Following the resignation of former Minister Martin Cullen in the last Government, Waterford’s wait for a minister has come to an end, albeit at junior level.
Nonetheless, the promotion of Fine Gael’s Paudie Coffey as Minister of State in the Environment Department with responsibility for Housing represents a welcome boost.
The new minister shall be in charge of a significant budget even if it is somewhat curtailed now compared to the boom times when former minister Cullen held office.
The news was greeted with no little celebration in his native Portlaw, and no doubt his appointment will have come as a great source of satisfaction for a family stepped in the Fine Gael tradition locally.
People in the region justly feel hard done given our ongoing unemployment problems, and over the last four-plus years, our lacking a voice at the cabinet table hasn’t helped matters.
Now that we have got a Minister of State, we certainly have better representation and the appointment of South Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan to a rural development brief is also a welcome development.
And with Tipperary TD Alan Kelly assuming Phil Hogan’s brief in the Department of the Environment, all the more relevant to the region since that county will become a single constituency come the next general election, it’s incumbent that the new appointees work together for the betterment of the entire region.
Minister Phelan will be flying the Labour flag in Carlow/Kilkenny come the next election and ensures a continued ministerial presence in the constituency following ‘Big Phil’ Hogan’s move to the European Commission.
And while Mr Hogan may not be the most popular of figures on the south bank of the Suir, his move to Brussels means a south east native will represent Ireland at European level, which may prove beneficial when it comes to future regional development.
He leaves behind, however, a mixed legacy: the household tax and water charges controversies and of course the reform of local government and the merging of local authorities both here in Waterford and in Tipperary.
Of course, that his local government reform didn’t include an examination of the boundary which continues to split Ferrybank, which has surely stymied the area’s development in recent decades, will also not be forgotten.
The announcement of the water charges in advance of the local election has been cited by many losing Fine Gael and Labour candidates as a major reason for their losses in the recent elections, so Mr Hogan is no longer quite viewed in Svengali-type terms within Irish politics.
Ann Phelan will also have a key role in the Leader funding programmes and how sports funding is allocated across the country, including the south east.
As highlighted in these pages, there is ongoing concern about Fáilte Ireland’s exclusion of Waterford (and don’t forget East Cork) from the high-profile Wild Atlantic Way initiative.
Thanks to the reporting of Kieran Foley and the impassioned noises made by Tramore’s Jim Falconer, the issue was raised in Leinster House by Deputy John Deasy.
Let’s hope for progress on this matter, and for further championing of our region by Ministers Coffey and Phelan. We wish them well.