John Deasy says the Receiver tasked with selling the former glass factory properties needs to know that any proposal to change the purpose of a pitch currently used by Dungarvan United AFC will not be entertained by Waterford City and County Council.
For the past 25 years United have availed of a playing field owned by Waterford Crystal in Receivership. It backs directly onto Kilrush Park — the soccer club’s home ground since 1980.
Commonly known as “The Crystal Pitch”, it is zoned for ‘Open Space’ under the Dungarvan Town Development Plan, 2012-2018. This zoning is designed “to preserve and enhance Open Space areas and Amenity Areas for passive and active recreational uses”.
John Deasy says: “I’ve been in contact with the Council and it’s time they made it clear to the Receiver that this pitch will not be used for anything other than soccer club purposes.”
Acting for Waterford Crystal Ltd in Receivership, Deloitte have been in discussions on the sale of both the former Waterford Crystal factory in Dungarvan and the separate Sports and Leisure Club site roughly a kilometre away.
Late last year the Receiver’s solicitors served notice on United to stop using the Crystal Pitch with immediate effect.
Doing so would mean getting rid of 14 teams and “decimate the club,” says Dungarvan chairman David Walsh. The use of their main playing field and the Crystal Pitch is split evenly among all teams, whilst the latter is also used predominantly for training. With 27 teams (male and female) from under-6s up, having a second field is essential.
John Deasy has been in regular contact with both club and senior local authority officials over the past year. “At this stage the Council needs to make it abundantly clear to the Receiver that this pitch, if sold to a third party, is not going to be permitted for any other use, and it will be making no change to the zoning of this particular site,” he says.
After being instructed to desist from using the pitch, Dungarvan United were subsequently invited through law firm A&L Goodbody, representing the Receiver, to make an offer for the land and buildings before the site went on general sale.
However, the club is heavily in debt due to ongoing investment in its facilities (including pitch drainage works, astroturf, a new covered stand and floodlights) and “borrowing more funds is not realistic,” David Walsh says.
Despite this fact, the club made two offers to the Receiver last February — one for the playing pitch, another for the entire lot, including the disused Crystal clubhouse. If accepted, either bid would have to be met through further local fundraising.
“This potential securing of these lands would be a fantastic outcome as the club prepares to mark its 50th anniversary in 2016,” says the chairman, who believes the current zoning of the lands should “reduce the value of the site considerably.”
In recent weeks United have been informed that the Receiver is now dealing with another interested party in connection with the property, and would only “consider” engaging with United should those negotiations prove unsuccessful.
This has left the club’s committee in limbo, after years of modernising and forward planning. Many of its hundreds of members would have connections to the old Dungarvan Crystal team and the factory workers.
With the permission of the Crystal Centre Committee, the club effected a clean-up of the centre’s old vandalised tennis courts and laid out a grassed training area for schoolboy teams. This land was previously a magnet for vandalism and anti-social behavior, which has reduced dramatically as a result, much to the relief of residents of the area.
John Deasy says: “The club needs to be dealt with on a fair basis given their contribution to the wider community and the Council should now intervene to ensure that the Receiver is under no illusions as to what will be allowed.
“If this is a tactic to engineer arbitration for the pitch it is ill-advised. The people selling this land need to engage constructively with the soccer club for the first time since this process started,” the local TD added.
Following discussions with Waterford TD John Deasy, Enterprise Ireland has agreed to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to determine what benefit the agency can bring to the State’s fishing ports, including Dunmore East.
“Enterprise Ireland is the agency responsible for marketing our export food sector. I felt they should be involved in our ports and seafood industry,” the Fine Gael deputy said.
The Dáil Public Accounts Committee recently published a report on the six fishery harbour centres which shows their economic potential is not being realised.
The problem of idle, under-utilised and badly run properties has plagued many ports for years — “despite the fact that demand exists for these facilities,” the PAC found. Protracted legal wrangles have ensued in some cases, with poor relations between the Department and harbour users in general.
Deasy, who is vice-chairman of the PAC, said: “While the situation is worse in other ports, there are still some difficulties locally in Dunmore East, including complex issues surrounding arrears.
“But we now have a very proactive harbourmaster and the Department is making progress in dealing with legacy issues it inherited on taking over the marine portfolio eight years ago.”
