Thursday, December 4, 2014

Urbs Captus Est

Just putting up this record of the decision of the Council meeting of September 11th 2014 for posterity.

The City is taken. Tonight the Council voted by a majority of 25 to 7 to change the title of Cathaoirleach to that of Mayor. So Hogan and his minions assertions that 'the identity of Waterford City will be fully maintained, including the office of Mayor...' were lies - or ignorance. Nothing in the title of Cathaoirleach diminished the role and having now, two people using the title of Mayor will add to any confusion rather than diminish it in my opinion. It's a historic day for the City - or Metropolitan District as it is now titled in Hogans legislation. Not since 1285 when Roger de Lom was the first recorded Mayor, has the Mayor of Waterford City played second fiddle to anyone other than our Head of State.
Truly: Urbs Captus Est - Waterford City is taken. (I wonder how long it will be before they decide to take the title of Mayor from the Metropolitan District?)
Anyway. Tis done.
Very little left to lose - other than WIT and they're well on their way to taking that too.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Matter of Life & Death: Waterford Hospice Funding

Since January of this year I have been working on trying to collate figures on the Waterford Hospice funding situation. It was sparked when the online media source The Journal printed an article with a link to the allocations nationwide to all organisations funded by the Health Service Executive. So I had a look. As you do when you're a politician. Now it is quite convoluted but the overall picture that emerges is (surprise surprise) the Hospice in Waterford and indeed the wider South East is funded to NOTHING like the level of Hospice Organisations in other parts of the country.

Now as most of us know here in Waterford, the annual cost of running the homecare service is around €550,000 - or at least it was in 2013 and I'm quite sure it's still around that figure. The grant from the HSE in 2013 was around €205,000 - or less than 38% of the running costs. 

On top of that the Waterford Hospice is being asked - or at least we the people of Waterford through them are being asked - to come up with around €6,000,000 as a contribution towards building a Regional Palliative Care Unit (a Regional facility...think about what we're being asked here) in the grounds of University Hospital Waterford (no the name hasn't made any difference to anything before you ask: the hospital is still critically underfunded but perhaps the new Minister for Health Mr Varadker with his Waterford mum might be less in thrall to certain Kilkenny consultants and their egos - at the expense of their patients - than was his predecessor!) 

But I digress. So in 2013 the HSE funded Waterford Hospice to the tune of under 38%. This is the figure that matters. So what is the level of funding provided by the HSE to other Hospice organisations? 

I have information to hand that in other areas the amount grant aided is as high as 90% of the funding required! If the Waterford Hospice Movement were to be funded on that basis - and why shouldn't they be? - it would mean that the sick people of Waterford are being short-changed by the HSE to the tune of over €300,000 every year! 

I imagine that if this €300,000 monkey was off our backs we could well raise the remainder of the €6,000,000 required as our *contribution* towards the Regional Palliative Care Unit that the HSE is taking a generation to provide - but that's another story.

One of the recommendations from the End-of-Life and Palliative Care in Ireland report published earlier this year is that:

  • The Government could be asked to address the regional disparities* which exist in the provision and funding of specialist palliative care services in Ireland, to ensure that the needs of all those who require specialist palliative care services are met - whether it be in the home, in the community or in a specialised hospice. (*my highlights)

In fact even the Houses of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health & Children made the exact same recommendation in it's own report published in July.

So I must be on the right track. What I can't figure out from the figures I have is whether Waterford and the South East receive the lowest percentage of funding (which I suspect) or indeed which Hospice Groups get the 90% as all I have are the HSE grant allocations and not the total running costs of each group. (Although I do have the Waterford figures obviously which are burned into my brain!)

What I can say is that this year, by way of two examples, the Galway Hospice Foundation received a grant of €3,428,000 and Northwest Hospice received a grant of €1,056,000.

Now don't get me wrong, it is correct that the HSE provides this funding in my view. What I cannot understand is the difference in support levels. Why are the people of Waterford and the South East being asked to raise over 60% of the running costs for the Hospice  when people in other regions are picking up just 10% of the tab?

