Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sad Passing of Nicky Fewer, Freeman of Waterford.
A ship sails
and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon
and someone at my side says: She is gone!
Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all;
she is just as large as when I saw her.
The diminished size,
and total loss of sight is in me, not in her,
and just at the moment when someone at my side says
She is gone!
there are others who are watching her coming,
and other voices take up the glad shout,
There she comes!
…..and that is dying!

News has travelled quickly of the very sad passing of a great man and the most recent Freeman of our ancient city, Nicky Fewer. As well as being a wonderful person, family man and business man Nicky was possessed of a vision for Waterford and the drive to implement it.

He gave of himself generously for the betterment of the City, Chairing the Regional Airport Board, Christ Church Catherderal Development and indeed the Tallships Festival which graced our river in 2005, amongst other things.

He was tireless, right up to the end working to form a non-profit company to try and rescue as many Waterford Crystal jobs as possible.

His was a big heart and a big intellect and he will be sorely missed by many people all over the world. I have had calls from Dublin and Gibraltar where the news has already reached.

Nicky, you fought always for what you believed in and put your own shoulder to the wheel, going above and beyond the call of duty, even in illness, to ensure that you contributed to what has become your beloved city.

My sympathy goes out to all Nickys' family, especially his wife Maria and son Ian and all his friends and colleagues.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Above is a particularly relevant poem, given Nickys' great love of all things sailing and the sea.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Crystal Pensions Issue Getting Lost

It is a sad day for Waterford - what has happened to Waterford Crystal. It is one of only three iconic brands that were Irish (the other two being Guinness and Kerrygold) and now it is not Irish anymore. Or at least the crystal that it sells won't be. What a pity that we couldn't protect the brand for Ireland and for Waterford. I sincerely hope that as many jobs as possible can be retained and I commend Mr Nicky Fewer and his colleagues who at least have stepped up to see what they can do to keep some jobs and those all-important tourists here.

However, one issue is still really causing me great concern and that is the pensions. How can it be that those men (and women) have been forgotten about in all of this? They are not part of the KPS deal. It would not be possible for the new non-profit consortium (under Nicky Fewer) to take on that responsibility - and the Government, despite an EU directive, are saying nothing and doing nothing it seems.

Those men and women have worked hard for years, for decades. They have given their lives to Waterford Crystal. They have done whatever was asked of them in terms of productivity, wage cuts, short time or whatever. They were amongst the most skilled and gifted workers that this city has ever seen. Many of them would more rightly be termed artists.

The acclaim that their work has brought to Ireland has been immeasurable. They have often been ambassadors themselves, travelling all over the world with their craft. Like the Ministers garnering an 'unmeasurable return' from their St. Patricks Day touring, the workers of Waterford Crystal have delivered more for Waterford and Ireland than a mere wage. We have built a tourist industry on their reputation. We have delivered shamrock to US presidents in their bowls. The USA has celebrated it's new year with a symbolic sphere crafted by Waterford workers. Who could value that? Who could put a price on what that has meant to us?

And now, when they have worked and paid into their pensions (no-one asking for any freebies here) they have been told there is nothing in the pot and that they should....what? Well what can they do? Get jobs? Re-train? Get a new career? Possible maybe for some younger people but in your 60's? How can this be fair or reasonable, or even do-able?

It is obvious that the powers that be are so out of touch that they cannot understand what it means to have your pension wiped out from under you. They would have been better off to keep the money in a biscuit tin! Have any questions been asked of the trustees of the pension fund? What was their responsibility is all this and who, indeed, are they?

It is imperative, now that the Unions are going back to the talks table, that they bring this issue with them. Those men and women deserve to have this issue addressed. The Government - according to the EU, has responsibilties that it cannot simply ignore - as it seems to be doing now.

Imagine the stress that this must be causing. It is not fair or reasonable. This issue cannot be lost in the desperate scramble to save an hundred or so jobs, important and all as those jobs are. People have rights. People should have dignity. We owe it to those men and women who worked for so long and did everything right, putting substantial money into their pension funds so that they would not be a burden of the state or anyone else. They can't just be abandoned. This needs to be sorted out. And soon.

Kilkenny Boundary Extension

God protect me from self-serving Kilkenny would-be politicians going off half-cocked! The latest is somone called Peader de Bluit who is making all sorts of uninformed pontifications about me on page 2 of this weeks Munster Express.

