Thursday, December 29, 2011

Out with 2011. In with 2012

As we head out of an old year and into a new one many people (me inlcuded) have a little more time on their hands and I suppose time inevitably leads to reflection - particularly at this time of year.

And I suppose its fair to say that 2011 has been a seminal year for me - and indeed for the country.

Personally, the first six months saw the second half of my Mayoralty of Waterford City; my home City and a City which I love and am immensely proud of. It was a great privilege to serve in that role for a year and an experience which I will treasure and be grateful for, for the entire length of my life. Forever!

On the home front, we welcomed our first grandchild, little Mia - an angel and treasure; daughter to our eldest Ailish - who has done and continues to do a smashing job as a young mother. She is dedicated, loving and capable and I hope that I can give her as much help and support in that role as she generously and uncomplainingly gave to me when I was working as Mayor.

Our own youngest, Carein started school in September and is happily settled in with her big brother in Newtown Junior School where they both have a happy, open, multi-cultural experience in the Quaker run school.

My parents continue thankfully to be well - although we still miss greatly Liams' parents Michael and Irene, both taken suddenly from us in the last five years.

I have lost some of my love-affair with Facebook - although that has largely been replaced by my new obsession with Twitter! (You can follow me @maryroche lol).

Through friends I have learned that people are there for you when you need them - and if you let them and that you cannot take life for granted. It is fleeting and precious and you ought not sit around waiting for it to happen to you but go out and shape it into your own signature life. It is all any of us have so try to live in the now. Try to appreciate what you have and not to worry about the future if you can help it. Things have a way of working out - and if they don't, sadly, worrying about it changes nothing.

I am grateful for all the good things in my life and although I'm not too good at the silence (lol) I try to keep the lovely Desiderata in mind:

Go placidly amidst the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; f
or in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy

If we can do that, we can survive whatever 2012 has to throw at us. I wish you
all a healthy and a peaceful 2012. Be happy :)

Mary x

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Submission to Local Government Committee concerning the Amalgamation of Waterford City Council & Waterford County Council

For the attention of the Waterford Local Government Committee

From: Councillor Mary Roche, Waterford City Council

(Representing the Independent Grouping, including Cllrs. David Daniels & Laurence Cha O’Neill.)

Date: 1st December 2011

To whom it may concern:

I refer to the call for submissions from interested parties concerning your commissions role of making a recommendation to Minister Phil Hogan on whether Waterford City Council and Waterford County Council should be unified and set out my objections to said unification. I have tried insofar as possible to stick to the questions raised for your examination under the Terms of Reference.

My submission, while stand-alone, can be read as part of a larger submission which is being made in separate parts by several members of the City Council. The larger submission covers the areas of History & Heritage; Drain on Resources, Finance, Organisation and the Status of the City as a Regional Driver – the latter being my focus.

We have looked at the areas including

• The potential outcomes to be achieved, including likely benefits and costs.
• The actions and arrangements that should be implemented in order to maximise savings, efficiency and effectiveness and achieve desired outcomes generally with regard to key elements of local government.
• Key issues that are considered likely to arise in the implementation of revised arrangements and how these should be addressed.

And we have come to the conclusion that the merger would not deliver substantial savings to the exchequer but could indeed do great damage to the City and its ability to deliver on our focus of renewal and economic development for our citizens.


If this is merely – as is alleged – a cost saving exercise (we ‘being where we are’ etc.) then by all means save costs. Offer a voluntary redundancy package for staff and cull the number of Councillors if need be. Eliminating Town Councils might tick that box. But please do not break what isn’t broken by ending Waterford as a City, or hindering the City’s ability to deliver to our ‘customers’ through a diversion of focus and resources. (The irony is that towns with a far smaller population than Waterford City may be left with Town Councils while the City would be left without a dedicated administration.)

In the recent amalgamation of Limerick City & County Councils the issues were different – as were the sentiments. And indeed I would question where the suggested savings of €15m will come from, without substantial costs also being factored in. It certainly has not been detailed in any documentation I have seen and seems rather to have been a fanciful figure which no-one is quite sure if or how it can be attained. However time will tell.

Waterford City is the oldest and most historic City in Ireland – and has a proud heritage which should not be sacrificed for short term and spurious financial gain. Is the year 2014 in which Waterford City celebrates its 1100 year anniversary to be the year of its demise?