This is (more) blatant discrimination and indeed mis-managment in my view and cannot be justified. Those who volunteer and raise money for the hospice day-in, day-out are extraordinary people. Exemplary. But are they being ridden by the HSE? Are they - and we - being taken advantage of? And if not, how does the HSE explain the discrepancy in the percentages of funding provided to different regions?

Could it be, as is often the case in Ireland, that it happens like this just because it always has? Could it be that other areas have had beneficial treatment due to political interventions? I don't know the answer. But I do know that it is patently unfair on the people of Waterford and the South East to continuously have to fund raise such a huge amount of money when other regions are being handed it from the HSE.

I'm not even going down the path that this is a core medical service which should be a funded provision of our health service and not fundraised for - other than for additional optional supports. I am happy if Waterford can just receive parity of funding with other regions in Ireland.

It is simply not good enough that an agency of the state can perpetuate this kind of inequality. We must start demanding change. Even though I know we are all demanded out here. And understandably so. But this is literally a matter of life and death. It simply cannot be allowed to continue. At least not without us shining a light on it and adding it to the TOP of our list to question our local TDs on as they gear up for an ever nearing General Election.

We need answers and we need them now. And change. We want the funding changed so that those people - our mothers, husbands, friends, relatives - very sick and dying in Waterford will receive the same level of government support as those in other parts of Ireland.

You'd really have to despair at how this country is run. It's pathetic.

Incidentally it is worth noting that when you contribute to the (very deserving) Irish Hospice Foundation, the money DOES NOT go towards the local home care service here in Waterford, which is run by an entirely voluntary committee, or towards funding the building of our Regional Palliative Care unit at the hospital. I think people often think that it does so it's worth remembering that if you want to contribute to the running of the Hospice service locally you MUST donate to the Waterford Hospice

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Demise of Red Kettle Theatre Company (Waterford and Arts Council Funding)

I had the very sad news confirmed today about the demise of Red Kettle Theatre Company. Now for those who don't know I was a founder member of Red Kettle - not in the artistic leadership kind of way, but rather in the I-was-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time having a blast kind of a way. But I was there at the beginning and I suppose because of that I've always felt a special affinity with the company with which I had such a lot of fun for so many years of my teens and early twenties.

So I heard the news of it's going into liquidation with no little sense of loss this morning on local radio.

And then I did a scary thing: I went onto the Arts Council website and carried out a little exercise. I picked a few locations around the country and I went through all the Arts Council funding streams and calculated how much funding was going from them to different areas of Ireland.

I chose Waterford (City & County) obviously. I chose Limerick (City & County); Galway City & Galway County and Wexford County. I decided not to go for Dublin or Cork as they aren't really comparable size wise (but any cursory glance would seem to indicate that Dublin gets way more of the national arts funding pie than their 25% of the population would merit but that's a discussion for another day). I also put all the funding for either City or County into the same pile so as to have comparisons to Limerick and Waterford in our new guises as merged City & County Councils with Galway City Council and Galway County Council. So I had four columns of funds received.

I trawled through every funding stream for just 2014 and included everything from all their lists. This included everything from bursaries for individual artists based in a council area right up to the Wexford Opera Festival (the largest single grant in any of my four lists).

CAVEAT: I may have skipped a few and I say now that these figures are crude and represent only my calculation and interpretation of the information available on the Arts Council website and so come with a health warning. But if anyone wants to do the job themselves they are welcome. Also if someone can show me that I am vastly incorrect in these figures then I will amend them.

Anyway, the results are startling!

Wexford County Council had, in total, 7 grant allocations totalling €1,531,200.
Limerick City & County had, in total, 13 grant allocations totalling €1,644,855 (not including City of Culture funding).
Waterford City & County had, in total, 7 grant allocations totalling €600,335.
Galway City & County had, in total, 46 grant allocations totalling €3,083,337.

I'm just going to let that hang there.....

Perhaps I am reading the figures wrong (I double checked and I have them all listed but it's too long to include here). Maybe my maths is suspect (so I used a calculator and did the sums twice!) Maybe I'm the only one who is startled. But startled I was - and am.

I find these figures hard to explain. I'd really like someone who has access to parliamentary questions ask if this can be so. That there can be such geographical discrepancies. Or maybe this is fair and I just don't *understand*. Perhaps some local media or journalist will take it up and do further research. I'd love to be proved wrong on this one.

