Waterford TD John Deasy says there’s still significant scope for the Southeast to share in the €7.9bn Ireland Strategic Investment Fund — the bulk of which has still to be allocated.
Last week the Fund reported that it’s in advanced discussions with over 50 different investment opportunities valued at a combined €2.4bn.
It expects to put over €750m into leveraging additional projects this year and is open to all commercial ideas (see www.isif.ie). Matching private sector capital could double its total worth.
The Fund’s operators, the National Treasury Management Agency, are targeting a minimum average return of 4% from its entire investment portfolio. Commercial viability is a key prerequisite when it comes to sizing up applications.
With “economic impact” also part of its ‘double bottom line’ mandate, Deputy Deasy successfully lobbied at legislation stage to make sure the Fund accounts for where projects are delivered.
“I was concerned Dublin would dominate and so far that’s been borne out, with 47% of approved projects being based in the capital and the remainder spread around the country — two-thirds in the rest of Leinster and 18% in Munster.
“However, there’s still nearly €5.5bn of public capital to work with between now and 2020 so hopefully investors can come in with proposals that target those regions most in need of a lift.”
So far the state stimulus measure — using what was the National Pension Reserve Fund — has invested in capital development projects, finance schemes for SMEs, and recently, in conjunction with Glanbia, an offer of €100m in ‘MilkFlex’ loan supports to the dairy sector.
Deasy says: “I have already flagged with the Department of Transport the potential use some of this money to help generate new business in our regional airports and main sea ports, while still complying with EU State Aid rules.”
He added that regional requirements in the areas of broadband, seafood processing and advance infrastructure for industry would also make good use of some of this catalyst funding.
After a decade of declining business at Waterford Port, the semi-state has finally made the transition to a new management team — and Deputy John Deasy says legacy issues affecting local harbour users and commercial customers can now begin to be addressed.
“It’s roughly 10 years since I sought a review of the port’s entire management structure. It’s taken too long but we’re finally there,” the Waterford TD says. He believes the port can once again act as a strategic catalyst of growth for the region, but that changes were necessary for that to happen.
“This has been a protracted and difficult process. Putting a new chairman and now a proactive chief executive in place were crucial, fundamental steps.”
He recently met with the Port of Waterford Company’s new CEO, Frank Ronan, at Belview. Only a month in the job, “he has a realistic development agenda and we spoke about a number of capital investment priorities which he intends pursuing with the Department in the immediate term.”
These include a berth extension, river management measures to resolve silting problems at Cheekpoint, an upgrading of the quay walls, and a capital dredge to improve depth levels from 6.5 to 8 metres.
“These types of access improvements — which won’t happen overnight — would make a difference,” Deasy says. “But the challenge of clawing back old customers and enticing new ones will also need innovative thinking: possibly involving strategic joint ventures with shipping operators and attractive dock-level service arrangements.
The Fine Gael TD says there’s a lot of lost ground to be made up. “Waterford has gone from being one of the busiest ports in Europe in the 1980s to a shadow of that today. In 1989 the port handled 1.025 million tonnes in container traffic compared to less than 270,000t last year.
“You’re talking about a reduction in that market share from 33% to 4%, leaving Waterford way behind Dublin (4.5m tonnes) and Cork (1.9m). For Waterford to have less than a sixth of Cork’s container shipping — when it had less than a third of ours 25 years ago — shows how bad things have become.
“But the advantages available to Waterford haven’t changed,” Deasy added. “It remains the closest Irish multi-modal port to continental Europe. Volumes during the Bell Line era prove it has the strategic location and capacity. At least we’re now in a position to start rebuilding relationships and developing new connections.”
Catering for major existing customers is also a priority for the new CEO, who feels there’s a sufficient customer base within a 70km radius to provide a sustainable throughput — once Belview is marketed properly. “Ideally new port-related industries and commercial activity can also come on stream in time,” Deasy says.
As regards capital projects, two possible sources he’s looking into are the €6.7billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, and a proposed ‘connectivity fund’ for strategic infrastructure from the €350m sale of Aer Lingus.
“We’re also discussing the possibility of bringing some of the smaller cruise liners up the river in bad weather and facilitate berthing closer to the city itself.”
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.
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.”
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.”
A proposal by Fine Gael TDs John Deasy and Michael Creed for a new high-level oversight structure to manage the “dramatic” change and growth within the Irish dairy sector has been adopted by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.
The two Munster deputies put forward the concept after holding a series of meetings with key industry players ahead of the abolition of EU quotas on March 31 — a development that’s seen many milk producers, particularly younger farmers, investing heavily in expansion.
Arising from these discussions the party colleagues suggested that a new partnership be established to manage the volatility that will occur within the domestic dairy industry, mirroring the situation globally.
Having taken their template on board, the Minister confirmed its implementation at the start of a special Dáil debate on the sector, held on the eve of the opening of Glanbia’s new €235m milk processing plant at Belview.
“We are going to set up a dairy forum so as to ensure all the stakeholders with a vested interest are part of the discussion — and I will chair it,” Mr Coveney said. It will be modelled on the beef forum, albeit “less adversarial”.
Contributing to the debate, which he requested last December on foot of an adverse Teagasc milk price outlook for 2015, John Deasy said his idea for an oversight structure was prompted by the need to carefully manage “the completely new frontier” facing the sector.
Waterford is one of the country’s dairy heartlands with some 750-plus milk producers making a massive input to the wider economy. He says dairy expansion on the scale envisaged offers “enormous potential for rural Ireland,” at a time when many are talking about its demise.
However, reflecting on the vast Irish dairy landscape that prevailed before EU supply controls were introduced 31 years ago — around 65,000 milk producers in 1983 compared to circa 18,000 now — he acknowledged that “one of the main challenges is to keep as many people in this business as possible”.
