Yesterday, when news about the Bausch and Lomb redundancies was announced, the city reacted like there had been a death in Waterford’s family. And rightly so. It brought back unhappy memories of when the Waterford Crystal job losses were announced. That was akin to finding out that a loved was sick, and then having to sit idly by while they lost their brave fight against it.
A few years ago we had our Save Waterford march on Ballybricken and although it made national news, and it was a proud moment to see so many people walking as one to defend our city, it didn’t really do a great deal for us. Our health care system is still being ripped apart before our very eyes.
For some people, the first instinct after the B&L news was to arrange another protest. Some people set up a Block the Bridge campaign, which is counterproductive to say the least.
Our frustration in times like these is born out of silence. We don’t have a clue what people are doing behind the scenes to try and entice employers here. All we are told is that “they” are working tirelessly on behalf of Waterford. Who are “they”? What is actually being done? There are people getting paid to promote Waterford, yet there are people who are doing a better job on Facebook for no money whatsoever. Waterford people, myself included, are fed up of seeing empty premises all over our city. What is being done get tenants into these premises?
I don’t want this column to be about asking too many questions and dishing out blame to these nameless people who are supposed to be working “tirelessly” for Waterford. Instead, I’m going to try and come up with some solutions myself. I think that’s what the city needs more than anything.
First off, at the moment in Waterford City (and the rest of the country) if you have a business on a premises then you must pay rates. These rates have been quite a contentious issue for a long time now but we are all aware that they are they and unfortunately they must be accepted. However, if own a business that is vacant then you don’t have to pay rates. This may seem fair to most of you, sure how can you be expected to pay rates if you’re not earning any money from the business? Tough. That’s not our fault. You have a premises there, start making money from it or sell it on to someone else who will. The people who own the old cinema and the old TSB Buildings (amongst many others) are under no obligation to sell these premises because it’s costing them nothing to sit on them. Buildings like these are vital to the survival of our city but they are left to ruin by wealthy business men who probably forget that they even own them at this stage. Make them pay rates on empty premises, and double them if they are still vacant after a year.
Next up, we need an ideas forum in Waterford. I don’t care if it starts out as a Facebook Group. We need to come up with ideas and then we need to bring them to the powers that be and stand there under their noses, like a Jack Russell Terrier looking for some ham, until they do something about it. Don’t let ourselves be fobbed off by empty promises and idle threats.
For example, there are a group of people who want to put an indoor/outdoor market in the old An Post sorting office on the Quay. It could run from Thursday-Saturday for a start. Bakeries, Meats, Cheeses, Cakes, sweets, all kinds of culinary delights like you’d see in the English Market in Cork or The Milk Market in Limerick. Why is it better for a premises like this to lay empty instead of buzzing with the activity that we know that we’d see in a market like this?
I want more accountability from our councillors. You have done your knocking on doors and you’ve got your reward. Fair play to you. Now I want to see each and every one of you writing a blog every week telling us what you’ve been doing and what you hope to accomplish with it. The people of Waterford now deserve accountability. Gone are the days when councillors go about their daily business and we don’t hear about it until they get caught claiming for two ham sandwiches instead of one. We have interviewed you all and we have given you your jobs – we are essentially your bosses and we want to know exactly what you’re up to. The Gravy Train is no more.
Finally, we now need to accept that the only people that cares about Waterford, is Waterford itself. What the hell are we even thinking about protesting for when we know that it won’t achieve anything? It’s like a child going on strike because his mother didn’t give him a Kinder Egg. Protesting has never got us anywhere. We still lost Waterford Crystal, we still lost our city status, we still don’t have a University and our health service is still falling apart. We need to stop making random noises in the street and instead speak in one clear united voice.