Now I'm not expecting an exact allocation-to-population ratio but you might expect it to be a bit closer than this. On a level playing pitch. In a fair world. I know Galway is a centre for the arts. But Waterford has a huge theatrical, dramatic and musical history and heritage - and output(!) on a par with anywhere in Ireland - and far ahead of some I would say. But our festivals, theatre companies, artists, venues, arts centres and companies are in the ha'penny place when it comes to other cities. And what little we have is being hacked away at every year leading, as it eventually must, to the demise of great little companies like Red Kettle. (There was no grant allocation at all to Red Kettle from the Arts Council for 2014 incidentally.)

And I'm not saying that Red Kettle was perfect. But it was ours. And it was hard won. And much loved. And it contributed a huge amount to the cultural existence of Waterford City and surrounds and indeed further afield. It spawned generations of Waterfordians who are now having full creative careers, here in Waterford and abroad. We'll have loads of venues soon. With no artists. After all what is a theatre without actors, producers, directors, writers? Is it okay to say we'll pay you for 3 months for a production and after that you can free fall until the next production? Is it okay to say Galway people, and Dublin people shall have a generously funded, vibrant arts scene but those Waterford people can make do with less...MUCH less?!?!

It's a sad day indeed. Work will go on, no doubt, to try and salvage what can be salvaged to keep a professional theatre company in Waterford but without Arts Council support it will be difficult. Work is already underway to try and salvage the excellent work of Little Red Kettle which has a huge programme of events all year through with young people and whose work is largely funded through Waterford Youth Committee.

And just to end on a positive note I want to juxtapose this bad news with the good news of the GIY (Grow It Yourself) HQ which is due to commence building here in the City this year with a view to opening next year in 2015. What a positive, fresh, grown from within project that is. They have launched a Fundit campaign to raise €20,000. It's Waterford peoples chance to help (if they can) and to show our support for what will, no doubt, create many jobs and much positive publicity for us at a time when we really need it. If you have anything you can donate please do so on

It's not quite a theatrical Phoenix arising from the ashes but at least it's something we can do for ourselves if we get behind it.

Up the Deise.

Thanks all, Mary x.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

When Is A Mayor Not A Mayor?

'When is a Mayor not a Mayor?' That's the question no one wants asked in Waterford. And in truth I have procrastinated on writing this blog. Because the answer is not a good one. But I feel the truth must be told and the words would not go away. But few really care. So here it is (with some softening of my earlier wording).

Waterford City - Waterford Metropolitan District as it is now officially called - now has a Mayor in name only. This is no reflection at all on the personage of the current Mayor, whom I like and respect, but rather on the denigration of the Office of the Mayor by the current government and by the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan in particular. Not that he will care.

Last Friday I witnessed our Mayor, looking resplendent in the beautiful, historic, priceless gold Mayoral chain, in attendance at New Street Gardens for the launch of the WiKID Festival by none other than our President, Michael D Higgins. Heretofore, the Mayor would have hosted that city event - ceding only to the President himself. But last Friday the Mayor of the 'Waterford Metropolitan District' didn't even have a speaking role. That was reserved for the Chairman of the City & County Council. (No comment intended on the person of the Chairman either who represented us ably). 

This proves the lie that we were told. Because despite what was said by Ministers, and officials and various mouthpieces who thought they knew better than the rest of us 'scaremongers', the Mayor is no longer a Mayor as we knew the role. No longer the first citizen of Waterford City. There is only one Council - Waterford City & County Council. And there is only one first citizen and that is the Chairman of the City & County Council. That is the body that is the inheritor of what was Waterford City (and County) Council: and not the Metropolitan District or Metropolitan Mayor despite the robes and chain. And if you need proof, it was there on the podium last Friday.

I now concur with Councillor Davy Daniels that the Mayoral Chain should be retired to our magnificent, award winning Museum of Treasures. I am quite sure though that this won't happen as the charade continues. The lie will not be admitted to. 