Listen. Is it too much to ask that Kilkenny County Councillors would operate within the bounds of National, Regional and their own Development Plan strategies? That's all that I'm asking for. It's not that complicated. Yes it is too much, obviously is the answer.

After years of trying to scupper Waterford with that excuse for a road - thank God that power was taken away from them and we will finally see a decent road to the Capital - Kilkenny County Councillors have now decided to try and undermine Waterford another way, this time by putting what is plainly a much too large shopping centre right outside the County Boundary. One of such a scale that it will undermine the very survival of the city centre if it is allowed to grow to the size it seeks.

This is against the National Spatial Strategy, the Regional Planning Guidlelines and Kilkennys' own development plan.

Now don't talk to me about District centres. We have them dotted all around the city and we know what they are. Honestly. The Kilkenny proposal is not one. Hence the spurious attempts to designate Ferrybank as a 'town' or 'suburban Gateway centre' - whatever makey up kind of a designation that is, so that they can justify the size of the shopping centre! If it were just a District Centre we would have no problem. In fact when that was the scale of what was sought we had no issue. It is only the many attempts (up to 20) since then to keep increasing the size of the centre that causes the problem.

But look. Other brains than mine will have the solving of this one. It will undoubtedly end up on the Minister for the Environments' desk. Lets see what happens. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But if I'm right - I'm right.

Less of the personal insults from Sinn Feins' Mr de Bluit might be a good start though, however this plays out. It's not a fist fight. And I'm very sorry for Peader if he feels 'spoken down to' (according to himself ) but sure I wasn't speaking to him at all.

Photo shows me at the first Ferrybank Fun Day organised by the community, which I attended as Chairperson o Waterford Area Partnership.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pedestrianisation of Barronstrand Street & John Roberts Square?

I seem to be on the wrong end of a lot of populist stuff right now. And here I go again! I cannot, for the life of me, understand what exactly people think will be solved by the opening of the above streets/areas to parking or traffic.

I am a shopper. I go 'to town' almost every day and I can always get parking (except at Christmas time) and I can almost always (except early mornings) get through John Roberts Square, with pram and toddler either in or out of said pram, safely and without the danger of moving traffic or even static traffic blocking views etc.

What would be different if 10 or 20 or so cars could park there, or if traffic were driving through it. I really don't think people have answered this question or thought this one through properly in their minds.
Recently some Councillors have been calling for exactly this to happen (is there an election and a populist issue in the air, I wonder?) but even they have not pointed out what the benefits would be.

I think the retailers of Waterford, for one, need to wake up and instead of knocking the city and knocking shopping (i.e. their own businesses!) here at every available opportunity they should be using every opportunity to promote shopping in the city. On the one hand, they invest their hard-earned cash in shopping promotions and advertising, then every chance they get, they lambaste that self same shopping on every public media available.

Now I have issues with the city centre, in fairness. I'm not mad about the urban design scheme in truth. But it is not the worst I seen and in the summer when the trees are in leaf it is exceedingly pleasant with some great and unique shops.

I am concerned about the lack of a night-time economy there - but Grafton Street is the same. It is a shopping street and closes down entirely at night. However, I do think that there are things that can and should be done to ensure a night time economy can work here and I have been fighting for this for years. Finally I think the penny is dropping and some pragmatism is coming into the thinking here. I know there are plans for evening activities and an easing of permission for outdoor cafe type activity. But the Council cannot do things like this alone. We need partners to work with us to create and maintain this type of activity and it won't happen overnight.

Another issue I have with the city centre is the almost complete lack of investment (with some notable exceptions) by shop owners over the past decade. What have the people who stand to benefit most from city centre trading invested? I would go so far as to argue that empty premises, rather than being rate-free, should in fact be charged double rates! That would 'encourage' the owners to ensure that properties are rented - even if, God forbid, they had to lower the rental and give a decent lease length (two issues that have been brough to my attention time and time again as mitigating severely against new and small shops in Waterford). However rates is a national issue and we cannot make this change locally.

