to be equal in funding and services with acute hospitals in the other regional cities of Cork, Limerick and Galway. The restructuring of the South East Hospital grouping and its hiving off to other groups in Cork, Limerick and Dublin has not bedded down and has not delivered improvements in leadership or patient care. It should be reversed. It has led to fracturing and indeed an arguable dis-improvement in services and in public confidence for people in the South East region.  An exercise in workforce planning and an examination of inequitable resource allocation would be no harm in the HSE and I cite the untenable fiasco of 24/7 cardiac care provision – more precisely the lack of it - and the lack of core funding for the hospice services in the South East region (unique, even in Ireland) as examples that should not be tolerated by central government if the regions are to fairly compete, but pertain nonetheless.

The physical linkage between regional cities needs to be improved. The N25 Waterford to Cork route and the N24 Waterford  to Limerick route (which was the number one priority of the disbanded South East Regional Assembly) need to be progressed. The midlands should also be opened up to the South East north of Kilkenny or Carlow with further road improvement from there on to the North West. Needless to say Inter City train services where they are provided should be protected and improved. In particular the train service from Waterford to Dublin needs serious improvement. It is hard to justify a 2 hour 20 minute train journey when the motorway access means a travel time of just 1 hour 50 minutes. Here I also think it is worth mentioning that the Toll on the Waterford City by-pass is counterproductive and it should be removed, ideally through a buy-out or failing that, it should be relocated away from the by-pass.

The development of Waterford Regional Airport with a longer runway would undoubtedly unlock the potential of the entire South East region not just with access outwards but indeed with the development of inward tourist routes. Without a runway extension the Airport as it has in recent years suffers from being an afterthought and the first casualty for regional provision. This in turn leads to a self-fulfilling downward spiral as people abandon flying from Waterford due to constant service breaks.

While I would have welcomed the inclusion of the Port of Waterford as part of the Boundary Extension report I accept that this will not happen. Nonetheless the Port has major natural advantages that should be exploited to deliver for the region and the country. I am sure the Port will be making their own submission.

A cruise terminal at the new North Quays (for smaller vessels) should also be provided especially with the emphasis in the new North Quays on a substantial tourism offering of International standard. The delivery of a terminal for larger cruise vessels should be considered at Great Island.

Other effective projects such as aggressive investment in disadvantaged communities, greening of our cities, continued investment in cycling and cycle ways and a substantial rural regeneration programme in association with identified community needs should go hand in hand with the focus on enabling cities to be economic drivers for their regions. Ireland is a small country with incredible potential for all our people. Ireland 2040 represents a real opportunity to deliver a more equitable distribution of our resources and a better future for all citizens.

Apropos of nothing, I would also respectfully suggest that consideration should be given to include the development of our inland waterways. This would help Ireland capitalise on the growth of  activity tourism and the opening up of greenways and blue ways. It should be possible, for example, to leave Dublin by barge or boat and travel the Grand Canal, down the Barrow, up the Suir and along the St.John's/George Lane-Fox canal to the  seaside resort of Tramore in County Waterford. The St. John’s/George Lane-Fox canal was never finished and perhaps now is the time to consider completing it. Tramore could be connected with the west, midlands, east and the North of Ireland through our inland waterways. The entire country – especially the almost invisible midlands – should be opened up to this growth area in tourism.

Finally, what Waterford seeks, in a nutshell, is merely fair play. An equitable share of the cake, commensurate with the investments already made in our sister regional cities. We desire deeply to fulfil our role as a regional driver, delivering for all of the South East. We have achieved much although that always seems to be despite, rather than because of central government. All we are asking for is the tools.


          A unified regional structure to be embedded in all Government Departments
          South East region to be a recognised unit
          Prioritise development & investment in Waterford City as South East regional driver
          Waterford City Boundary extension to be implemented
          Progress and invest in PLUTZ and North Quays SDZ development
          Deliver University to South East region at Waterford Institute of Technology and partners
          Re-organise HSE regional structures and deliver equity of funding and services
          Improve N25 and N24 Inter Regional City routes
          Open routes to midlands and North West
          Improve rail services
          Eliminate or relocate Toll away from Waterford City Bypass
          Lengthen runway at Waterford Regional Airport
          Invest in Port of Waterford
          Provide berthing facilities for Cruise ships
          Aggressive investment in disadvantaged communities
          Greening of urban areas
          Invest in urban Cycling     
          Invest in rural regeneration in conjunction with community needs
          Develop our Inland Waterways
          Target setting and measurement should be embedded in Ireland 2040 plan
          Plan needs to have Statutory authority
          Ensure consistency of investment across regions

Perhaps Ireland 2040 will be the means of releasing Waterford and the South East region from decades of underinvestment and consequent underperformance and will empower us to realise the untapped potential of our City and the Region in the service of our Country.