The Committee’s report identified “a history of inefficiency” across the six centres, from poor property management to “archaic” accounts and lax financial controls, with facilities left vacant and revenues due to the State left uncollected.
In formulating its recommendations, and recognising the need for a more strategic approach, Deasy met with Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon — whose background is in the food industry — with a view to utilising its expertise.
“I put it to her that her agency should have a role in the future of these buildings for seafood processing or related commercial activity and her reaction to the suggestion of collaborating with BIM and the Department was positive.”
Briefing the PAC about the progress made in implementing new administrative and oversight structures for the harbours, Department secretary general Aidan O’Driscoll told Deputy Deasy that the involvement of Enterprise Ireland is “an excellent idea… and I am delighted about the idea of involving it in this process.”
The Committee has recommended that the largely-shelved business blueprint drawn up for the six ports in 2009 be revisited by a newly Fishery Harbours Development Board. It also wants a new arbitration-based dispute resolution mechanism established, and a clear segregation between the Department’s control functions and responsibility for harbour development.
Deasy added: “Landings are up but this is about maximising the local economic benefit. A number of people have approached me about processing shellfish and getting involved in seafood for export in the past six months in particular.
“Enterprise Ireland is the obvious agency to look at the assets we have in each of these ports and use their expertise to help market the industry abroad.”
With a €6 million dredging operation getting underway, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has confirmed that it is exploring the possibility of constructing a breakwater at Dunmore East.
Waterford TD John Deasy asked what infrastructural funding might be made available for the next phase of development at the State fishery port when Department officials appeared before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee last Thursday.
He said “two critical issues” had been identified to him — the first being a stepping-off point and safe access for cruise ships which “are vital from an economic tourism standpoint”.
Pointing to the very real difficulties Dunmore, as a busy port, is experiencing in providing space for passengers and crew to disembark, Deasy said “it’s becoming a potential safety issue” and asked the Department to look into it.
He added: “The second piece of essential infrastructure missing from Dunmore East is a breakwater, to allow for the leisure and sailing end of things to be built on and promoted.”
Cecil Beamish from the Department’s marine division confirmed that the “the next significant capital project that is being looked for Dunmore East down the line is a breakwater.”
This, he said, “would provide benefit also to the marine-leisure side of the harbour — which has been growing very rapidly — in terms of improved shelter and overwintering, and possibly allow the development then of small craft berthing.”
He told Deputy Deasy that “the exploratory work on what type of breakwater, the positioning, the scale, the costing, all of that, that’s getting underway over the next period as we move through the dredging.”
He added that they would also be deepening the entrance channel as part of the dredging exercise, with the overall operation to remove mud and silt from the harbour basin “going deeper than had been envisaged last year.
“At the moment we’re exploring what is the engineering and design dimensions of what would be required for a breakwater because there are different versions of where and how you’d put it [in]; and then, in parallel, considering multi-annual capital requirements and how to programme that,” he said.
A senior counsel is to examine how allegations of prolonged and serious abuse at a foster home in the South East were investigated by the HSE.
Waterford TD and Dáil Public Accounts Committee vice-chairman, John Deasy said: “A number of people put their careers on the line to bring this out into the open and the very least they deserve is this independent review.
“It’s been difficult to get but at last some of the families who’ve been dealing with this since the early nineties will see someone independently look into how the HSE dealt with this affair.”
It’s alleged that up to 40 children and young adults with severe intellectual disabilities were physically and sexually abused while in a foster setting during the eighties, nineties, and 2000s — and that two separate HSE inquiries into claims made by social care workers as far back as 1992 were inadequate.
The PAC asked the Department of Health to investigate the HSE’s procurement practices in commissioning former staff to conduct independent investigations into the case, which Deputy Deasy described as the worst he’s come across in 16 years as a public representative.
He wants the authority to appoint investigators in future cases taken away from the HSE to guard against a potential conflict of interest.
