A local businessman, not native to Waterford but with an enormous affection for the city and county, made a very interesting remark in the company of this column last week.
Amidst a chat about the Ard Rí Hotel site, the dilapidated North Quay also entered conversation.
Taking both sites into question, just 13 months before the Tall Ships return to Waterford, we agreed (as everyone does) that they make for sorry, lamentable viewing.
“Waterford is known as the Gentle County,” the businessman said. “And that’s not always a good thing.”
Consider the following, undisputed public perception: Waterford Crystal was let go without any meaningful political muscle being flexed.
Compare what went on during the demise of ‘The Glass’ to the clamour of politicians that have visibly and vocally rallied to Quinn Insurance’s cause over the past month.
While it’s difficult to have any sympathy for Sean Quinn given what led to the Financial Regulator’s just intervention, countless families in the border area are going through hell right now.
And even if what’s going on now ultimately proves to be nothing more than a cosmetic exercise, people in Cavan at least have a sense that their TDs are actively fighting for workers.
Perception is everything, especially in politics: don’t pretend even for a nanosecond that TDs in the border area aren’t thinking about the next election when raising the Quinn issue.
It’s all part of the political game, something which the general public has long since cottoned on to; witnessing TDs reacting to a situation as opposed to adopting meaningful, proactive stances.
Recall the closure of Waterford Crystal and the initial days of the sit-in at Kilbarry, when then Minister Martin Cullen was notably absent from the protest.
Could he have done any more to prevent the company’s death knell from sounding? Probably not in all fairness.
However, had he ripped up his schedule and visited the workers in the first hours of the Kilbarry sit-in, the perception among ‘Glass’ staff regarding Martin Cullen would have been radically altered. Perception, lest we forget, is everything.
Historically, Waterford has been notably light on political heavyweights – historians will suggest that John Redmond was the last figure to represent this area who packed genuine punching power. John Redmond, it should be noted, died in 1918.
Indeed, the only Waterford-linked politician to genuinely register on the national political and social scale since Redmond was Dr Noel Browne, one of the few truly merited selections in RTE’s ‘Greatest Irish Person’ poll.
It must also be acknowledged that the political careers of both men ended in failure, which sadly suggests that Waterford, since the advent of parliamentary representation, has made scant national impact.
Is that going to change any time soon? History suggests not, with the greatest of respect to those aiming to fill Martin Cullen’s vacancy, not that this will be happening any time soon thanks to the Ceann Comhairle’s casting vote.
So who should the people of Waterford look to for hope, a word used repeatedly by the late Gerry Ryan in the final days of his all-too short life when discussing the national dilemma?
Firstly, it’s important to state that there is hope for Waterford, the vast majority of it stemming from non-political sources.
In recent months, this newspaper has regularly met with Waterford Chamber’s Chief Executive Michael Garland and parted from his company feeling wholly optimistic on every occasion.
As part of the ‘Destination Waterford’ team, which has brought together 20 of the city’s most progressive thinkers, Michael has relayed significant detail regarding a range of significant developments that are currently in train.
Much of what is coming about cannot yet be publicly discussed but it’s heartening to realise that people living and working in Waterford have come together in a meaningful way to improve our city.
People with a genuine love for Waterford are pooling their resources to create an improved tourism product that will serve the city and its environs in an unprecedented manner.
The plans for the ‘Historic Quarter’ of Waterford, which will fully realise “A thousand years of history in a thousand places” for the first time ever, are a source of great and real excitement.
Within a very short time frame, the old city centre will become a bona fide hive of activity, something which locals and visitors alike will benefit from.
The can-do attitude of City Manager Michael Walsh cannot be underestimated, underlining the sense that the right people are in the right place at the right time for Waterford.
Things are going to get better, no question. And it appears that Waterford has the people in place on the ground to discard the notion of us as Ireland’s ‘Gentle’ folk, shrugging our shoulders, throwing our eyes to heaven and pondering aloud “Why us?”
Let’s instead come to be known as Ireland’s progressive people – and who knows, maybe the political class, particularly at Oireachtas level, will get in on the act too. Because a change, and a good change at that, is ‘gonna come’ for Waterford. And soon.