Waterford is ready, willing and able to respond.

Kind regards,

Councillor Mary Roche
Waterford City & County Council


Monday, April 11, 2016


As an Independent Councillor I invite my colleagues to consider the following: Fine Gael and Labour  – with no mandate – eviscerated local government in Ireland during their time in office. Minister Hogan stomped all over our tried and trusted system and with malice aforethought sought to sate the publics need for reform by offering up the sacrificial lamb of local government.

Furthermore it is my opinion that Fine Gael has designs on cutting local government even more through the introduction of regional assemblies. Even Fine Gael Councillors would want to have amnesia or no self-respect to support FG candidates for the Seanad. Turkeys voting for Christmas comes to mind.

I know it’s not popular to champion local government and in particular local councillors. But I also know that local councillors are extremely busy, extremely dedicated, extremely knowledgeable local activists working in an underfunded, underappreciated sector that is used as political cover by Leinster House.

All political parties do is pay lip service at Seanad election time and then promptly get back to ignoring Councillors once elected.

We, as Independent Councillors have the opportunity to achieve something really historic in this election. We will, I hope, grasp this opportunity to make a meaningful change to how the parties have hijacked and abused the Seanad (after trying to abolish it lest we forget) and I would invite any thinking party colleagues to join us.



Councillor Mary Roche

Candidate ADMIN Panel

Seanad Election 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Background information on Cllr Mary Roche

Seanad Eireann 2016 candidate, Administration Panel.

* Mary has been a Councillor representing Waterford City since 1999 when she was the only woman elected that term, after a period where no women had been elected for 8 years. Initially she stood and was elected as an FF member, genuinely believing that being in a large party would facilitate having influence "up the line". It was always a fraught relationship, as Mary found her views often conflicted with the party and there was no process for feeding views into the party structure. In 2003 she left. It was the non-delivery of a 2002 General Election promise by Fianna Fail to deliver public radiotherapy to Waterford and the South East, that finally brought Mary to the decision to leave the party and go it alone as an independent. She has successfully been re-elected 3 times as an independent and has served the people of Waterford for 17 years. Mary has recently joined forces with 5 other County Councillors to challenge the inequality of the obligation on Councillors to pay PRSI but receive no benefits.
* Mary was Mayor of Waterford City (only the second ever woman to hold the office) from 2010 to 2011. She also sat on the Governing Body of WIT from 1999 until last year.
* Mary remains involved in health issues and is part of the (voluntary) committee South East Hospitals Support Group, who are campaigning for 24/7 cardiac care for the South East and other improvements at University Hospital Waterford. She was also very active in the debate to prevent (unsuccessfully) the break-up of the South East Hospitals Group.
* She started political life at 18 when she was elected student union Vice President, at the then WRTC (now WIT). She studied both Legal Studies and Public Relations with the Public Relations Institute of Ireland in Dublin. She worked for 6 years with WLR fm (Waterfords Local Radio Station) finishing as marketing manager when she left to start her own business, Flagship Communications, which she ran for 6 years until she had her second child. After that, between her husband working at sea (he is a Tall Ships' Captain), two young children and being an elected representative, she chose to let the business side of her life go. When she worked in WLR fm she was elected to the Waterford Chamber of Commerce board of directors, a position she held for two years (one of just two women). She was also a founder member of Red Kettle Theatre Company with whom she worked as an actress back at the very beginning of their history in the late eighties.
*Mary is currently Chairperson of Waterford Area Partnership, a development company tasked with working to eliminate disadvantage in Waterford. She has been a board member since 1999 and Chair for the past 11 years. She also Chairs the newly formed Waterford & Wexford Youth Committee, having chaired the Waterford Youth Committee since 1999.
* She is also a member of the board of Waterford City Enterprise Centre, Waterford Museum of Treasures, St. Patricks Gateway Centre, Mount Sion International Heritage Centre, Waterford Youth Arts and Squashy Couch (teenage health project) and Waterford/Wexford ETB.
* She is married with three children aged from 8 to 22 and has a 4 year old grand-daughter. If she were to be elected to the Seanad her husband has agreed to come home from working on the ship in order to look after the children.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Seanad Musings

Cllr Mary Roche, Independent Candidate, Admin Panel, Seanad 16
Back in 2013 the government proposed to abolish Seanad Eireann in what they claimed was a reforming move. I and many others fought strongly against this at that time, seeing it as more of a power grab by the Dail to eliminate even the smallest amount of scrutiny or challenge from the Upper House and allowing them even further scope to rail road through their particular ideology. Large majorities lead to power abuses in my view and the last government was a perfect example of that. Not only did they seek to abolish the Seanad but they also - successfully - neutered the Dail and effectively through that, silenced the voices of the people of Ireland who have a right to be heard through their elected TD's in our parliamentary democracy.