The Mayoralty is finished as we knew it. Sold out by a Fine Gael & Labour government that neither knew, nor cared enough about Waterford City. The Mayors Parlour, I believe, is even gone - available only now for ceremonial functions. The Mayoral car is gone (although it is conceivable that another sponsorship might emerge). The Mayors allowance has been reduced significantly - the money which is used to run the many civic and ceremonial events celebrating the many achievements and milestones of the citizens of our wonderful city - vested now in the allowance for the Chairman who, I expect, will continue most of that work.

Last Saturday night, as part of the WiKID Festival, which was launched by the President and Council Chairman, I took part in a sleepover in the Medieval Museum with my young son and his friend. As we bedded down in our sleeping bags underneath the unique and priceless City Charter Roll, I couldn't help but ponder the irony that we had fought so hard to protect and display our physical history and heritage while allowing our independence and cultural heritage to be ravaged. You couldn't move an ancient bone, or a sword, or a painting out of our city without a huge ruckus but the Mayoralty, our very city status? Those parts of our culture and heritage it seems, are disposable to suit a greedy, envious Ministerial whim. 

I hope what has been done will improve things for Waterford in time, now that we are *bigger*. Despite my many misgivings (see earlier blogs) I will work to try to ensure that will happen. But for now - despite my best efforts, I am still mourning for what has been lost.

I'm done with this subject now. I can't undo what has been done. But I know the truth and I won't forget it.

Our former Mayors are spinning in their graves.

(Photo shows myself and then Cllr Seamus Ryan attending the Waterford Gives a Shirt protest at Dail Eireann) 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Government Needs to GROW A PAIR. University Designation for Waterford Now.

Okay people. So another jobs blow hit us in the solar plexus today. Bausch & Lomb who have been here providing much quality employment for over 30 years are shedding 200 jobs AND looking for a 20% pay cut from all remaining 900 workers. If I'm stunned, I can't even imagine what the workers and their families are going through.They must be reeling. The 200 job losses are bad enough but the pay cuts are unprecedented. How can a company that only 3 years ago sought to invest in massive expansion is now at this cliff edge? I can't figure it out.

People are hurting and calling for action to be taken. But what action? We've had Task Forces - the last one chaired by no less than the Minister for Jobs himself and what have they delivered? Sweet Fanny Adams. That's what. Because governments don't create jobs. (I know they take the credit but if you really believe that, you'd better go ask your Mama about the Tooth Fairy!!!)

So what do I think the government could do? Oh I have a list. A list that was fairly comprehensively covered by Senator David Cullinane in his recent Jobs Strategy which he authored as Special Rapporteur for the Committee for Jobs & Employment. A Strategy which no doubt now sits gathering dust in the Dail archives along with the hill o' beans that was the result of Minister Brutons Task Force.

I am no expert but there are things the government can and must now do to allow us to help ourselves. I am blue in the face arguing that if we here in Waterford are just given a level playing pitch - we will do the rest.

First on my list is that old but still not delivered UNIVERSITY..... I am calling on the Fine Gael government to immediately remove the requirement for a merger before Waterford Institute of Technology can apply to become a University and to allow the college to apply for that designation now. Preparations for an International panel to assess that application should begin immediately. The Dr Jim Port report stated that the college was 'already operating at University level' AND it is in the programme for Government.

That is something tangible and deliverable and completely within the governments gift.

Since the Port Report - while a pathway has been put in place - it is now predicated upon Waterford IT merging with another college before it can even apply for Technological (whatever that is) University designation. Why? Countries like Finland and New Zealand have twice our number of Universities for a similar population. Why the obsession with a merger? Why not remove it and allow Waterford the status and investment NOW and allow other colleges to join when AND IF they reach the required criteria. Waterford cannot wait. The government cannot create jobs. But it can do this as a meaningful way to help.

The Government needs to grow a pair. It needs to stand up to the vested interests in the political and educational spheres and show that it has the cojones to DO and not just TALK. The time for talking is over. JUST DO IT.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Goodbye WATERFORD CITY. Hello Metropolitan District.

Being as how nobody has seen fit to mark the end of Waterford City as we know it I am going to mark our last day as a City Council and as a CITY on exactly the same level as the other cities in Ireland.

