Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Forced emigration was wrong in the 80's and is wrong today

I have such nostalgic and happy memories of the 1980’s. I try to remember the happy stuff and block out the bad. The 80’s brought us UB40, Simply Red, REM, Sinead O Connor and the best of Queen and U2. It also brought us Wham, Frankie goes to Hollywood, Bananarama and let’s not forget Kajagoogoo. Decide for yourself the good and the bad. We had assassination attempts on the Pope and US President Ronald Reagan. E.T. was released as a movie, Michael Jackson released Thriller and Mikhail Gorbachev called for Glasnost and Perestroika. We also saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Maze Hunger Strikes and the emergence of the cabbage patch kids. A mixed bag indeed.

Sadly it also brought forced emigration and a flight of the brightest and the best from our shores. It was wrong in the 1980’s and it is wrong today. The latest ESRI quarterly economic commentary predicted that emigration in Ireland was set to hit 120,000 by the end of 2011. The latest live register figures show 452,500 nationally and 15,614 locally out of work. Mass emigration is back with a vengeance.

It seems the current Government’s answer to rising unemployment is to export it. They cut the dole for young people, did very little to provide new training and education opportunities and even less to stimulate the economy and create jobs. We are yet again seeing the brightest and the best leave this country due to the incompetence of its political leaders to provide a future. Unemployment is not a price worth paying for a negligent Government – it destroys lives and leaves permanent scars on our communities. What this Government fails to accept is that behind every statistic is a personal tragedy.

Fianna Fáil cannot claim any economic competence when they are complacently presiding over increasing unemployment. The government is determined to slash public services and put even more people on the dole. A bit like some of the music choices referred to earlier, forced emigration was not cool in the 1980’s and it is not cool today. We need real political change and we need it now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Holding the line is not easy

The forced closure of TK Maxx outside the city last week caused an understandable stir. The retail outlet is popular and employs people locally. Although I support the court decision I do so understanding that shoppers are demanding more top end retail in the city and that people face losing their jobs. This is a sorry saga that should never have happened in the first place. It’s what happens when people play games with the planning process. It’s what happens when neighbouring authorities compete for retail space without having regard to proper and sustainable development. It’s what happens when one local authority tries to get ‘one over’ on another.

Competition and policy means nothing to the average shopper. They rightly demand the very best in retail whether inside our outside the city centre. They want choice and convenience and who would blame them. However the situation is more complex then this and policy is needed to regulate the market. The correct policy is one which strikes a balance between being overly protective on the one hand and allowing the market to go crazy on the other. And let’s face it, during the Celtic tiger years the market went crazy.

The retail policy of Waterford City Council is clear. It is a policy of sequential preference which protects the city centre first and foremost. However contrary to recent debate and commentary it does allow for what’s called ‘out of town’ shopping through a number of strategically placed District Centres. These include centres like the Hypermarket, Ardkeen, the Lisduggan Shopping centre, Poleberry and the Tesco Centre on the Dunmore Road. This is where the balance is achieved. However the failure to build a sufficient critical mass of retail in the city centre is the policy’s main fault line. The city centre is crying out for more top end retail and the council is desperate to see it happen. Site assembly is difficult but not impossible. The Brewery or New Street site would have worked if the developer had got it right from the beginning. The original proposal was so off the wall that it was always doomed to fail and played into the hands of those who would object to anything.

Holding the line on a worked out and sustainable policy is not easy. Overall the policy has not worked out as it intended due to site assembly and planning issues and over zealous developers. However there are a few tricks up the council’s sleeve. We may well see a scaled down but significant development in New Street yet. And we have the option of building out onto the river either side of the clock tower as part of the relocation of the House of Waterford Crystal. All is not perfect but all is not lost either.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A note from the canvass

It’s been a busy week. I started on Tuesday in Connolly Place in the City. The reaction was good but the issues were to be expected. People are worried about the economy, jobs, the next budget and generally making ends meet. Anti-social behaviour also featured with concerns raised regarding a number of boarded up houses. Several complaints were made about the quality of the remedial works in the area and having inspected the houses it is hard to disagree. Poor finishing and uncompleted works has left a sour taste in the mouths of many. In one house floor boards were used as skirting! I left feeling a little annoyed that the council had spent so much money and yet the works are not of the highest standard.

On Wednesday I visited Farron Park in the City and Portlaw in the county. The areas are different in many ways and yet the issues are the same. A lot of anger was vented towards the Government and people are genuinely worried about the future. I was struck by how many young people were out of work and how they felt they had no prospects for the future. Some talked about emigrating but I wondered how real an option it was for them. The monthly live register figures reinforced the magnitude of the problem – 452,000 people nationally out of work. So much for being out of recession!

Thursday brought me to Crook and Cheekpoint in Passage and Ballinroad in Dungarvan. In Crook and Cheekpoint the state of the roads and a decline in fishing dominated the doorstep conversations. I was completely taken aback as to how bad the roads actually are. On the entrance to one housing estate I counted seven potholes. An issue that emerged a lot was the need for a running water tap in the local graveyard and it puzzled me that local authorities often fall down on the small but important things.

In Ballinroad in Dungarvan residents living in An Grianan and Pairc na mBlath are furious with the county council regarding water quality. Residents complained of being unable to use showers, damage caused to electrical appliances, a discolouration problem and recently a contamination of the water supply. Several people complained that when taking showers they get scalded because the pressure is so low. Many are forced to visit family or friends nearby to use their shower facilities. Others complained of a bad smell coming from the water and of a need to constantly purchase bottled water. Parents with young children are particularly concerned as they cannot boil up bottled water for the children. A new community was built in the area without proper infrastructure provision such as footpaths, lighting, roads and water. I had hoped we had learned from the mistakes of the past, obviously not. I wonder what next week will bring..