Cllr Mary Butler (FF): “It’s obvious to everyone, except the Goverrnment, that Waterford needs a new focus. Communities in Waterford have been left behind by a two-tier recovery that has concentrated growth unequally across the regions, and unfortunately we have the second highest rate of unemployment in the country at 12.5 per cent, three per cent higher than the national average…
“We’ve seen more Government spin than action over the last five years…my husband works three shifts in Bausch + Lomb and he took a 15 per cent pay cut in order to secure his job. There were redundancies in Bausch + Lomb but yet there were new jobs announced with a big hullaballoo…and I didn’t her too many people speaking up about the businesses were there was one job or two jobs lost…
“Fianna Fáil would revamp and reduce commercial rates by introducing a central valuating system with reliefs for start-ups and for town centre businesses and we would move the rates away from property and make the rate base more revenue related…and also ensure that SMEs would have access to credit in a way that many SMEs that closed in the past six or seven years didn’t…
“I fervently believe that Waterford has been ‘squeezed’ by strong ministerial representation in neighbouring counties…for example, we lost the VEC Headquarters to Wexford, and I don’t think there’d ever have been a mention of Waterford and Carlow ITs without strong ministerial intervention from Wexford and Kilkenny…my party was written off in 2014 before the local election but we emerged as the largest party in local government so let’s wait until the votes are counted to decide who will and won’t be in government.”
Minister of State Paudie Coffey TD (FG): “When we came to office in 2011, we faced an €18 billion deficit, we were being managed by the Troika and we had very strict regimes in terms of how we could spend money.
“We had lost 300,000 jobs from the economy between 2007 and 2011 and that was down to mismanagement of the economy by the previous administration, so the challenges were there, but I believe that this Government and the Irish people stood up to those challenges and I believe we are on the cusp of a new Ireland and a new city and county…I want to be at the heart of the next Government, influencing decisions and I believe I am the best placed candidate to do that if returned to Government…
“It’s worth pointing out that the Action Plan for Jobs is not new; Waterford was the first place where it was established in the wake of the Talk Talk closure in 2011and since then the model put in place here has been replicated and used all over the country…
“Any politician worth their salt should be ambitious to influence as much as high as possible in Government and that would be one ambition that I would have: to be a senior minister in cabinet and not just for the benefit of Waterford but for the region as well and I think Waterford people should consider that in the coming election…
“It’s all fine to say that we want the IDA to come and bring more jobs but we must have a climate here…in terms of tax policy, in terms of cost of labour and services…and the main key and the success in the creation of jobs in both Waterford and the regions will be the Action Plan for Jobs.”
Ciara Conway TD (Lab): “I want to put on record that 2015 was a record year for start-ups nationally – we’d 19,000 new registrations…with new names, new companies and new ideas coming to fruition. We’ve seen the reform of the Local Employment Office, the one-shop for people who have an idea for a business, a passion, a dream, that they can make it a reality to employ themselves and, more importantly, to be able to employ other people. To date, the LEO in Waterford has supported in excess of 1,500 people.
“Waterford has seen difficult times, no doubt about it, but one of the things that we really need to focus on in the next Government…is in relation to childcare. In other OECD countries, the cost of childcare for working families is about 12 per cent (of average income) but here in Ireland, it’s a crippling 35 to 40 per cent…this means that when a woman has one child, 40 per cent of them don’t return to the work force, not out of choice, but often out of cost, and when they have two or three children, they fall completely away and this issue, which is often sidelined, is one we need to tackle…
“When it comes to tourism and its importance to Waterford, the introduction of the nine per cent VAT rate was a welcome relief for people, at a cost to the exchequer but a good investment by the Government…we’ve seen the benefit of funding in the Viking Triangle, how Waterford will position itself within Ireland’s Ancient East and we’ve seen a huge investment in the Deise Greenway, another offering that wasn’t available in the past here in Waterford.”
Senator David Cullinane (SF): “I’m standing in this election on a strong policy platform in terms of four key areas: economic development, supporting entrepreneurship, supporting those who want to take risks to create jobs and the wealth we need across Waterford, the south east and the State, and also on a policy platform of investing back into public services. We need to put money in resources and capacity back into our hospital, into our health service generally, into our schools, invest in childcare, education and also in infrastructure for business, as businesses need broadband, and in terms of road, rail and waste water treatment plants. I’m also standing on a policy platform of fair, just and progressive taxation. I believe in abolishing the Property Tax and water charges and taking 270,000 low paid workers out of the Universal Social Charge, but I don’t believe in scrapping the USC…
“We need to have a vision for Waterford…and one of the first things I did after being elected to Seanad Éireann was to publish the South East Economic Development Strategy (SEEDS)…and it was crucial that we had a strategy. I don’t believe any Government Department or any politician will deliver for Waterford city and county: it has to come from the people here on the ground…
“Despite some of the misconceptions that people have about my party, I am pro-business and pro-enterprise. I believe in job creation, I believe in supporting wealth creation because if we don’t do that, then we can’t re-invest in public services….we do not support an increase in Corporation Tax. We’re not a high tax party – we’re a fair tax party.”