And what about hotels - or is this the City Councils fault too? We do not have a hotel offering in Waterford on a scale to compete with that of the much smaller towns of Wexford and Kilkenny. I was in Whites Hotel in Wexford only today and it is a gorgeous hotel, which has been completely redeveloped, expanded and re-launched right in the heart of Wexford town. Why are our hotels in Waterford smaller, with lower star ratings? I am not talking about minor alterations. There is room in Waterford for a major hotel with conference facilities for 1,000 or 500 seated. You could argue, particularly in the current climate that Kilkenny might be over-supplied with hotel rooms and facilities. But you could certainly not argue that for Waterford City Centre. Oh for some investors and businesses looking to grow and build.

I guess it won't happen right now with the banks behaving like scrooge in a particularly mean spirit but the opportunity is there and it's a winner. I'm convinced of it. If you don't have facilities of that order, you are not in the (very lucrative) conference business game. And we are not.

But I have wandered off topic. Let me finish by saying that yes, we have our problems but they are no more significant than problems in any city at the moment. We should be promoting Waterford - while trying to deal with those problems and the retailers in particular should be amongst the most vocal in selling - not knocking Waterford, at least in public. Anything else is damaging their own businesses.

And if I thought that opening up the City Centre to traffic was a forward step I would fight for it tooth and nail. But it is not. We all know it. We need to build a bridge and get over it. We need to work together to fill the gaps in Waterfords offering and we need to talk ourselves up. Plenty shoppers come here from all over the South and South East. Lets not run them out of town altogether for their temerity. We have the largest River Island outside Dublin. We're getting a new Penneys. The Book Centre has to be one of the greatest shops in Ireland! There are lots of shops, lots of opportunites - now, all we need to find is our courage?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Phoenix Column, Waterford News & Star

Some of you will have read in this weeks News & Star that I criticised the Phoenix Column. (Oh sin of sins!) Well yes I did, but not for the reasons that the Phoenix has written about in his column. I do not intend to answer him (and we all know really, who 'he' is - if he was offended by my 'it' terminology. I'm just playing along with his anonymous game! And if I meet him in the course of my day to day dealings I will continue his little charade - after all, acting was my first passion!) But I take this opportunity here to lay out my case honestly.

Let me preface by saying that Phoenix has always been fair to me as far as I can remember, when referring to me by name but not when referring to 'the Council' of which I am a member.

Anyway. Phoenix alleges this week that I said that he should not criticise the City Council. Now does he really think that I or any of my colleagues are naive enough or narcissistic enough to think that we are beyond criticism? Hello? We're in politics! That's the territory we inhabit. I personally often seem to be a magnet for it. I, quite simply, never said anything like that!

My point, and it is perfectly illustrated by Phoenixs' incorrect reporting of the reason for my annoyance, is that he consistently harps on about the Council, often inaccurately, without ever attending a meeting or hearing for himself.

He constantly berates Councillors for only caring about 'rampaí' - as he puts it (which he seems to obsess about much more than any Councillor I have ever met); which has never been discussed in any great detail in the Council chamber in my 10 years as a Councillor.

He says (and he reapeated it this week) that Councillors use waivers to 'buy' votes! That is not only incorrect - it is scandalous or at least it would be, if it were true. I have never had any hand act or part in getting a waiver for anyone. I certainly have never used them to 'buy' votes but, for the record (and I have argued this in the Council chamber as recently as our November budget meeting) I do agree that there are far too many people on waivers making our entire waste-management collection scheme unsustainable as far as I am concerned.

He is kind enough to say that he thinks that both I and Cllr Mary O'Halloran are good Councillors and that he would vote for us! Why? If all we ever do is argue about bloody ramps and buy votes with waivers? You just cannot tar everybody with the same brush. I do not argue that there are Councillors who, in my opinion, are not in it for the right reasons but I am not one of them and I will be damned if Phoenix thinks he can continually label me as one and that I will continue to accept it. Ultimately, the decision on who is elected and for what reasons is artbitrated on by the public and they have draconian measures available to them for those whom they believe are not delivering or are not in it for the right reasons.

In fact, I don't have an issue even with Phoenixs' anonymity. I think there is a place for it. However over the past number of years the Phoenix has gone on and on about his pet issues. Often, it has to be said, not placing the blame where it truly lies. And often being misleading about who can or cannot solve these - hugely important in many cases - problems.

