Saturday, 16th December 2017
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Michael Garland,

bizBoost Chair,

Waterford Business Group

We've had “Bertie's Bowl” and now “Varadkar's Valhalla!”

I arrived in Ireland, some sixteen years ago, having driven a lorry containing ALL our family's worldly belongings from Larne to Waterford City. It was a mammoth, long, weary journey at the time. There was little or no motorway infrastructure and in truth there were crappy roads everywhere, from the North to the South. Our very small Scottish convoy, which constituted a rented 7.5 tonne truck and my Escort estate car, was stopped just across the border. This, I recall, put the fear of god into me and here's why. In the back of my car, my air rifle was hidden inside my golf bag! I was well aware that an air rifle was illegal in Ireland, so to hide mine, I somehow thought making it look like a golf club was a good idea. Luckily the Garda only asked where we were going and once I explained that I was moving from Scotland to Waterford, he waved us on. The air rifle quickly left the Garland household once we settled in the City.

Thankfully, we have now seen major changes to the road infrastructure. The difficulties in accessing the South East corner, which took me from memory around 9 hours to get to in 2001, have been resolved. Belfast can be reached in less than 4 hours. Better still, you can actually drive from Belfast to Waterford without being stopped at a traffic light. Whilst the speed of change has been more walking pace than meteoric, there has been progress in opening up this wee sunny corner of this green isle.

When I settled in Waterford there was great talk and discussion about Waterford being THE “Gateway City” for the South East region. It would be developed to become the economic powerhouse of the region. Securing and attracting inward foreign investment, which would bring huge numbers of well paid jobs to everyone living in the “Sunny South East”. We would have a regional hospital with all the bells and whistles. A regional airport servicing the UK and the Western fringes of Europe. A university to rival those of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Scroll forward sixteen years and Government after Government have abjectly failed to deliver any regional development. Both the South East and North West have been principally ignored, by the very bodies that should be concentrating on promoting these disadvantaged areas. But the Irish way seems to be to ignore these problem children, sitting so far away from the epicentre of power.

The IDA's own figures reveal a damning indictment on just how far Waterford has fallen off the table, in terms of “Promotional visits”. We are told that Waterford and the South East cannot be pushed ahead of the other regions. In fact our region cannot be promoted or receive special attention – as that would just be unfair! So, with the other regions flourishing, they become an irresistible draw for yet more and more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), at a significant cost to the struggling NW and SE.

Our current Government recently launched the National Planning Framework, amid much pomp, ceremony and PR spin. A highlight for Waterford was Minister Coveney's promise to double the City's population. Yet, almost the very next day he rejected a report's recommendations to extend the City's boundary North across the River Suir. Talk about flip flopping, this party has it down to a T.

So, the very latest Government idea, to help a “Struggling Dublin?” with its booming economy once again, is to consider building a new City for

Ireland in the Midlands region!!!! Just where is the sense in such a stupid, ridiculous idea?

Our two struggling regions are crying out for

Government investment. They are ready for regional investment and yet may once again be overlooked.

Are we really prepared to accept one more political folly after another? Who remembers Bertie's Bowl? Now, after only a few wet weeks in office, we are planning to build Varadkar's Valhalla. Why do our leaders feel the need to build their own

Guggenheims? To be immortalised when they depart the political arena?

Surely, delivering an equitable, fair and reasonable regional development policy is a better legacy than one more Guggenheim?

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