Now, post election, the result of that bullishness is clear to be seen. The electorate are pretty nuanced when you really think about it. What are they telling the politicians to do? They're telling them to work together and find consensus in my view. This is pretty scary if you're a member of political party. They have never worked like this. Yes they get to take part in a few debates at the ould Ard Fheis but by and large the decisions, particularly if they are in government, are all made without them, by party aparchicks and advisers. All they are required to do is turn up and press the right voting button. Oh and maybe hurl a bit of abuse around our National Chamber in support of whatever leader or Minister might be up avoiding answering questions on any particular day.

But those days are coming to a close in my view. People are tired. Tired of struggling through such a negative and draining decade (almost) where the bills have been piling up, the poor haven't been protected and those in debt have been asked to bail out free market bankers while bearing the full brunt of their own negative equity or job losses. And they want these and all the other issues that have been building up to be dealt with, seriously, by those they elect.

So they elect a Dail which gives no one a clear majority. Which forces political parties more used to using their term in office to bombard through their own particular ideology aimed more at their own voters than the national interest, to think - for a change - about that self same national interest. This - if the parties actually act on that mandate - is a good thing. Potentially a very good thing indeed!
And so to (eventually lol) my running for the Seanad. It is an outside chance, no doubt about it. No Independent Councillor has ever been elected to the Dail on the vocational panels, from my memory but it sure does need independent voices. It sure does need to act as a chamber with the powers that it has, in the national interest. The electorate in this instance is the body of Councillors all over Ireland as well as current Seanad and new Dail members.
Traditionally, candidates travel the length and breadth of the country meeting as many of the electorate as they possibly can. And as you can imagine Fine Gaelers vote for Fine Gaelers, Fianna Failers vote for Fianna Failers and so on. As Liam (my other half) works away at sea - and is away at the moment and as my children are still quite young, I will be very limited in the amount of travelling I can do so I will be at a massive disadvantage for sure.
But this is probably the first time in history that Independents have enough votes - if they so use them - to elect independent candidates. I hope they will understand my circumstances and not hold me to that hand shake. We have important business to be doing and independent voices have a huge part to play in moving us as a nation forward. We have bigger things to be worrying about than whether someone drove 300 miles to shake our hands. (Which I haven't the money for either to be honest!)
For too long the party candidates have hoovered up independent Councillors votes - only to deny that mandate in the face of party politics once elected. Independents need to stick together not just in our own interest but in the national interest. In the interest of getting thinking, listening, doing people elected into the Seanad rather than just voting fodder, or rubber-stampers for the political parties.
So I threw my hat in the ring. I also believe that it is very important for women to actually put themselves forward for election. There is no gender quota system for the parties or for anyone else in the Seanad election. So we must put ourselves forward - and so I have done. We shall know the results of that before the end of April. Actually getting elected is, in some senses out of my hands. I will either succeed or fail based on those you have elected to Council Chambers across the country.
If, like me, you believe in proactive, strategic and just plain old good government  without the charade of the usual seesaw politics then perhaps you might give your local Councillors a call - or your local TD - and ask them to consider giving me a vote. Especially if they are Independent!!
Thanks all, Mary x 

Sunday, January 17, 2016


The proposed extension of the Waterford boundary into Kilkenny which the committee is tasked with examining is undoubtedly the correct decision for the people currently living in that area and indeed for all the people of the wider region. A single authority, driving social, cultural and economic development with no boundary artificially limiting that focus and growth would deliver the best outcome across any matrix you care to examine in the South East Region.

We are aware that detailed demographics & financial details etc. will be contained in the submission by Waterford City & County Council. However we wish to make some general points to be considered by the commission.

In a nutshell the extension of the boundary would merely regularise an anomaly which has arisen whereby much of the population of Waterford CITY who live on the northern side of the city happen to live in a part which has expanded into South County Kilkenny. This means that the people of that area are on the extreme edges of the administrative area of Kilkenny county council when, if they were to be administered by Waterford City & County Council they would immediately be right at the centre of that administration. This would have huge benefits in terms of convenience, efficiency and visibility for the area under review.

Any cursory look at the area being examined would determine that in no way can it be said to be an example of effective or efficient local government. There has been virtually no investment by the local authority in the area over decades and indeed with its’ proximity to the city it could be argued that the suburb should have naturally developed to a far greater extent than it currently has. Kilkenny County Council, for example, has not built one social house in the area – ever. This, despite Ferrybank being the second largest urban area in the then Kilkenny County Council area after Callan. All Local Authority tenants in Ferrybank are tenants of Waterford Council, despite the fact that the Council cannot even sweep the streets in ‘their’ estates.