PAC Meeting | June 11, 2015
Deputy John Deasy: I want to return to NAMA and an issue that was raised on the floor yesterday during the debate on IBRC. I have a question about the ongoing monitoring and oversight of NAMA by the Comptroller and Auditor General's staff. How many members of staff are embedded in dealing with NAMA on a permanent basis? What oversight, monitoring and reporting does this entail?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy [C&AG]: The team comprises seven whole-time equivalents over a year. We may have a dozen people at a particular time if we need more bodies, but it equates to having seven full-time people. There is a very high level of engagement in the course of planning and carrying out the audit and reporting back any issues which we discover. The director of audit attends at least part of almost all the audit committee meetings. It is a very rigorous engagement. I will come back to the Deputy with more detail on it.
Deputy John Deasy: Information on John Deasy Zoom on John Deasy Has this been the case since day one-----
Seamus McCarthy: It has, yes.
Deputy John Deasy: Information on John Deasy Zoom on John Deasy -----when the NAMA Act was passed and enacted?
Seamus McCarthy: Yes.
The Department of Social Protection is on track to recover almost €250 million in overpayments in the space of three years.
Answering questions from Waterford TD John Deasy at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, the Department’s Secretary General outlined projected welfare clawback figures for 2013–15.
Having queried what percentage of overpayments due to fraud and either claimant or clerical error are being recovered, the Fine Gael deputy was told that €127.2m worth of overpayments were recorded in 2013, of which €70.7m was recovered — up from €53m in 2012.
The PAC heard that a new checking system is only “live” since the end of last year, so restitution levels will improve further. In 2014, welfare overpayments totalled €124.4m, with €83m recovered. “And our expectation in 2015 is that we’ll be recovering in or around €90m,” Niamh O’Donoghue said.
Describing the moneys involved as “very significant”, John Deasy commented: “People who pay taxes and work hard for a living expect efficiency when it comes to recovering social welfare payments resulting from fraud or those paid out in error.
“The recovery systems are improving and should remind people who claim fraudulently there’s a better chance now they will be forced to return the money.”
The Department’s most senior official told the PAC she “would absolutely disagree with any suggestion that there is rampant fraud in the social welfare system. In terms of international comparisons there is no evidence to suggest that fraud in Ireland is out of step or out of kilter with the level of fraud anywhere else.”
Acknowledging that “one man’s customer error” — which is attributed to 30-40% of overpayment cases — “is another man’s fraud”, Mr Deasy asked if the extent of such mistakes is getting better or worse.
Ms O’Donoghue replied that the ratio of “suspected fraud” versus customer/administrative error when it comes to overpayments “has been increasing... [so] it’s not something we can be complacent about.”
Public Services Card
Regarding the new Public Services Card, which the Government is planning to invest another €17-18m in rolling out, Deputy Deasy asked “has that made an appreciable difference with regard to fraud.”
The Secretary General confirmed that the €24m contract is based on a target of 3 million cards being issued by the end of 2016. Some 1.4m are currently in circulation.
She said 62 cases of fraud had been identified already through the card’s associated facial recognition software. The new technology “allows us to uncover it very quickly, and very serious cases arose out of that which have gone through the courts,” with custodial sentences ensuing.
“The evidence to date is significant. It’s certainly in the millions,” she told Mr Deasy. “It also has a huge preventative role” in that, because they have to go through a registration process, “people are less inclined to perpetuate identity fraud to try and make multiple claims when they know we have the infrastructure now to check who they are.
“So yes, we really feel it has contributed enormously on the fraud side, as well as the customer service side, as we also have close to 400,000 people now with a Public Service Card with the free travel badge on it which provides much greater security to transport providers in terms of who is entitled to it.”
A large backlog of mostly elderly patients awaiting cataract surgery at Waterford Regional Hospital has been significantly reduced by outsourcing operations to private healthcare providers.
Last year the Dáil Public Accounts Committee was asked to look at how certain public hospital waiting lists were being tackled and whether value for money was being achieved.
In response to a January 2014 parliamentary question submitted by Waterford TD John Deasy the HSE outlined the steps it was taking to reduce the cataract surgery list.
The HSE subsequently confirmed there had been 1,135 patients on the WRH Ophthalmology Scheduled Care register as of July 31, 2013. Of these, 382 had breached the Department of Health 12-month waiting list target.
PAC member Deputy Deasy says: “An analysis of the hospital’s capacity to manage the accumulation of cases identified that only 320 would be treated by the end of 2013.