However, I must honestly add here that I have never seen, in any other local newspaper on this Island or beyond, a column that is so negative about its home place. As far as I am concerned, the Phoenix column oftens compounds our problems rather than helps to solve them. There are plenty lining up to knock Waterford; I would argue that we should not be doing it to ourselves. We all know what the issues are. Some of us are actively trying to solve them in whatever limited way we can, rather than festering the wounds and playing into the hands of those who would do us down.

This week Phoenix also says (along with committing his vote if it were in our wards to myself or Mary O'H!) that he does not think that we should be paid anything other than legitimate expenses. Now when I got elected first in '99 that was all there was. And I ran a communications company as my main source of income. Now - and again he wouldn't know this because he is not familiar enough with the facts - being a Councillor is virtually a full-time job. I have given up my company, such is the time requirement. (I'm not moaning just stating the facts - see earlier blog: Local Councillors, Over Paid or Undervalued? which goes into this in more detail). And if I was the main earner in our home we simply could not survive on a Councillors income. Quite frankly, if this were the case now, Phoenix could hold onto his vote because I, for one, simply could not do this work properly an would not be running for election at all. Although I could probably do two meetings a month, or so and not really know about any of the issues other than superfluously thus ensuring the continuance of all the bads things that we sought to change about the way things have been done in the past.

So come on, Phoenix. Times have changed. Being a Councillor is not what is was even 10 years ago. It is practically a full-time job - for me, anyway. And I, for one am not afraid to defend what I do - even when I can't win. I am proud to be a City Councillor in my home town that I love. I am proud to represent the people of Waterford and I will stand over my record and my motives in any forum - even one where I cannot see my accusor. I work hard. I study the issues hard. I defend Waterford to the last. I fight for her in every forum. And I am fed up of being tarred with your 'rampaí' brush. All it does is denigrate my work, the people I work for and my city. And quite frankly, it is inaccurate reporting.

So there you have it. Most of which you would know if you were as invloved as I am, or ever attended meetings of the Council, Joint Policing Board, City Development Board, WIT, Waterford Area Partnership, Waterford Youth Committee, Planning & Economic Development Strategic Policy Committee, City of Waterford Vocational Education Committee, Sports Partnership, Regional Planning Guidelines Committee, Transportation and Infrastructure Strategic Policy Committee, Area Meetings, Airport Board, Museum of Treasures Board, Theatre Royal Board, Regional Assembly, Regional Authority, Health Forum (and so on and so on and so on) meetings that I and my Council colleagues do.

It's time to update your understanding of what it means to be a Councillor in 2009. I know I have. I think its high time the correct motives were brought back into politics. Democracy is the best governance solution that we have and I think that decent politicians (the kind the media always eulogizes in the obituaries column!) started to stand up for democracy and for their profession. As for the dishonest ones, the sooner they go the way of the Dodo, the better for us all. But thats out of my hands, I'm afraid.
Photo shows the Statue of Liberty, symbolising for me, hope and freedom - two cornerstones of democracy.

Third Level Fees

Listening to Batt O'Keeffe on radio today it now seems a definite that third level fees are set to return in some form or other. Batt says, that if you can afford to pay, then you should pay. And I agree with him. Where we would probably diverge somewhat in our agreement might be on who he thinks can pay, and who I think can!

Sure! The likes of Bono or Denis O'Brien or (heaven forbid) Sean Fitzpatrick and their ilk can and should be paying for their children to go to third level education. I certainly don't think its fair or reasonable to expect the state i.e. the tax payer (and there is now a realisation that the state paying, IS us paying) should be footing the bill for well-heeled parents who can afford not just to pay fees, but probably could afford to buy the whole college their beloved offspring aspires to!

But gauging by past history, the income level will be set where it bests suits the government, not the tax-payer and that means that it will be set low enough that they will get a meaningful wad of cash from it. If it's too high, it would not yield enough money. Not enough people would be paying it.

So the chances are, that it will be set low enough to capture a substantial section of people. People like most of us who end up paying for eveything. Every Doctor's visit; every prescription; every dentists visit; every bill; every exam fee; every book; every uniform; every license; every levy etc. etc. and who, at the end of the day probably end up with less disposable income left over than those with substantailly lower incomes. I am aware of some people who live on welfare who seem to have a lot more money for holidays and weekends on the beer than I currently enjoy.