Placing the area into Waterford would ensure that any bias towards it as a result of being on the periphery would in time be addressed by local service delivery, increased centrality and increased political representation. Despite some (lately given) commitment from Kilkenny (to locate a playground in Ferrybank for example) it is obvious that Ferrybank and environs have been neglected for many years.

The Waterford Division of An Garda Siochana already covers the exact area being examined by the committee. A boundary extension would regularise the Garda/Local Authority boundary and it makes common sense to have the entire area out as far as the by-pass also covered by Waterford Council. The Department of Social Protection offices on the Cork Road in Waterford City also serve that area of South Kilkenny.

It would also, in time regularise the delivery of a myriad of services to that area by many organisations which run into difficulty with the current boundary alignment. Indeed there has been considerable complication for many Waterford organisations who work in the greater Ferrybank area if they happen to be physically located outside the current boundary. It is a ludicrous situation and pertains for example to two projects based just outside the current Waterford boundary run by Waterford Area Partnership and historically funded via FAS in Waterford. Both projects were initiated and continue to be managed by Waterford Area Partnership but are now funded via Kilkenny/Carlow Education Training Board because the rented space for the projects just happens to be outside the city boundary. This creates difficulties with sourcing funding, reporting lines, duplication, evaluation and accountability, for instance.

This in turn highlights another untenable situation whereby disadvantaged people and communities are supposed to access and source help from organisations other than the local authority, based an hour away in Kilkenny city rather than from their ‘local’ city centre, which is on their doorstep in Waterford. This is surely a factor in hindering communities, especially already disadvantaged and excluded communities, from accessing adequate or fair assistance.

When the then Waterford City sought a boundary extension back in 2005 the rate base in the relevant area of South Kilkenny was circa €1.5 million. The rate base currently stands at circa €1.8 million from our information. If the distribution of funds in South Kilkenny was fairly allocated, all of this would be spent on the area, plus a portion of the local government fund as well as any separate grant funding. I don’t think anyone would, or could, claim that this is the case – meaning that South Kilkenny is severely disadvantaged in terms of getting its fair share within the county. Interestingly, even those who advocate against the boundary extension will admit that Ferrybank and environs do not get a fair share of the Kilkenny financial cake or economic development pie.

The Port of Waterford with its economic potential also rests within the area. Interesting in terms of maximising the economic potential of the port, to note that not one cent of their own money was invested in the access road to the port by Kilkenny County Council - a situation which is telling in its own right. That necessitated the National Roads Authority having to build the road – the shortest primary route in the country – even with its own number, the N29. We have no doubt that the Port of Waterford at Bellview which historically was the City’s port and is the very reason for the City’s existence and the adjoining economic zone would be much greater priorities for Waterford City & County Council – which already has a major water treatment plant for the city located there. Kilkenny County Council has always and no doubt continues to focus the majority of its development on Kilkenny city where it is headquartered.
Kilkenny County Council persisted for decades in refusing to upgrade or improve the main Dublin Waterford Road or at least the portion from Kilkenny City to Waterford which was commonly acknowledged as the worst inter-city route in the Country. (The part which is north of Kilkenny City was heavily invested in by comparison.) Indeed it could easily be argued that it was as a result of this type of action that the delivery of national inter-city routes had to be taken from the remit of Local Authorities and placed with an independent body where local rivalries would no longer be a decider in persisting with not developing national primary routes merely to disadvantage ones’ neighbours!
Another prime and much more recent example of the antipathy of Kilkenny County Council towards Waterford is the white elephant of the Ferrybank Shopping Centre. A monstrosity built (inexplicably) directly adjacent to one of the busiest commuter routes in the country. The fact that the centre came to be located where it is, stands as an example of the worst practices in both strategic planning and planning that persisted in any County or beyond. A centre which is demonstrably far too large for a location with approximately 5,000-6,000 people can only have been conceived and implemented by a Council with not just no interest in what damage it might do to the retail product of the immediately adjacent Waterford City Centre but indeed little care for what consequences it might have for the local community – which lost viable neighbourhood centres as a result of its implementation. It now stands, practically empty, as a monument to the madness of some planning decisions which were badly (or maliciously?) conceived and implemented.

That the anchor tenant would persist in fighting an expensive legal action rather than open there is informative. It is probable that without the then Minister at the Department of the Environment providing the money to the local authority for the opening and staffing of a local area office in the shopping centre it would remain entirely empty to this day (while a national staffing embargo was in place for all Councils!) .

We relate these anecdotes to indicate the damage which has been done and/or attempted to be done to Waterford City to hamper its growth and potential in recent decades and to indicate that despite any claimed conversion to co-operation, we do not expect any change in the culture, as demonstrated by the policies, whether stated or not, of recent decades. Any words to the contrary lately echo very hollow when judged in the light of those actions.