But despite the inevitable market fluctuations that will be part and parcel of the post-quota era, the outlook for the sector is extremely optimistic, he feels. Mr Deasy said many industry sources he has spoken to regard the projected 50% growth within the domestic dairy sector over the next five years as “conservative.”
Indeed, the Minister said it’s “reasonable to assume the Irish dairy industry will double over the next 15 years, if not before that”. Agreeing with his view that the conditions for such rapid expansion “are really only available to Ireland within Europe,” Deputy Deasy said the new oversight forum should be about “capitalising on our competitive advantage”.
Crucially, this optimistic perspective is shared by the banks. “Collectively, they have identified the Irish dairy sector as having incredible growth potential and are financing it accordingly. We met AIB and Bank of Ireland and they are competing to get a piece of a massively growing industry,” he said.
“There is no stopping the banks when it comes to lending as they see this as a good bet. If anything,” he suggested, “the new forum will need to take a look at their lending practices over the next three years and keep an eye on that.
Noting “there is a comparatively low farm debt average in Ireland compared to other countries,” Mr Deasy said “the financial fundamentals for expansion are also far better here than among our European counterparts, and in places like Australia and New Zealand — though to a certain extent the sector’s continued viability will reply on managing the efficiency of dairy farms on an ongoing basis.”
Remarking that the Minister has done a very good job in preparing for the ending of the quota regime (such as the recent €35m investment in new dairy technology centres in Limerick and Cork) the Waterford TD said the partnership proposal he and Michael Creed put forward “is about accentuating the positive and the benefits that will accrue from better organisation in our domestic dairy sector.”
"It’s the perfect opportunity to adapt the Department’s institutional experience and incorporate it into a new industry partnership.”
While what Mr Coveney called the quota “straitjacket” is being removed, Deputy Deasy acknowledged: “The reality is that the increased volatility we’re seeing will continue and maybe worsen across milk markets worldwide over the next 5–10 years as supply and demand finds its level.
“Given the relative unknown farmers are entering into, there needs to be an efficient and flexible oversight structure in place. It would bring all the stakeholders’ resources and expertise together within an effective strategic framework; coordinating their expertise in a cohesive, focused way.”
“The Minister saw that the changeover to unrestricted production would benefit considerably from this sort of proactive approach — and the fact he himself will chair it will give the forum added weight and impetus”.
Central to its workings will be the type of pricing models already being developed to counteract volatility. Also, “Having discussed is the spreading out of superlevy payments over three years, which is happening, another issue we’ve delved into is the degree of fragmentation that exists when it comes to offering farmers fixed milk price contracts,” Mr Deasy said.
“Certain cooperatives do, but not all. Glanbia have run a very successful offer which is now oversubscribed and entering its fifth year. But in other parts of the country fixed price schemes have failed for various reasons, or are not available at all”.
He foresees the forum “reacting to whatever regulatory, legislative and commercial measures are required within what will be a rapidly changing environment, and evolving in response to trends and market realities.”
The intention, he stressed, is “not to create quangos or add to budgets” — but rather to put the resources and know-how that already exists to best use.
“We’re already seeing an increased level of coordination between the Department and the other key participants, including the Irish Dairy Board, Teagasc, the farming organisations, processing groups, and banks. It’s the perfect opportunity to adapt the Department’s institutional experience and incorporate it into a new industry partnership.”
Deputy John Deasy has met IDA chairman Frank Ryan to discuss measures that will assist Waterford and the South East on foot of the agency’s appointment of a new Regional Manager based in the city after a 20-year absence.
“It was a good meeting but it was made clear to me that in some cases companies are ignoring the Regional Aid incentives and are heading to the two largest urban areas in the country, regardless of what financial inducements are available.
“A package of measures will be announced for the regions by the IDA in the next month and I discussed with Mr Ryan specific measures that I felt are necessary for Waterford,” the Fine Gael TD Deasy said.
Having described the removal of the IDA’s South East regional director from Waterford in the mid-nineties as “a disaster”, Deputy Deasy’s efforts to convince government to restore a senior IDA executive to the city culminated in a frank exchange with Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton at the Oireachtas jobs committee last June.
At that meeting Mr Deasy linked the clear decline in Waterford’s fortunes with the establishment of an amalgamated South region, complete with a regional director headquartered in Cork.
That decision, he noted, was made on Richard Bruton’s watch, despite warnings as to what would, and did, happen; resulting in over 80% of all Foreign Direct Investment “going to three particular locations — Cork, Dublin and Galway.”
He told Mr Bruton “there needs to be a restructuring with regard to the seniority of IDA staff when it comes to the southeast, and the situation that was in existence in 1996 when you were minister needs to be reinstated.”
In response, the Minister agreed for the first time at that meeting to review the agency’s executive presence in Waterford — having earlier indicated that an additional 35 personnel approved for the IDA would be deployed overseas.
Deputy Deasy also wrote to both Mr Bruton and the IDA to reiterate that redressing the regional investment imbalance in the southeast’s favour needed a priority, management-led approach given the unique economic difficulties here.
“While we’ve seen some positive announcements and an improvement in unemployment levels over the past 18 months, the fact remains that around 2,500 IDA-supported jobs have been lost in Waterford since 2008, with only about a quarter of that number created over the same period,” he said.
“While enticing FDI isn’t easy, changing the trend that’s developed at our expense required, in my view, a senior influential focus and status on the ground, and with this appointment I think we’ve now got that.”
Ms Tierney-Le Roux — most recently IDA European Director and a former regional executive for Waterford — returned to the city in her new role on Monday, with the task of winning investments for this area.
Mr Deasy said: “I am meeting the new manager this week and it’s critical we tie up the people working in in economic development locally with her office and start improving that relationship.”