Anyone who has applied for a third level grant will know how ridiculously low the income thresholds are set. PAYE workers on very modest incomes are excluded - often by very little indeed. And whereas you might be €1,000 over the grant limit, it is estimated to cost around €5-7,000 per year to keep a student in third level especially away from home. How can this be fair? This is exactly the kind of thing that keeps many marginalised and lower income earners out of third level. How many times have you heard recently about the 'working poor'?

Now add to that a possible extra €5,000 in fees. And don't forget that the wholly falacious charge of a 'registration fee' will remain - currently around €900 rising to €1,500 (ish) next autumn. This charge was introduced by the Government as fees by the backdoor. And now that fees are about to be re-introduced shouldn't it be abolished?

Add to this, that the University or Institute your child will attend is already underfunded by the Department of Education and they are announcing extra imposed cuts almost by the day - from a base of investment that is already lower than the international average (even when we were awash with money).

And remember that every penny of fee's you pay to the college of your choice, the government will simply deduct that money from what they give them in the first place. So the only winners in the equation are the government themselves. Anyone who thinks that the extra income raised will be ploughed back into third level education (and I could almost stomach it if that was the case) is living in cloud cuckoo land. You might aswell be paying this money directly into the Department coffers.

Whatever guise fees are re-introduced under, be it student loans or whatever, parents will stretch to - because that is what you do for your children. You want to give them every possible advantage so you will stretch and scrape and do without, in order to get them through. But not everyone will be able to, even with personal and family sacrifices. It will cause extreme hardship for some and some will most likely have to drop out.

I am pleading with the Minister to be realistic in the income levels and not to replicate the grant level income limits. Make sure that people are not penalised for working. Make sure that people are rewarded for paying their way. We cannot put all our eggs - enterprise wise - in the hi-tech, knowledge economy basket and then exclude people from being able to be part of that 'highly educated workforce' that we boast about.

If the Minister is intent on doing this - and it seems that he is, then it needs to be fair. Otherwise it will go the way of the over 70's medical card and most of the other ill-thought-out measures introduced in last years disastrous budget which has cost the Government so much of its credibility.

If they make a pigs ear out of this issue and the extra budget on April 7th, then I predict that they are for the chop. No bad thing in my book as, in my opinion they have no mandate to govern under these conditions anyway - having lied their way through the last election. (See earlier blog: From Poster Boy to Economic Basket Case, Who Knew?)

Whatever happens, the next few weeks are crucial. Crucial to you and indeed, crucial to me as I have a daughter who will in a short few years be seeking, please God, to go to college. We cannot sacrifice their futures. Already, she is asking me do I think the recession will be over by the time she's looking for work. What can I say? I sure hope so. But I'm not so sure!

The Government seems to be making it up as they go along. Every day I look for signs that they are on top of it. That they have lost the dazed expressions. That they are capable of formulating a strategy to get us through and out if this. So far I haven't seen any promising signs. It's like watching a disaster unfold in slow motion before your eyes - like watching your child fall but knowing that no matter what you do, you won't reach them on time to catch them. I'll keep watching but as I said already I'm not so sure.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Thoughts Turn to Local Elections

Now that Paddys Day is (almost) over my thoughts are turning to this years Local Elections. Yes it's that time of the five year cycle when the elctorate can either reward you for working hard or turf you unceremoniously out on your posterior!

Well, having recent experience of both (reward in the locals and dismissal in the nationals - although I was looking for a seat rather than being turfed out of one!) I can tell you, that not winning a seat is a real kick in the teeth. It kind of sucks the air from your lungs. Losing your seat must be unbearably diffilcult.

But now is the time when all those people who feel they "can't do anything" get to have their say. What's the bet that most of them will vote as they always have??? I'm sorry to be sooooo cynical but when I see some of what gets elected it really makes me wonder.

In my ward (Waterford East - formerly Ward 2) this year we are getting an extra seat due to the population increase. Going from 5 seats to 6. This means that the world and his mother are seeking get the extra seat and already there is one almighty line up. Looks like there will be more candidates than ever.