John Halligan TD (Ind): “My commitment to Waterford is total. Every stitch of clothing I’m wearing tonight was bought in Waterford. All of my office equipment was bought in Fieldmaster, all of my election literature, posters and flyers have been produced by companies in Waterford and I believe that demonstrates my level of commitment to Waterford…
“Waterford has been disproportionately affected over the last five years…but I think tonight we should be talking about how we can bring Waterford and the people of Waterford forward. Boosting the economy boosts people and we must put spending power into peoples’ pockets, and if we do that, then our economy will grow. Investments in economies come from outward investment and internal spending…
“The way forward is reasonable wages for reasonable working conditions so people can invest in small businesses and invest in the economy; it’s not so much a case of investing in the economy but investing in the people of Waterford…
“Over a period of two years and six months, 1,644 SMEs went to the wall. I know many small businesses here in Waterford who will tell you all about the costs of running businesses – rates and overheads and so on…but keeping someone on unemployment benefit ranges from between €27,000 and €32,000…are we seriously saying that we cannot sponsor somebody into a job at a reasonable rate of pay to cover the cost of what otherwise keeps that person on unemployment benefit?
“And if you have people with reasonable spending power, that stimulates spending and supports businesses…and I feel that the sponsor model is a sensible model, one which is in place in other European countries and ought to be something we should put in place here.”
Grace O’Sullivan (GP): “Most of you will know me as a campaigner with Greenpeace, but during that time, I was a HR manager over a staff of 5,000 people worldwide…and I polled almost 28,000 first preferences when standing for the Green Party in the last European Election….
“Change is coming – huge change – and I think that this winter, and the storms, floods and hardship that followed might have woken us up to this fact….and under the ambitions set out at the Paris Climate Conference, we have to affect changes which are the equivalent of a second industrial revolution, we need to make those changes within a generation…and we need to think ahead by acting now. Waterford must be a vibrant hub for tourism and an economic driver for the south east, creating local, long-lasting jobs, a university city that will prepare our children for a changing future. We can either choose to change or have change thrust upon us…
“I feel Waterford is on the back foot and that in enterprise terms, we’re almost downtrodden so my party would be looking to areas including urban renewal and how the city centre in particular at night is like a ghost town. We need to start using the housing stock above retail units and to create employment by regenerating the centre of our cities and towns…
“We’re in favour of creating a community banking system, which is used in Germany and Holland, a system that is owned by local people…who will invest in local enterprise and keep the money in the local economy, to help an economy to recover from inside out.”
Mailo Power (Renua): “I am furious that our city status no longer applies when the reality is that we are now a Metropolitan District. I refuse, as a Waterford woman, who grew up over her father’s butcher’s shop on Patrick Street, and now a hotelier employing 24 people at the Athenaeum House Hotel…but I refuse to be described of a citizen of a Metropolitan District when I am a citizen of Ireland’s oldest city.
“I have been through hell and back, surviving in our business over the last eight years and I say enough. I am here to make sure that in decision making, the voice of us business people is heard. As an entrepreneur, I am solution-driven and I am here to tell you about Renua Ireland, a party that was formed to drive change in a system that has resisted change…this is the oldest city in Ireland and I will see it restored to being a city…
“We would establish the Irish Credit Network, a form of peer to peer lending which would mean that businesses would be able to borrow on the strength of their books, so when you have funds that are owed to you, you’d be able to borrow up to 80 per cent of that and that would get businesses moving again, as many businesses can be waiting for up to three or four months to get paid, and that’s a vicious circle which needs to be addressed…the way things have always been done isn’t working…
“Our proposed flat tax (23 per cent)…would actually put more money in people’s pockets…and we would keep Corporation Tax at 12.5 per cent but would look at (lowering) other taxes to encourage entrepreneurs to come back into Ireland (by) reducing thresholds.”
* John Deasy TD (FG) and Una Dunphy (PBP) offered apologies for their respective non-attendances at Thursday last’s debate. [Compiled by Dermot Keyes]