I do believe that the City needs to expand. It needs to expand not just into its natural environs in the East of County Waterford, but it should also logically extend for administrative purposes into South County Kilkenny.

The future administration of Waterford City and County - and indeed the entire local government system in Ireland which badly needs an overhaul - should be looked at as part of a strategic, national framework rather than Waterford being singled out in some form of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ exercise. There is simply no gain - but much energy to be wasted - on merely replacing on an ad hoc basis, old irrelevant boundaries with new irrelevant boundaries.

We need to look nationally at where we ought to be and how we can get there in a way that will instill confidence and encourage ‘buy in’ from all the citizens and stakeholders. There is simply no public ‘buy in’ for the demise of Waterford as a City.

Saving that, I believe that there are effective efficiencies to be gained in some sharing of back office functions on a National, Regional and joint basis between the two Councils. These could include, at National level, some Human Resource Functions, Payroll, Third Level Grant Applications, Motor Tax and some Information Systems. At a Regional level Waste Management and Major Emergency Planning. And on a joint basis, Procurement, Veterinary Inspections etc., some of which is already in place.

It makes no sense that citizens in the environs of the City, for example, should have to travel to Dungarvan or Kilkenny to tax their cars. However it is not clear if even these efficiencies could be merged or delivered without significant costs being incurred.

After that, saving office closures – with consequent redundancies and service diminution, it is hard to see where further significant savings might be delivered. Roads will still have to be swept and housing stock maintained.

The last point I wish to make before I get onto the topic of the status of the City is the drain on the resources of the City that this unification would give rise to – with one small example. I am certain that had the Councils been unified already, Waterford Crystal would not have been saved for the City.

Firstly, the financial resources simply would not have been available – taking into account the financial situation in the County (€6m deficit) and its statutory obligations. Secondly, I wonder would there have been much sympathy or understanding from amongst the majority of the unified Council – who would come from a County perspective – on the importance of such an investment in the City?

There would also, beyond doubt, be diminished resources available - from an already ever diminishing pot – to deliver for the day to day needs of the City from housing, to road repair etc. This could in time become a source of resentment from the citizens of the City.

Status of Waterford City as a Regional Economic Driver

The Status of Waterford City and the City’s ability to act as a driver of regional growth are paramount – even gaining special mention in the terms of reference for your consideration:

• The need to maximise the capacity of Waterford City , in particular, to act as a strong and dynamic focus and generator of growth for the wider hinterland under the National Spatial Strategy, and that of other urban and rural areas to contribute in that regard in the context of balanced development.

• The need to enhance the capacity of local government to promote the economic and social development of Waterford City and County as a whole.

• The need to ensure that that the particular status, identity, character and heritage of Waterford City are maintained and where possible, enhanced, within a balanced overall system of local government for Waterford City and County.

Waterford is a City in transition. It is moving from an old, strong portal and manufacturing base to a new economy based on the knowledge industry and tourism as our two strong economic drivers. Historically the City has suffered from the lack of a number of strategic game-changers which are now either in place or on the way. These include the Motorway to Dublin, the new Suir Bridge and Outer Ring Road, the waste water treatment plant, water supply, flood defenses and last but by no means least, a University. Indeed, everything that the IDA’s of this world have historically pointed to as impediments.

With this investment, the City is well positioned to take advantage of any upturn once it arrives. The City is a focus for the region with the majority of citizens from as far away as 30 kilometers relying on it for jobs primarily as well as shopping and other services. In the 2006 census - the most recent document for which these figures are available - there were 25,389 people working in Waterford City, with 11,685 of those jobs being filled by people not from the City. That amounts to over 40%. It is fair to say that anything that risks the City’s capacity to be able to provide and maintain jobs for that kind of workforce is not to be welcomed.

Waterford City Council only recently won the Council of the Year Award for 2010/11 from the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland – along with 3 other wins and several placings in other categories. The City was also voted a few short years ago as the best micro-City in Europe. These serve as independently verified reminders of the dynamic leadership role the City Council has played in recent years driving Waterford through this transition period.