This year, I'm toying with the idea of not putting up posters. Personally I hate them. Blocking up the whole place looking a mugshots. But I'm nervous that if I don't put them up, I might lose out and lets face it, in a local election you can't afford to lose any votes. I would have to replace the poster element probably with some sort of a mobile poster set-up on my car or somesuch. It does seem the right thing to do, but not at the risk of losing the seat. I'll mull it around in my head for a while and talk it out with the lads.

I always look forward to the canvass. 99% of people of the doorsteps are very polite and generous - whether they intend voting for you or not. Mind you, you'll always get the person who blames all politicians for everything regardless - or the zealots, whom no-one could please!

I have to hope that people will see that I have worked hard and that my profile will see me though. With, of course, as much of a push as we can give it on the doorsteps in the two months up to the big day itself.

Of course another big plus for the canvass is that you lose a stone out tramping the streets every evening. And you know what they say about every cloud......
Picture shows poster from the 2007 General Election. I'm going to campaign for the vote to be brought down to four year olds. They all told me they'd vote for me! Should I use posters for this years campaign or can I risk leaving them out?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Birthday Remembrance for Irene.
Pictured above is my mother-in-law Irene Keating who died tragically last year after a car crash. I meant to do this yesterday as it was her birthday but I didn't get the chance with Anna Manahans burial, so here it is today - a day late, as I generally am with birthdays anyway.
Irene was a woman in a million; loving, strong, fun, supportive and great, great craic. It was truly the worst day of mine and all her families lives when she died.
Irene was known by and to, so many people who still genuinely miss her and grieve her loss sorely. I really hate it when, on hearing about her death, some people ask how old she was. You can see them making a value judgement about the tragedy or not of her death based on how old she was and whether they figure that she had a 'good innings'. Well she did not have a good innings insofar as, despite the fact that Irene was in her early 70's, she had more life in her and left in her than many MANY people I know who are years and even decades her junior.
She was such a big personality that her passing has left a big hole in our lives and it has been hard for the family to find a new focus. No-one could ever replace a mother anyway. But nothing could ever replace Irene.
She was - and I know this is often said about people who have died, but in this case it is monumentally true - the life and soul of the party. She had so much joie de vivre. So many people live long and miserable lives but Irene lived (despite her own considerable share of tragedy) a joyous and full life.
At this time I remember the many birthday parties (and any-old-reason parties) that involved Irene. One motto she lived by was 'never go home on the same day you go out!' and by God she lived by it, extracting as much fun and giving as much pleasure as she could out of every minute that she could!
It is hard to believe that this is her first birthday gone from our sight. But not from our minds. Not for a long time yet.
I know that Irene is fondly remembered all over Waterford at this time. I hope that she's having a birthday hooley with her beloved Michael - also taken so tragically and quickly from us not too long before Irene. I know that somewhere she's singing, waving that glass of red wine around and that Michael is probably trying to encourage her to go home! Afterall, it is the day after her birthday!
Happy Birthday Irene. We all miss you and can't believe you are gone.
County Councillors Feigning Shock!

I do not like having to point to short-comings amongst my colleagues in the Council world but I have to say that I am less than impressed with what can only be described as the 'shennanigans' of some of those members of Waterford County Council in recent days over their alleged 'shock' and 'disappointment' at the Bord Pleanala decision to (correctly) point out that TK Maxx do not have permission for the type of retailing that they have been engaged in at the Butler Retail Park.

Were the Councillors either not aware of the zoning of Retail Warehousing (which allows only the sale of bulky goods) or did they not understand it? I think neither is the case. They are both well aware of the zoning and of what it means and indeed were well aware that TK Maxx were therefore trading incorrectly. The feigned amazement therefore, is astounding and dishonest as far as I am concerned. That is not even to mention the disgraceful personal attacks that have been made in relation to the appellant in this matter - who has been vindicated and found to be correct.

The type of retailing that TK Maxx are doing i.e. clothes and shoes etc. is in direct competition with the City Centre of Waterford and does not, as has been claimed 'create new jobs'. What is, in fact happening is that jobs are simply being displaced. They are being lost in the City Centre and replaced in the suburbs. Look at the evidence.

I do not argue that TK Maxx are an attractive retailer for some and attract shoppers but they must be located in a place where they compliment and do not threaten the city centre or jobs. We need competition, but not unfair competition. That is the current challenge.

