The owner of the Hibernian Gifts store on Bolton Street has no idea why an email from a CIE Tours Manager dated July 6th directed tour operators not to take their custom to his premises when stopping in Waterford.
The consequence of this ban/boycott has left proprietor Paul Kennedy with no option but to lay off nine of his staff. Prior to this controversy, Mr Kennedy had employed 24.
“It’s the equivalent of 200 hours, we’ve had to cut our rota by,” he told Joe Duffy on RTE Radio One’s ‘Liveline’ last Wednesday.
Paul Kennedy told the listening nation that he and his staff had been serving CIE Tours since it opened in 2011 “and doing lunches for them since 2013”.
Mr Kennedy continued: “To the best of my knowledge there has never been a complaint from a CIE client, a CIE driver or a CIE tour guide, so I am really at a loss as to why our shop has been banned.”
The email, sent by CIE Tours’ Conor Wall, listed “definitive protocols” for parking at the front of House of Waterford Crystal or the coach bays outside the Bishops Palace,” one of which included the avoidance of Hibernian Gifts either to visit or for lunch.
In the event of no such parking spaces being available, the email also directed tour operators to, “if necessary please conduct a panoramic drive until parking space is available”.
This is despite the provision of bus parking bays in Bolton Street car park, situated to the rear of the House of Waterford Crystal and adjacent to Hibernian Gifts.
Mr Kennedy, who was unaware of this recommendation until the July 6th email publicly surfaced, stated: “I’m not sure what the panoramic drive is.”
The coach spaces in Bolton Street car park are, said Mr Kennedy, “empty most of the time because the coaches don’t use it as much as they should – they’ve been instructed to park on The Mall (rather than run) the risk of being dismissed from the CIE panel.”
Mr Kennedy based this assertion on Mr Wall’s July 6th email which states: “Please ensure that all drivers/guides are observant of these protocols as failure to adhere may result in dismissal from our panel.”
Paul Kennedy continued: “I’m just at a loss as to why this is. Best practice for parking near a visitors’ attraction in Ireland and the UK is up to 300 metres, and the coach park is much closer than that to the Mall, and to the attraction of the House of Waterford Crystal, the Bishops Palace and the (other) Museums.”
Noting the eight references made to the House of Waterford Crystal in the email, Mr Kennedy stated unequivocally that it’s “a very good attraction for tourism in Waterford and I certainly wouldn’t have opened my shop if it wasn’t there”.
Next to speak to Joe Duffy was Tony Hayes of Irish Handmade Glass on Henrietta Street, who said the controversy “wasn’t good for business in the area”.
“As local Councillor Eddie Mulligan said, we’ve turned The Mall into the most expensive bus parking lot in Europe…it takes the look off the whole Mall.”
Describing Bolton Street car park as an “ideal location” for buses, Tony Hayes added: “buses should park there. One of the biggest gripes that I have is that…there’s €30 million after been spent on the Viking Triangle, the oldest area in our city, the oldest city in Ireland which, and I’ll stand corrected on this, the third oldest city in Europe, but tourists just don’t get a chance to actually come up around and look at the area.”
Seamus Heffernan of the nearby Sabai Restaurant described the situation as ‘very confusing’, and told Joe Duffy that “The Mall is cluttered with coaches constantly in the summer. There is no general parking for cars; coaches are parked there for hours, they leave their engines running to keep the air-con going, and (it) just really takes away view of The Mall which is a beautiful street. We can’t understand it, there’s no need for it because there’s a perfectly good coach park literally around the corner from the House of Waterford Crystal, so we’re confused as well.”
As was the case with the other local and national media which contacted CIE’s Conor Wall, The Munster Express was referred to CIE Tours’ Corporate Communications Manager Barry Kenny for comment.
Mr Kenny stated: “The House of Waterford Crystal is our most popular attraction in the South-East. It is imperative that our tours therefore bring tourists to and from this attraction safely and efficiently, and as advertised rather than to alternatives.
“House of Waterford Crystal reserves bays for our tours to allow safe and easy access. We have reminded drivers that these bays must be used, or the coach bays outside the Bishop’s Palace/Museum.
“House of Waterford Crystal have been advised by Waterford (City &) County Council of illegal parking to the rear of their site, which constitutes a health and safety hazard for tourists,” to which Mr Kennedy replied: “I just don’t understand that.”
Mr Kenny continued: “The issue (of naming Hibernian directly) arose because some tour buses were parking illegally at the rear of House of Waterford for the specific purpose of letting tourists/customers off the coach to allow them to visit Hibernian for lunches.
“This was established by CIE Tours following investigations as to why some coaches were parked on double yellow lines at the rear of Waterford Crystal, when there was free spaces at the front of Waterford Crystal.
“CIE Tours have advised drivers to recommend another venue for lunch which is on the Mall and as such does not expose customers to any safety risks.”
Aoife Hanrahan, who recently had to close her cafe on July 31st, based in 33, The Mall due to “a lack of trade”, felt that “there was a priority (given towards) certain buildings” within the Viking Triangle, but not towards hers.
“I feel exactly the same way as Paul (Kennedy) and maybe a lot of other businesses in Waterford. It seems that the emphasis is just on the Viking Triangle.”
Claiming that she’d got no help from Waterford City & Council when starting up and while running the business, a forlorn Ms Hanrahan added: “the wind is gone just completely out of my sails.”
When introducing the slot, Joe Duffy spoke of “another siege on Waterford”. And while one would generally draw solace from almost 40 minutes being devoted to the city centre on national radio, this issue, while pressing and necessary, isn’t the sort of PR which best serves Waterford.
Nonetheless, the oxygen of publicity has been required when it comes to airing and discussing this lamentable development.
Paul Kennedy, who spoke to Joe Duffy with great composure and no little dignity: “I would like to talk to CIE Tours because if they can advise me that I did something wrong or that I was carrying on in some way that I shouldn’t have been – I just want to rectify the situation. I’m not on to give CIE bad press or anything like that. I just want to continue doing my business, try to get it back on track and get the people I had to let go back in work.”