I've had to re-write this blog a few times to be honest. The first iteration was just full of negativity and anger. But that's probably a consequence of it having been written in a fit of annoyance at about 2am one recent night when I was going over the whole saga in my head. So I've edited out the worst of the negativity because we have to hope for a positive outcome for all of this for our city and for our citizens.

When you wake up tomorrow morning, Waterford - while it will still be able to use the word CITY and indeed it will elect a MAYOR at it's first meeting - whenever that takes place AFTER the new CITY & COUNTY council meets on June 6th, it will, in fact, be the METROPLITAN district and as such, a sub-area of the new Waterford City & County Council. Effectively a downgrade for our ancient, historic city that has since its inception been self-governing. That is the factual situation. I am going to stop pointing that out though, after this post, as I will be talking Waterford up - as I always try to do. But that won't mean that I like it.

And so here we are at the end of Waterford city. I am truly sorry. Truly sorry at the half-truths and the spin that have been passed of as facts and truth. We'll be bigger they tell us. Like that's the answer to everything. But something tells me that when we wake up on the morning of the 24th, Waterford will still be the exact same size it was the day before. We may get some crumbs because well they'll have to make it look like their plan works or maybe they won't!). Crumbs like the announcement that the HQ of the new region will be based here in it already is... So we get to keep something we already have and we fete it like we've won the lottery. 

There is no research anywhere in the world that shows that cities that are hitched to a large rural areas excel. That evidence is not there but we have to look no further than Galway in 1980 to see what uncoupling a city from a large rural area (along with unceasing government investment and support) can do. Which is why, of course, Galway sought such an uncoupling. 

I hear Waterford government TDs on national TV spewing out the drivel that's been fed to them by the party spinners.  I don't think there's been an independent thought from one of them on this issue. One they haven't been spoon fed from head quarters. The truth is that Waterford City Council has been in hiatus for more than 12 months with the implementation of this amalgamation. With 50% of staff changing jobs and or desks. Huge upheaval. For what? Three million euro in capital costs this year alone. The new council still saddled with a €10m historical deficit. Mostly from the county council. Two locations. And nothing delivered that shared services couldn't deliver. 

Oh we have saved half the price of the city manager so that's something I suppose. Although the price of that has been that we now have a part-time manager. No disrespect to him but his job load and focus has doubled! 

So when the Urbs Intacta is gone; when the three ships have sailed; When we're introduced - as we will be - to the politics of geography don't rool your eyes and blame me. I know I can't stop it. I know I can't change it. I tried though. All I know is that this issue has my heart broken. 

I know the history of the city is well rehearsed so I'll just detail a few short points - from a time when the CITY and its LEADERS were prepared to defend it, not just with words - but with their very lives. Waterford City is one of the oldest elected city councils in Europe. Waterford had its first provost (governor) in 1195 and has been electing mayors from about 1260. We know the name of almost every single mayor of Waterford since 1282 - a remarkable record for any city in Europe. Mayors ran the city law courts and had to physically defend the city when it was attacked. Mayor John Malpas was cut to pieces at St Johns Gate and Bridge (still the same bridge as today) while trying to defend it from attack by the Powers from county Waterford and O'Driscolls from county Cork. He was immediately buried in the cathedral.  

In 1413 Mayor Wicken brought a small armada of ships to Baltimore the headquarters of the O'Driscolls gaining access by fooling the occupants of the castle, giving them the impression that they were bring gifts of wine- probably a black rent that they were extorting from city. Once inside the Mayor and other Councillors drew their weapons, captured the O'Driscolls taking the leading members to Waterford where the citizens welcomed their heroic Mayor with torches lighting up the city walls. The O'Driscolls had to pay compensation to Waterford. 

In 1613 the Mayor and Council travelled to London to face down the Protestant James I who was trying to force them to accept the reformed religion. This was a very dangerous thing as the King could have executed them.  Throughout history Waterford has had great leaders who when it came to the City's hour of need were willing to stand up to the line.   Today we can't  even raise a whimper !

All there is left to say is 'a bientot' Waterford...til later. Because today the fight begins to regain our rightful status as a city equal in every way to other Irish cities and not downgraded to satisfy the parish pump jealousies of a neighbouring minister. Waterford must learn to share says Hogan? We've shared our VEC - gone to Wexford. Solas (FAS) going same way. Ambulance control to Wexford. IDA and Hospital region decimated and managed from Cork. WIT still fighting for University status but now with assinine preconditions put in the way for a technological designation. Whatever that is. Which will deliver who knows what. There'll be nothing left to share shortly. 