The Butlerstown Retail Park is directly outside the administrative boundary of Waterford City. The other tenants seeking to locate there, named as Mothercare and Argos, both have shops in the City Centre which would obviously have been affected by this move.

It is good and correct planning - and a strategy that has been accepted by all Councils in the South East including Waterford County Council, that the primacy of Waterford City must be underlined. Why the shock then, when that policy is upheld?

We have many threats to our City - and be in no doubt but that if competition of this nature is allowed outside the centre, then the City will die. The rents are cheaper (often free for large, well-known anchor tenants) and there is free parking. And we will all be crying about the City being a wasteland and everybody compelled to use cars. These are the facts and the international evidence in there for all to see.

The sooner our neighbouring Councils start acting upon regionally adopted strategies and stop trying to decimate Waterford City Centre, the better. And I include in this, Kilkenny County Council and their plans to get Town Centre status for Ferrybank(!) as well as the development of a ridiculously large shopping centre in Ferrybank in which everyone knows, they want to put as much shopping as is in the City Centre (and which in my opinion will be a white elephant).

Waterford County Council and Kilkenny County Council have put no investment into Waterford City or its suburbs and yet they seek not only to benefit from our population but more than that, to compromise the very future our small City and its 1,100 year exsistence!

All this, in my humble opinion, underlines the need for updated boundary extension procedures. Although I know this is a contentious issue, there must be some way of merely extending the administrative area of one Council into another, while still allowing that area to remain in its original County and still allowing the people to vote in the original area. After all, most political objections are based on the issue of loss of electoral area votes rather than any strategic or planning issues.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Anna and the People!

It is with a sense of sadness but also with a smile that I note the passing of a true blue Waterfordian. A Freeman of this ancient City. The one and only Anna Manahan. What a great person she was. A wonderful actor? Yes for sure! A great Waterford woman? Absolutely! An International Star? Yes indeed.

There will be many who can recall her long and accomplished acting career far better than I. I saw her in several Red Kettle (and other) productions after her career in later life seemed, like herself, to gain renewed vigour. I rejoiced when she won the Tony Award and I was delighted that she was, during her lifetime, awarded the Freedom of the City - the highest recognition that it is possible for us, as City Councillors, to give on behalf of the people of Waterford.

But I have to say that her last and most passionate role, surely, was in her role as spokesperson for the elderly people of this City and this Island. She used her name and fame to give voice to the fears of hundreds of thousands of older people who were terrified late last year when the Government planned to take away Medical Cards from them all.

I last saw Anna in action at the public meeting protesting the closure of St Brigids Ward in Patrick's Hospital a few weeks ago. No-one who attended that night could be in any doubt as to her passion. Her words were strong. Suffice to say that she was not very complimentary towards the Government, Fianna Fail or the HSE! Like it or lump it, Anna called it as she saw it.

She tolerated no attack on the old, the infirm or those who were vulnerable and she channelled her considerable talents into speaking on their behalf - even though she was obviously not well herself and had to leave the meeting early. I met her afterwards. "How was I, Mary?" she asked, the way all actors will seek a critique of their performance. "You were wonderful Anna," I said. And she was. She spoke with all the experience her considerable acting career had given her. She was funny. She was outrageous. She was insensed! She was honest.

And now she is gone. I hope Anna, that you are in heaven and that you are, in the words of your own favourite song ".....forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air!" May you rest in peace.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pensions & Politics

It is proving difficult to ascertain exactly what the purchase of Waterford Crystal by KPS will mean either for jobs, for the visitor centre or by extension, for the city. How many jobs will be maintained and of what standard? I would not be hopeful that there will be many or that they will be well-paying but we will hold fire until we see what happens.

The Visitors Centre will probably continue but perhaps not as we know it. It seems to me that the continuance of this tourist attraction in some form and with some manufacturing is crucial in allowing Waterford and the South East to continue to attract the 320,000 or so tourists who visited the showrooms and factory each year.

I had heard prior to leaving last week that KPS had pledged €10m towards the redundancy payments of ex-workers but that this was only for 'union' workers. If this is so then it is shameful and I would urge the unions not to discriminate against workers be they in a union or not. If they were not negotiating for the entire workforce then they should have made this clear and ensured that those non-union members were represented at all negotiations.