“The inability to deal internally with the backlog was attributed to three vacant permanent posts at Ardkeen — the hospital having been down to one full-time ophthalmic surgeon and two part-time consultants.”
The Hospital’s general manager sought and received approval from the HSE to outsource procedures to five hospitals to complete the volume of surgeries by the end of 2013.
Of the 815 patients offered a service in private hospitals, 666 accepted. Some patients wished to remain on the WRH waiting list and others had already received treatment elsewhere.
A breakdown shows the operations were carried out in Whitfield Clinic, Waterford (171), Auteven Kilkenny (196), Eye and Ear Hospital Dublin (122), and two Cork hospitals, The Bon Secours (101) and Mater Private (76).
Initial discussions with the private providers indicated a cost of around €2,300 per cataract procedure. Agreement was reached on a price of €1,900, paid to the hospitals, which the HSE regarded as “reasonable”.
In a follow-up report to the PAC last week, the head of the HSE’s South/South West Hospital Group said that since December University Hospital Waterford has had a full complement of four consultant ophthalmologists. There's also a plan in place to cater for patients in-house, “ensuring reduced waiting times”.
John Deasy added: “While the numbers who have received procedures are significant, I’m aware of others who couldn’t wait and went abroad to get treatment.
“I also know there are people who don’t fall into these categories so I’ll be asking the HSE what the current waiting list is like and how quickly it will be dealt with.
“There has been progress but there are still people waiting too long. Elderly people shouldn't have to endure diminished sight and blindness considering how treatable the condition is in most circumstances,” Deasy said.
“Ideally all these operations should be taking place in University Hospital Waterford but the priority has to be to ensure people get the treatment they need. And if that means outsourcing procedures to private providers then that’s fine.”
Taking the initiative from inception to launch
Having lobbied for a new urban regeneration scheme for Waterford to be extended beyond Georgian buildings to all pre-1915 properties, John Deasy says the revised Living City Initiative launched recently means hundreds of additional residences will qualify for the incentives.
“To definitively determine whether their property is included in the scheme people should contact Waterford City and County Council’s Economic Development team,” he said. “The map is strictly defined and there are stringent criteria and various restrictions/options that should be studied.”
Aimed at revitalising run-down town centres, the scheme will see two types of tax allowances applied to works carried out to century-old houses and certain commercial properties within a specific zone, whose scope is wider than originally intended.
Drawn up by the Department of Finance in consultation with the local Council and Revenue, the Waterford ‘special regeneration area’ — which will be operative over a five-year qualifying period — effectively comprises the entire old inner city.
As well as focusing on some of Waterford’s most historic streets and thoroughfares, the designated area also takes in some sites on the far side of Rice Bridge, including the derelict north wharves.
On the opposite bank its boundary begins beyond the brewery block and follows the line of the River Suir right along the South Quays before winding around Waterpark College as far as Glenville.
There it shifts across to the Dunmore Road, back in along Passage Road, and over to Ballytruckle and Poleberry; continues on in to Manor Street, Barrack Street, Cannon Street, Slievekeale Road, Morrissons Road, Upper Yellow Road, Military Road and Gracedieu Road; before rejoining the river at Grattan Quay to complete the main loop.
Having pushed to get the scheme widened to maximise its uptake here — “The initial 2013 version was confined to Georgian era buildings, which Waterford has very few of, so a much broader interpretation of ‘old’ was needed” — John Deasy says it gives those with the resources to renovate an opportunity to write off the cost against their income.
The first type of relief available allows owner-occupiers of properties originally built as dwellings before 1915 to carry out refurbishment or conversion works and deduct the outlay from their income tax over 10 years.
The second element will enable investors to claim capital allowances — spread over seven years — for the refurbishment or conversion of premises used for retail or providing local services.
There’s no ceiling on the total commercial spend, just the relief, which is capped at €200,000 per project — a requirement to get past EU State aid rules, which delayed the scheme’s roll-out. In all cases works must cost at least 10% of the property’s existing market value.
Some 80% of architects and auctioneers surveyed in Waterford suggested a significant direct employment impact from the scheme, which is also being introduced in other main urban centres, including Kilkenny and Cork.