Waterford has all the ingredients of a successful micro City. This is possible because of a number of things – but crucially because of clarity of purpose. Any analysis of successful cities which have regenerated themselves, from Barcelona to Bristol, reveals that they have certain things in common:

 clarity of purpose
 clarity of leadership
 clarity of governance and
 clarity of investment.

If you take away that clarity you will fatally damage Waterford City s’ ability to deliver - not just for our own citizens - but for the citizens of the region who depend on us to be able to attract and provide employment.

It is a simple equation: the majority of the population is in the County, meaning the majority of representation would come from County, meaning a majority of resources would go to the County, therefore reducing spend in the City. It is a truism that ‘all politics is local’ – and that is even more true of local politics. Is it fair or reasonable that Genzymes rates would be spent in Kinsalebeg? How would future potential investors view this?

Another element affecting our status as a City is Mission. Both the City & County Councils have completely different Missions – ours being as a Gateway City, expected to lead and drive economic growth in the Region but also to deliver relevant services and supports to an Urban population.

The County Council has a Rural Mission which is completely different in character and culture. Will there be any capacity or democratic will to maintain the investment in communities, in the Arts or, for example in social supports such as our refuse waiver scheme? Individual County Councillors have already cited publically the availability of the resources of the City, for the County, as a positive argument in favour of the unification. This would inevitably mean the City would be left with fewer resources for social, cultural, historical, economic, and day to day requirements.

The South East Region is unlike any other region in Ireland insofar as there are four other urban centres of considerable size all within 60 kms – Kilkenny, Wexford, Dungarvan and Clonmel. Any diminution of the City’s status and resources will hamper our ability to lead and drive the region and could damage Waterford City and the region to a serious extent.

As one of the five cities in Ireland Waterford City has a clear role and is competing not just nationally but internationally with other micro-cities. If we lose that status we make it that much more difficult to compete and indeed to deliver. Investors comparing a future down-graded Waterford with the dynamism of Galway, Cork or Dublin cities could not fail to make an unfavourable comparison. It would be much more difficult to compete.

Is the South East to be left as the only Region without a City? Regardless of what it would say on paper, an amalgamated Waterford City & County would NOT have the same status as the stand-alone City of Galway or Cork, for example.

Any unification would also mean the City having to deal with the Counties €6m deficit. This would inevitably lead to a severe leakage of resources – in an already stretched fiscal environment – from the City to the county and a consequent reduction in both focus and delivery. It is equivalent to putting an anorexic on a diet. The City would suffer enormously from lack of investment – which in an urban environment would become apparent quickly, and in a concentrated manner - as soon as the first pot-holes went unfilled due to lack of finance.

Waterford City has reduced our budget by €7m in the last four years and is - and has always been – at the lower end of the numbers of employees scale. We have no deficit to speak of. Huge efficiencies have been delivered. Why now should we be lumbered with a massive debt which would impoverish our City for who knows how many years to come?

If the object is to save money (as we can categorically say that it not part of any strategic plan) then that realistically and simply means diminished resources to a diminished body and inevitably, a diminished City. We will be left with a City with no leadership or focus, no administrative body with sole responsibility or capacity to drive the City in these difficult times. A City with massive debts and no finance for investment or delivery of our many projects from the Viking Triangle to the economic growth we are trying to nurture here and to attract. A City dominated by a governing authority with a majority who would have no understanding of or affinity with it.


I am begging the commission to consider the true cost of the proposed unification for the City. Not just fiscal, but also the perception it would give rise to, that Waterford City would not be on a par with other cities in Ireland; that our 1100 year history as a City would come to an end in 2014.

I would also consider that the timescale allowed simply does not give sufficient time to examine all of the issues in enough detail.

I ask you to protect Waterford City and its future. To protects its ability to deliver for the region and the country and not to throw away the proud heritage of our ancient and beautiful City for the 30 pieces of silver which it is sought to save.

It would be a short term and small saving, with, in my opinion, long term, negative consequences for the City, for our citizens and for our children and their children.

Please consider this issue with the utmost diligence. A truly weighty responsibility lies on your shoulders – one which future generations will reference for good or ill with the benefit of hindsight.

I am asking you to recommend against the unification of Waterford City and Waterford County Councils.

Thank you.

Prepared by: Councillor Mary Roche and submitted on December 1st 2011