But sure we're grateful sir, like Noonan tugging his forelock for Trump on the Tarmac. Whatever ye want to give us sir. Sure our children aren't entitled to the same opportunities as those lovely childer from elsewhere sir...beggars can't be choosers sir. The treatment of Waterford is a microcosm of how this country is run. As the personal re-election campaign of whichever of the Taoiseachs buddies are lucky enough to get the nod for the big pensions. We wouldn't know a strategy in this country if it stood up and bit us on the backside. Anyway. Goodbye Waterford City. I wish you God speed in your new guise. I still love you. Always will. Up Waterford.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Contribution to 2014 Budget debate of Waterford City Counci

(I don't write speeches generally so what follows is the gist of my contribution rather than a word for word record.)

Thanks Mayor, There are both positives and negatives to this years budget which I will be supporting. My main concern was that we are introducing structural long term reductions to our income based on a one year windfall from central government. I also had a problem understanding how less was more! When the joint Waterford local authorities last year received €23.5 million and this year is only to receive €16.5 million. However I am reassured by my meetings with the Manager that the reductions are sustainable and that despite the money being less, this is accounted for by the portion of the grant heretofore which was payable to the Councils for the provision of water services which will now come via Irish Water. So I understand now how less is more. I am also happy that when in 2015 the Local Government grants is replaced by the Property Tax that there will have to be some form of equalisation as this would amount to just around €4m for the new authority!

Really the only show in town is jobs. Jobs jobs jobs. And I am delighted to see that we are putting an extra €500,000 in the Business Development Unit across the new authority. If people have jobs, they have more money in their pocket and that filters through to shops, restaurants, services and helps everybody. I would like to see a plan brought forward of what we are trying to achieve with that money. What is it for? Is it for tools? For seed funding? For grants? Who will make the decision's and what are the KPI's that will let us know we are achieving what we want with this money.

I am also glad to see that housing rents are being maintained at their current level despite the local authority being responsible for the local property tax on these homes.

I am also very pleased as Chairperson on the Cultural SPC that Waterford City Council has maintained it's support for the arts and festivals. I mean what we are doing in the city is trying to turn Waterford from a declining manufacturing economy and developing a tourist economy. And on that note, I see that 2014 is the last year of our financial commitment in clearing the Tall Ships Festival of 2011 and based on that I think Waterford should consider bidding to be the next City of Culture in Ireland in 2016 as I believe it is to be an every two years event.

Of course I also welcome the reduction in rates for businesses in the city. I have a background in retails - we always grew up having shops and of course Liam and his family had Keatings on the Quay for years which sadly didn't survive but I am very aware of the pressures of being in retail so I am glad that the rates will be going down. However there is also more to be done. Sometimes I think we operate a left hand/right hand kind of politics in Waterford. We gain with the right hand and then pull it out from under ourselves with the left hand. For example we know the type of shops that we want to come and who want to come to Waterford require larger more modern premises than are available in the city and yet there are none available. If the private sector cannot or will not come forward with these type of property solutions then I think the Council will have to bring forward a plan to address this in the near future as we did with City Square many years ago.

On the negative - and there is negative. I like others saw the posts on Facebook about the extra €5.2m that was coming from central government this year. It now turns out that it is just €4.2 million which the Manager says he will use in the main to write off the €3.1 million in capital costs that are associated this year with delivering the merger. Now when the Amalgamation Committee reported they said there was a deficit of circa €10 million between the Councils which it sought to have to government cover in order to give the new council a debt-free start. The Manager has indicated in his document that the budget deficits across the authorities are actually €15 million. Nothing has been provided from central government to cover this and we will have to borrow and pay it back over many years. So just to be aware that this will be a legacy of the amalgamation.

And on that, we are closing a chapter. A chapter on 1100 years of the independent self-governance of Waterford city. I do regret that and I wouldn't have sold that for €4.3 million or, indeed, for any price.

Thank you.