We would also respectfully suggest that, despite the rhetoric, there remains a very significant and sizable - though perhaps subdued in light of the tone of some of the debate - cohort of residents who would favour a boundary extension (or who are indifferent). Perhaps their view should be established in a verifiable manner.

We have no doubt whatsoever that the area under review in South Kilkenny would be better served, better planned and more coherently developed if it was administered by Waterford City & County Council. We also have no doubt that Waterford would deliver much more if it were not curtailed by out dated boundaries which have caused unbalanced development whereby it has almost reached the maximum extent of development to the south of the River Suir while north of the river remains under-developed.

Finally we are convinced that this arrangement would be a far more efficient and cost effective method for delivering local government in the area. While it would not cost any less, especially in light of historic under investment.

The people of South Kilkenny could certainly expect a warm welcome from the people of Waterford as well as a far better delivery of services with vastly improved ease of access. There is far more that unites us than divides us and I am sure that arrangements could be made by other bodies (sporting or otherwise) to facilitate people’s preferred loyalties!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Kelly Report reviewed & Technological University Status - Cllr Mary Roche

The deep desire amongst all the stakeholders in the South East for University status is understandable. However any objective reading of the Michael Kelly Report to Minister for Education & Skills Jan O’Sullivan on the Engagement and Consultation Process on a Technological University for the South East which was published last week would have to leave one with a bad taste in their mouth. We shouldn’t be surprised I suppose, when a report commissioned by the Government, carried out by a Government insider, says what the Government wanted it to say. I know, shocker. If there’s one thing the report has confirmed it’s that it would have been, in fact the correct course of action last year for WIT not to engage with the Kelly report on the basis that the Terms of Reference  were too limiting and did not allow Mr Kelly to even consider any other option than the Waterford Carlow merger.

Many people ask why can Waterford not just apply for ‘traditional’ University status and that’s a good question. Indeed it is fundamental to this entire process. In theory it could. The 1997 Act remains on the statute books and section 9 of that act allows for an application to become a University to proceed. However the follow through on implementing that application is a political decision. And there is no political will – not just in this government, but in any government – to progress any application. So we are sure that it would lie on a shelf somewhere – untested by an International panel. We know this because, in fact, the application that WIT made a decade ago in 2005 under this very Act already suffered this fate. No party has indicated any intention to deviate from the current policy of ‘we have too many universities’. The traditional Universities themselves have not and will not merge and so the IoT sector has been targeted for rationalisation with Technological University status as the carrot. And so we have arrived at a point whereby unless there is a merger, there cannot be an application for TU status.

This is a problem because as of right now – even with several applications being progressed – nobody in Ireland knows exactly what a Technological University is. We know what a University is. We know what an Institute of Technology is. We know how they are funded (or not, as the case may be) for research, teaching and learning and how autonomous (or not) they are. As of right now, based on all Government commentary to date, Technological Universities are to be funded on the same basis as IT’s with no more autonomy and no more funding and no baseline research funding for example, than heretofore.

We need to ask ourselves: what is on offer here with the Technological University? Increasingly the concern is that the answer is nothing other than re-branding and rationalisation. It appears that the Technological University process is to the Institutes of Technology what the IT process was to the Regional Technical Colleges. A re-branding, with one for everyone in the audience at the end of which Waterford will have not ‘caught up’ at all with the educational provision available in other Irish cities and Gateways. But various politicians will certainly go around clapping themselves on the backs and telling anyone who will believe them (including us) that we are now sorted. But we will not be sorted. Our young people will still head to Cork or Dublin or other ‘University Cities’. The question of ‘What is a Technological University’ and what extra will it offer has NOT been answered.

As a member of the WIT Governing Body since 1999 until last March I am aware of all of the recent history of the college and of the timelines and processes involved in the TU application to date.

I have some fundamental concerns about the report itself both its tone and in its content and timelines which appears to contain some inaccuracies. Firstly, I do not recall any contact between WIT and ITC prior to the publication of the Programme for Government in 2011. Indeed the Waterford/ Carlow alliance specifically was a construct of the coalition government and the Institutes were not consulted on the matter in advance. This forced construct runs contrary to other TU applications where the institutes in question were allowed to select their own partner or partners. In fact some of these alliances have seen partners come and go for various reasons. So much for autonomy and academic freedom!

Furthermore, my recollection is that WIT cooperated fully with the Baker Tilly due diligence initiated by Carlow - despite the fact that ITC went to tender with this process with no prior notice to Waterford.

Thirdly when WIT signalled its intention to engage an international academic (Professor John Taylor), it was to test if the proposed partnership was capable of realizing the CRITERIA for TU designation in a reasonable time frame. I cannot understand why Mr Kelly would find this unusual. It seems a rather reasonable question one would have thought.