“Refurbishment of old buildings is very labour intensive and high-standard work, and over half the capital spend would be expected to go on tradespeople and related services,” John said.
Anne-Marie Tierney-Le Roux’s appointment as IDA Regional Manager for the South East is already having a positive impact.
“Even in the short time she has been in place things have really improved from the point of coordination and communications," says John.
“Before her position was created, the local economic development officials and the IDA had ceased sharing information on matters such as company itineraries.
“Having that kind of individual presence at that senior level in Waterford was always going to be important when it comes to attracting potential investors, and it seems to be working out that way.”
John lobbied for the reinstatement of the role to Waterford and publicly challenged Minister Richard Bruton to reverse his decision to locate an IDA director in Cork in the mid-nineties covering the south of the country.
“To see the Giant’s Causeway promoted on the Wild Atlantic Way website while a large chunk of the southern seaboard is left out is slightly incongruous.”
Waterford is to be allowed to make a formal case for inclusion in the Wild Atlantic Way.
Fine Gael TD John Deasy has secured a commitment from Tourism Minister Michael Ring to facilitate a presentation to officials from Fáilte Ireland and his Department.
The Waterford deputy made the request in the Dáil on Wednesday (April 15), notwithstanding the previous morning’s launch of ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’, a new marketing promotion based around heritage sites and cultural assets.
Last July Mr Deasy met Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn and persuaded the tourism body to let Waterford City and County Council pitch to become part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
But while the Waterford local authority set to work on a submission, council officials in Cork have not pushed for east Cork’s inclusion, leaving an obvious missing link to the touring route’s conclusion in Kinsale.
Mr Deasy sees Waterford Airport as an ideal south-eastern starting point for the WAW touring route. The new VLM Waterford—London Luton service will operate 12 flights each way weekly from April 27, with strong bookings so far.
Having “bent the ear of every official and politician for the past four years to secure funding to keep the airport going until a new London carrier was found”, Mr Deasy says “it’s now time to give it the chance to become self-sustaining, which is what Governments have repeatedly said they’ve wanted.”
With the State having invested massively in Waterford Airport — including €10m in upgrading the access road alone — he says “it’s critical that the Government now starts connecting projects to the infrastructure… and this is how you do it.”
While by no means being negative about or dismissing the potential of the ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ product — which, he feels, “can work if marketed properly” around attractions such as the Viking Triangle in Waterford City — “there’s no escaping the fact that it doesn’t focus on the county’s coastline in any shape or form.”
“Our priority is marketing our spectacular coast,” he said, saying Wild Atlantic Way status would work in tandem with a number of major tourism-led projects, such as the Deise Greenway, the UNESCO Copper Coast Geopark, and the regeneration of Tramore.
Mr Deasy added, “To see the Giant’s Causeway promoted on the Wild Atlantic Way website while a large chunk of the southern seaboard is left out is slightly incongruous.”
He rejected the idea that Waterford’s inclusion would “dilute the essence” of the Wild Atlantic Way, saying: “This is not about looking for a hand-out. We feel we can add greatly to the overall proposition and only want in on merit. I’m asking that we get the opportunity to make that case.”
While emphasising the potential of ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ “if communities buy in to it,” Minister Ring acknowledged that the Wild Atlantic Way has been “a tremendous success” in selling Ireland overseas.
Willing to respond “in a very positive manner”, the Minister said he had “no problem” in facilitating a presentation from Waterford officials. “I will set up that opportunity for him... and I will sit in on it myself.”
He added afterwards: “Clinching the London link was key. The future of the airport here was very tenuous. Remember, Galway and Sligo have shut down to commercial flights. It was about buying time.
“We now have the new routes but we have to build on it. As I said in the Dáil, it is now critical for the Government to consider the airport’s future and not simply to say ‘Job done’.”
He cautioned that connecting east Cork remains a serious obstacle Waterford joining the Wild Atlantic Way. “There are people in west Cork who would like it to end there; one factor being the concerns surrounding the huge debt attached to Cork Airport.
“But as well as talking to Waterford Airport management I also met the relevant officials in the Department recently and I think they agree that Cork, with 54 routes versus our two, is not comparable and that including us in the Wild Atlantic Way wouldn’t have an adverse tourism impact elsewhere.”