A statement by top economist, Professor John FitzGerald, outlines how Waterford has fallen behind Galway in the past fifty years in terms of economic development. However, the Professor’s analysis, although welcome, does not tell the whole story, according to Fine Gael’s Waterford bye-election candidate, Senator Paudie Coffey. The City manager, Michael Walsh, also made the same point this week at a Chamber event.
Prior to the 1950s, Galway was well behind, now we have to play catch up. The IDA gave bigger grants west of the Shannon, Bord Failte featured the West more in publicity and this meant a bigger tourism industry with nearby Shannon flying in Americans.
Senator Coffey noted how such a respected figure is putting forward the truth about the fundamental challenges Waterford faces, challenges which the Government has consistently ignored. “The Professor suggested that Galway has done better than Waterford in recent years because ‘Galway was home to two world-class theatre companies’,
“First, Galway is a university city and the major educational capital for the west of Ireland. It is the home of the world-renowned NUI Galway and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. Its total student population is at least twice that of WIT and both colleges attract hi-tech industries to the city. By contrast, the Government obstinately refuses to allow WIT to develop into a regional university, thus hindering development.
“Second, for far too long agencies like the IDA assumed they did not need to hustle for new investment in Waterford because we had Waterford Crystal. The result was that we were left relying on just one major industry which was very vulnerable to cheaper foreign competition.
“Third, Galway benefits more from tourism because it is promoted as the gateway to Connemara and the West. We, in Waterford, can’t even get CIE International Tours to mention us in its publicity. Yet the South East has amazing tourism potential, a fact that was recognised by the Lonely Planet Guide which recently highlighted Waterford as one of the top places to visit.
“A world-class theatre in Waterford is desirable but suggesting this as the panacea for our ills is putting the cart before the horse. Give Waterford a university, 21st-century industries and a decent role in tourism and the cultural activities will follow.”
These are the sentiments of Senator Coffey and, like him, we are glad to see
Professor Fitzgerald highlight the weaknesses of Waterford. He must not know Spraoi or the Red Kettle as they have done tremendous work and have got national recognition. Red Kettle and Jim Nolan would be well up there with Galway’s best.
Greater dynamism in Waterford to regenerate the city is needed with the Glass and retail renewal the start of it. A stronger Spraoi festival, as promised by the City Manager this, week suggests that we are moving forward. Overtaking Galway’s popularity will be a tough assignment but Waterford has much going for it. The Destination and Brand Waterford strategy are positive moves.