The ‘Project Ireland 2040’ national plan, the branding of which we understand was arrived at following some Waterfordian intervention, is not the blasé, rehashed compendium of wall to wall re-announcements that some cynical commentators have claimed it to be.
There are many positive elements contained within the document, and the consolidation of all five South Eastern counties within the Southern Region is welcome. Within it lies the prospect of greater economic synergies between Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford, in addition to the Munster ‘City Triangle’ composed of Waterford, Cork and Limerick, over the next 20 years.
Given the closures of the past two decades in Waterford, be it Waterford Crystal, the Foundry, ABB, the end of production here by Waterford Stanley and the termination of city centre port activity, the city, as the South East’s capital, is finally getting a long overdue leg up.
The words of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last July gave hope of a new beginning for our city and region. Speaking at Bausch & Lomb, Mr Varadkar stated: “So long as I am Taoiseach Waterford will not be neglected or forgotten. I say that not just because of my affection for the city and the county, or because of my roots here. I say it because the success of Waterford in the decades to come, will be a litmus test for the ‘Republic of Opportunity’ of which I speak – one in which every part of the country has an equal chance to share in our country’s prosperity.”
While we await further detail on the level of “significant funding plans” for UHW, Waterford Airport, as well as new investments in both the N24 and N25 routes, along with new capital monies for WIT, confirmation of Government funding for the Fawaz Alhokair Group’s North Quay/Michael Street projects was music to our ears.
This game-changing project, which will re-balance the footprint of our city centre, represents an unprecedented development in Waterford’s modern history.
The prospect of developing Waterford as a centre of excellence for Disruptive Technology via Project Ireland 2040 should also be pursued, since such an innovation would complement existing businesses already contributing significantly to the region.
Improving connectivity to Limerick (a western corridor running from Rosslare, via Wexford, South Kilkenny, Waterford as well as South and West Tipperary) and to Cork (via the N25 or the N24/M8 at Cahir) is welcomingly identified in the plan. Brexit-proofing the ports of Belview and Rosslare and boosting cruise traffic into and out of the Estuary must also be emphasised.
Seeing Waterford city grow is in the best interest of our neighbouring counties given our professional, industrial, economic and familial ties and it is in the South East’s wider interest to see Waterford prosper and we’d like to salute the Government for acknowledging this.
It is vital that this plan, as is the case in France, is maintained and honoured on a statutory footing by future governments. The days of limiting ambition to single election cycles must be consigned to history. As former Department of Finance secretary general John Moran put it last weekend: “Our politicians must now lead and explain honestly why our individual sacrifices are worth it for the common good. They must not feed our temptation to look at what’s in it for us individually, but rather show the benefits for the country as a whole.”