My final issue is that the overall thrust of Mr Kelly’s historical timeline appears to only point the finger at Waterford for the breakdown in the TUSE process. This is incorrect. The Kelly report fails to capture that WIT entered into the process (including the merger) with gusto. He fails to acknowledge that WIT worked diligently to push forward with Stage 2 while becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress. There is no doubt that Professor Taylor’s report raised significant concerns in WIT regarding the overall merger. Indeed Professor Taylor confirmed the contents of his report in person to the Governing Body at a special meeting. But it was also Carlow’s decision to publish un-agreed press statements that led to WIT finally pulling the plug on what was already a fatally wounded process and seeking an urgent meeting with the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education & Skills. This, in my opinion, was the only honest approach to take at that stage.

On to Mr Kelly’s conclusion that the two colleges should now re-enter talks (about talks) and his claim that the entire issue could be put to bed in three years. I have to ask the question: on what is this conclusion based? There is absolutely no data contained in the report to back up this assertion. None. (This, despite the fact that the DIT application which Mr Kelly Chairs has already taken longer than this – even with all the players ‘on board’!?)

There is a continuous lamentation by Mr Kelly throughout his report that no aggregate data was available. However I must ask – was the data not available separately from each college for him to aggregate or indeed from the Higher Education Authority itself who must surely have it at the push of a Management ICT systems button? 

The Taylor Report which was withdrawn (or suppressed depending on your point of view) was compiling that data and coming to some not very comforting conclusions for the government and their merger plans. So let us see and agree the data to back up Mr Kelly’s claim. Otherwise it cannot be given any credibility. Mr Kelly seems not to understand the standard of research staff and research programmes required in a truly internationally competitive university as opposed to some ‘me-too’ university. This is clear by his treatment of research activity in his report.

Another glaring and very questionable omission from the report is that it fails to set the merger proposal in an international context. It references no views, no evidence based rationale, no international research or best practice on higher education mergers. If that information is available surely it should have been included? If not, that perhaps, that tells its own tale.

The entire University aspiration rightly beloved of Waterford was to achieve one thing and one thing only. Equality. Equality for the people of Waterford and the South East who have suffered decades of educational apartheid. Equality of access to education for our young people and for the wider population, to address the deficits in the City and the Region detailed so clearly in Chapter 2 of Mr Kelly’s report, by allowing more access to the highest level of education on our doorstep.

This in turn would enable us to better compete in attracting and developing industry and enterprise to our city and the region. It would allow us to address the consequent inequalities in employment levels and earning capacity and to discontinue our history whereby - through no fault of our own, but through the continued propagation of inequality by every government this state has ever had - we did not have a level playing field with our competitor cities.

I seriously question whether what is now on offer will address that or will it still leave us a step behind the University Cities with what they can offer and how they can compete?

I have one final question: what, now, is the South East? Where is it defined? I am at a loss to understand where the government insistence that Waterford may only partner with Carlow and may not address any other prospective partners comes from. At a loss that is until I consider politics and local politics in particular. I consider that this entire process is based on the (then and now) Ministers in our neighbouring constituencies wishing to cannibalise a piece of what we have built here in Waterford for their own back yards. The irony is of course, that WIT had always committed to the region and to spreading the benefits of University status into the region. A stance confirmed in our application for University status way back in 2005. There can be no doubt but that if that application had been allowed to proceed and had been successful, the entire South East would today be in a far stronger position than that which it currently occupies. Kilkenny & Wexford would have their University campuses already. Think about that.

Even more ironic then, that this government has now dismantled the South East Region. It does not exist in any guise, anywhere, any more. The South East hospitals grouping has been broken up and Waterford is in the Southern Group with Cork and Kerry, while Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford have been put into Leinster/Dublin groupings. The South East Regional Authority has also been disbanded.

The South East now is just a figment of Minister Howlin’s imagination when it suits his purposes. Perhaps Waterford and Carlow too should be released of the South East shackles and be free to court other partners in the Governments own redefined regions?

That’s if the entire Technological University process hasn’t already run into the sand...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Waterford Youth Committee Bows Out - The End of an Era

Today was another red letter day for Waterford City - not that you'd know it. Today we held the last ever meeting of Waterford Youth Committee.

I suppose we got a two year reprieve in that it should have happened two years ago when the Waterford City Vocational Education Committee was amalgamated with the County VEC and Wexford VEC into the now Waterford Wexford Education & Training Board. But as no guidelines were in place as to the make up of the new committee and there was work that needed to be done, the Youth Committee stayed in place to facilitate that.