The issue, once again, that concerns me because I hear nothing about it and assume (rightly I am sure) that the new purchasers will not be taking any responsibility for, is the pension scheme and its members. I won't go into the details of the hard-cases that I have heard. We are all, in Waterford only too well aware of what they are and who is affected. Men and women who have little or no hope of working again, of retirement or almost retirement age. Men and women who did the right thing and invested in their pensions so that they could have a quality of life in old age and not be dependant on the state.

How can it be fair that they are not looked after? How can it be fair that their interests seem to be taking back seat? Who is going to grasp that nettle and sort it out - for sorted out it must be. Every time I turn on the radio it is more doom and gloom.

Today the Greens at their conference say that the very future Independence of our Country is at stake! Has anyone told them that they are in Government? Have they realised that if we lose that Independence it will have happened on their watch? Have they heard of collective responsibility? They seem to want to detach themselves from all but their own ministerial portfolios. Do they sit twiddling their thumbs while all other cabinet discussions are on-going? I doubt it. They are in there with 'the big boys' now. In fact they are the big boys now.

So come on; sort it out; tell us the bottom line and get on with it. With Governing. That's what you were elected and have elected to do, with Fianna Fail. Across all the ministerial portfolios including Finance and Enterprise and Welfare and Community etc. etc. etc. Give us some leadership and stop bleating.
Photo shows the names of some of the many Roches who immigrated into the US through Ellis Island in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Will JFK be the new Ellis Island in the early part of this Century when millions more will leave Ireland trying to find opportunity and fleeing despair? I hope not.
Just For the Craic....

Video shows the loos in Bar 89 in NY which are Unisex and yes, you can see right through the doors! But relax, they frost over obscuring the view once the door is locked from the inside. A bit weird until you find that out though!!! They serve a really nice lunch too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

In it Together - In it Apart

You know, while in New York for 5 days I didn't hear one iota of Irish news. No, I lie I did pick up a one-day-old Irish Times in Grand Central Station on Wednesday but I hate reading old news - even if it is new to me!

Anyway, the point is that although we are in this trough of economic swill, well - so is everyone else. We think we're pretty unique here in Ireland and that our problems are worse than anywhere else. But in fact they are the same. Different but the same. Nuances that affect only us, but the bottom line is the same. Practically every economy in the world be it ours or the US; democracy or dictatorship; capitalist or communist are all feeling the pain.

The US doesn't see Irelands' mess as one of any special note; or one that deserves special mention. They're so busy trying to get out of their own knee-deep mess that ours is of not interest to them.

It is to be expected that we think that our economy is worse than anyone elses, but I'll tell you, leaving here makes you realise that this thing is bigger than little ole Ireland. We didn't cause it and I certainly don't think we will solve it! All we can do is try and keep paddling like the clappers to keep our heads above water until this flood that is bigger than all of us starts to recede a little. If we can get our toes on something to help prop us up, then all the better but we need a little perspective. Irelands place in this whole mess is pretty small.

That is not to say that we aren't or won't feel the pain. But the whole world is feeling it. I do have to say though that I think I would have a little more confidence in our ability to stay afloat if the Government had a handle on things. I went away last Thursday with Mary Coughlans 'Morning Ireland' words ringing in my ears saying that the Government finances were under control and that an early extra budget would not be needed. Only to return yesterday to hear that there would indeed be an extra budget next month because there was an even bigger hole in the public finances than previously thought. Whats going on here? Is there anyone in charge?

Obama is telling is like it is and trying to bring his people with him. Here, they seem to be making it up as they go along! That seems to me to be the real difference. Over there, the Captain has his hand on the tiller and is looking at whats ahead. Here, he must be downing a pint and watching, bleary eyed, out over the stern!
Photo of Mary taken outside the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday last.

Monday, March 2, 2009

More snow than you'd see in a month of Sundays!

Well here I am in the Big Apple - and guess what? It's 5 inches of snow outside. Real, soft, fluffy snow. The kind you can make snowmen out of...mind you I'll be giving that a miss. We're about to head off for a NYC breakfast.

Went out to Ellis Island yesterday and it is quite overwhelming to see all the records and hear the stories of the 12 or so million people who passed through here into the US.

Shopping on the agenda today - got the kids to think of. So will update with photos when I get home.
Home now (obviously) so here's a pic of that luffly fluffy snow in Central Park on Monday last.