But the day has finally dawned - indeed is almost past as I write this. I didn't think it proper to let it go without some acknowledgement of it's history, it's contribution to the youth of the City and without saying a big 'thank you' to the many people who contributed along the way.

Top of that pile has to be the legend that is Joe Gough, the Youth Development Officer. Joe has worked tirelessly and it is a testament almost entirely due to him and his tenacity that the Youth Sector in Waterford City has grown to the most well developed - and indeed, well funded outside of Dublin. It is one area where Waterford has been ahead of the posse and led the way. Joe is highly respected not just in Waterford but nationally and at government level. He deserves the respect and thanks of generations of Waterford young people, youth workers and volunteers for his single-mindedness in their benefit. Joe started out 34 years ago with a budget of just €4,000 a year. In 2015 the Youth Committee oversaw the distribution of over €1,000,000 in funding to Waterford City's Youth Sector. That is quite an achievement.

I also want to thank most sincerely, Cathy Drohan (and all those who worked in that position previously) for her hard work and commitment to the Youth Committee.

I have been a member of the WYC since 1999 and have been proud to Chair it since 2000. It has been both a pleasure and a privilege. I wish to acknowledge the current members of the Youth Committee both past - but most especially present. And in particular the youth sectoral representatives for all the different areas of youth work in Waterford City. They are currently Cathy Hanrahan, Mary Halligan, Breda Murphy, Gail O'Sullivan, Karen Rice and James Maguire. They have worked (and continue to do so!) tirelessly above and beyond the call of duty both on the Voluntary Youth Council and on the Youth Committee for the betterment young people and youth work.

We have dealt with all sorts of issues over the years; we have lobbied ministers; we have visited government departments; we have worked with many partners; we have been members of boards of management; we have introduced stringent quality standards; we have enjoyed award ceremonies; and of course we have handed out the odd cheque too! Waterford City has been the envy of many who saw what had been achieved here. And we have been proud of those achievements.

I am hopeful that the Youth Sector in Waterford City will continue to thrive. There have been very difficult years in recent times with many cutbacks hurting people only too willing to work with less, while delivering more. We have been proud also, to support those many services provided voluntarily, from scouting & guiding, to our many marching bands, youth groups, those who give their time generously in the special needs sector and the entire Voluntary Sector. The young people of Waterford have been enriched immeasurably by your efforts. I salute each of you. You represent the very best of what this ancient city has to offer. Thank you.

And so we move into the next iteration from September when the new Waterford & Wexford Youth Work Committee will take up the reins. I look forward to seeing the Youth Services in both County Waterford and indeed Wexford develop in the way that Waterford City has over decades. All the while endevouring to ensure that the City loses none of the hard fought for gains that have been delivered by Joe and his team over 34 years.

Another goodbye. And a sad one. So long WYC; it's been fun. Onwards and upwards.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Has Amalgamation Delivered for Waterford City?

The amalgamation of Waterford City & County Councils took place in tandem with the Local Elections of 2015 and has now been in place for 12 months. The News & Star have asked me to write a piece on how I see things after the first year but rather than focus on the personal I decided to go back to the documentation, to the promises that were made when the merger was being proposed by the Amalgamation Committee under the Chairmanship of Sean Aylward and do an analysis of that.

So how has it been going? Has the status of Waterford city been protected as we were told it would and what, if any, actual benefits have derived to the City as a consequence?

The Implementation Plan to the Minister for the Environment, Community & Local Government was delivered in May 2013. It detailed some ‘high level interventions’ that needed to happen in order to both smooth the transition to the new joint local authority and to ensure that it worked. What were these things?

One of the crucial ones was “the view that...additional support is warranted to address legacy financial deficits”. In other words, the deficit as we now know of over €10m should be dealt with via ‘additional support’ from central government. Other High Level Interventions are laid out in the Report and they can be summarised as follows:

1                     Developing the critical mass of Waterford as a Gateway City including
-          The city centre as the engine for growth and brand reputation
-          Collaboration with partners in the South-East
2                     Developing human capital including the establishment of Technological University
3                     City Centre Strategy & Management Plan and prioritisation of significant retail development
4                     Connectivity including
-          Runway extension for Waterford Airport and
-          Measures to bring the Aurora dark fibre network to Waterford & SE Region
5                     Continued development of Viking Triangle and other county towns and opening of Mount Congreve.
6                     OPW site at Dungarvan and NAMA Michael Street potential to be maximised.
7                     New marketing strategy for Waterford
8                     New Director (and Directorate) for Economic Development
9                     Basing of IDA Regional Director for SE in Waterford
10                 Addressing of disparity of State Aid in BMW/S&E regions
11                 Audit of labour supply skills
Firstly the legacy debt was not dealt with through any ‘additional’ measures at all and the new Council has had to borrow to cover the historic deficits of both councils and spread the repayment out over the coming years.

The Technological University is caught in an increasingly uncertain vortex and indeed the entire process now hinges on whether a TU would deliver anything at all to Waterford and the South East other than a name change – bearing in mind that the government have clearly indicated that there are to be no additional costs associated with the designation - and that there now appears to be one for everyone in the audience (to coin a phrase). This is farcical and leads one to conclude that what’s on offer is but a yellow-pack designation which would offer no advantage to Waterford and indeed may even damage the current status of WIT but that’s a larger question to be dealt with another day.

The Airport Runway extension obviously hasn’t happened, nor is there any sign of it. Mount Congreve has been opened although it is hard to understand how that might be credited to, or is a consequence of the amalgamation process. Indeed some might say that it’s open despite the government rather than because of them! Additionally it is sad to see the nursery there recently closed.

The Viking Triangle, has continued to develop physically (slowly) although I would like to see an acceleration of the populating of the area with more unique businesses and activity. This project in my opinion needs refocusing.

While efforts continue apace (prior to and since amalgamation) to develop the NAMA site in Michael Street we can at best say that we are confident that something will happen. Although there is nothing concrete at the time of writing, NAMA have committed to designing the centre and applying for planning permission. As it stands all the plans for urban regeneration will amount to nothing, and indeed I would worry if a single paving slab will be laid, if that site is not developed. This must remain as a number one priority for the city.

A new strategy for Waterford is certainly being launched in the area of tourism although it is to be regretted that Tourism Ireland has seen fit to have Waterford now managed from the Cork office. This will, unless carefully monitored have a negative effect on the future development of tourism in the City (and County), in the same way as the removal of the IDA Director in 1995 (by the same government) had a negative effect on attracting industry. To be fair the launch of Irelands Ancient East could deliver for us following on from the huge success of the Wild Atlantic Way (from which Waterford was inexplicably excluded) but that is dependent on Tourism Irelands commitment and again is entirely outside the remit of the local authority and cannot be said to be consequence of amalgamation.

We also now have an Economic Director and Directorate and that along with the basing of an IDA Regional Director for the South East in Waterford City and the levelling of the field in relation to State grants has indeed delivered benefits in the past year. Of those, possibly only the first is attributable to the amalgamation (although all other cities got them too whether amalgamated or not). I also am concerned that since the Economic Director was appointed, his role continues to be diluted with other important responsibilities.

Our City identity, as I predicted has been all but lost and we are now the Metropolitan District of Waterford rather than Waterford City. The Mayoralty has been decimated on many fronts. In City Hall the MAYOR(S) have even been relegated to small offices lacking privacy or status rather than occupying the Mayors Parlour as heretofore. The City Mayoralty is second now to the Mayoralty of the Plenary Council and quite frankly the situation that pertains is ludicrous to the extent that under the current structure there is arguably, no place for a City Mayor. It pains me to even type that.

There have been savings at senior management level – with just one CEO and 4 Directors (back to the exact same levels of staffing as the City alone had prior to the amalgamation) but it’s hard not to counter that with lack of focus, split locations and the built in inefficiencies inherent in a split structure.

I am also willing to concede that things appear to be looking up on the jobs front with announcements from West Pharma, Glanbia, Nearform, Eishtech etc. to name a few. However, how many of these announcements are (I wonder) a result of the amalgamation?

We have been though (and continue to go through) a period upheaval in the Council with huge associated costs running into several millions – with, of course, no allocated budget for them. We have lost our City and our City Mayoralty – important perhaps only to those of us who value history & culture – but in my opinion we have also lost status and rank now in the second layer of Local Government in Ireland behind the three cities of Dublin, Cork & Galway.

I read a research paper during the year which, while not examining the Irish situation specifically, has carried out an analysis of Local Government systems in other countries. It concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that bigger was, in fact better when it comes to local authorities and that with the exception of the UK, Ireland now ranks among the countries with the lowest level of representation in local government. Which is no surprise as Ireland is among the most centralised systems of government in the developed world.

But don’t just take my word for it. Brendan Howlin, told the Labour Party conference in March of this year that he lamented that the change in local government and that it was the ‘biggest regret’ of his term in office and it should be reversed. He must have had his ‘eye off the ball’, he said. Go figure.

I would (and did) argue that real reforms and savings could and should have been made through shared services and other reforms which could have been delivered without the huge costs associated with amalgamation and without decimating city & town councils and their identities and status. Can I honestly say it has all been worth it – for the miniscule savings which may or may not accrue in time? No. I cannot. Waterford continues to suffer apartheid in the educational, health and job creation stakes. Changing our size has not – unsurprisingly – changed that one iota. Sadly, despite Mr Howlins’ howls (sorry) and other platitudes I do not see this abomination being undone in the short or medium term.