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.
“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.”
Deputy John Deasy has said the “paltry” funding given to the Camphire International Horse Trials event in west Waterford doesn’t tally with its international status and high-calibre competition.
Raising the issue with Irish Sports Council CEO John Treacy at a recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Deasy said Horse Sport Ireland provides a Home International hosting grant of €5,000 while some horse classes receive prizemoney from the HSI breeding committee — but that’s it.
This is despite the fact that the annual summer event in Cappoquin has “been built up over the last 14 years” to achieve “international status”. With “only two other 3-star courses in Ireland”, the lay-out on the banks of the Blackwater has a first-class reputation among top-level riders.
Looking at “where we have been relatively successful over the last few Olympics, the equestrian area really stands out... and for a very significant horse trialing event” — comprising cross country, showjumping and dressage — “€5,000 seems a very small number to me,” Deputy Deasy said.
“Considering the kind of success people who attend these horse trials have gone on to achieve internationally, not just in the Olympics but in world-class events”, he felt “a more significant amount of money should be contributed” — wondering whether the Sports Council should consider funding such events directly.
John Treacy replied that “without a shadow of a doubt” equestrian sports — which “fit with our natural environment” — have proven to be very successful for Ireland internationally.
“The unfortunate part is our funding has been reducing, with a knock-on effect to Horse Sport Ireland whose funding is probably down over €400,000 over the last number of years. They currently allocate €84,000 to [around eight] events around the country... and as part of that Camphire gets €5,000.”
“I suppose it’s never enough,” he accepted, “because they are huge events and very important for the local economy as well.” (Camphire, which will be held from July 22-26 next year, also includes a Trade Village and Country Fair sourcing local producers.) “But the reality is funding is down... and they [HSI] have a huge demand in regard to some of those shows.”
While acknowledging “I’ve no doubt that what you do must be very difficult — just the competitive aspect of different sports looking for their allocation,” Deputy Deasy said “€5,000 is a paltry figure to be honest.
“Maybe, given its success and given how the Irish equestrian area has grown, some consideration should be given as to how the Sports Council can help these events out a little bit more,” he added.
Mr Treacy said HSI “are undertaking a strategic review at the moment and that issue is definitely coming up in terms of international events... So there are plans afoot in terms of trying to support some of these... with some more funding.”
With Deputy Deasy asking “When is that going to be finalised; and do you have an input?”, the CEO said “we did give feedback to it.” Asked “was that to increase the amount?” the Sports Council chief said: “No it wasn’t that specific. We were [talking] more on a macro level. But I know it’s part of what they’re thinking around that strategy at the moment.
“Look, we’d like to be in a position to give more money to these shows because I agree with you Deputy Deasy, they’re very, very important and there are some fine shows right around the country, and nowhere closer to my own heart than west Waterford.
“We do know they put on world-class events and they bring in international riders and it’s obviously something we will encourage HSI to do, to invest more money in these shows,” Mr Treacy concluded.
John persuades Failte Ireland to allow council pitch
Deputy John Deasy has reached agreement with Failte Ireland to allow Waterford City and County Council to make a formal presentation — including a full business case — as to why Waterford’s coastline should be included in the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Fine Gael TD held separate meetings in Dublin last week with Failte Ireland chief executive, Shaun Quinn, and CEO of the combined Waterford council, Michael Walsh.
“I’ve been dealing with this for a couple of months now,” Mr Deasy said. “I proposed to Mr Quinn that the local authority be given an opportunity to make a proper pitch as to why Waterford, being on the Atlantic seaboard, should be included in this multi-million euro tourism promotion.
“Michael Walsh has agreed to put the necessary process in train and the next step is to formulate a comprehensive presentation. It will take a few weeks to put together the business plan, which is a critical component of this.
“While there’s no guarantee Waterford’s submission will be successful, at the very least the council will have the chance to make a detailed case for inclusion. It’s up to the officials now to make the best case possible.”
Deputy Deasy stressed that “the inclusion of Waterford will have to make sense in terms of the considerable marketing plan that’s already underway. The concern already raised is that it might dilute the overall concept.”
“We have to be realistic. There are major issues to be overcome if Waterford is to be included. The most obvious problem is that it would have to comprise East Cork’s coastline as well.”
He believes one big advantage Waterford has is the location of the regional airport, which would be an ideal starting point to the tourist route for visitors from the UK and Europe.
“Having this county’s spectacular 147km of coastline as part of the Wild Atlantic Way would also help the marketing of the airport a great deal. It’s very well located and I presume the airport’s access potential will be a key selling point in the presentation the Waterford council makes to Bord Failte.”
Deputy John Deasy has told the Dáil of a 74% year-on-year increase in passenger numbers at Waterford Airport up to the end of May.
The Fine Gael TD acknowledged “the past few years have been a struggle for everyone involved, but it is fair to say that the work and patience displayed by everyone involved is paying off.”
Mr Deasy said: “I hope the figures supplied to me in respect of the first five months of this year represent a turning point. They go to show that a focused regional airport investment strategy can work and makes smart business sense.”
Flybe operates two commercial routes from Waterford — Birmingham and Manchester. Together they showed a 74% increase in passenger traffic in the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2013, amounting to more than 12,000 individual inbound and outbound flights.
“For the life of me, I could never understand why barely a penny was invested in Waterford Airport in the years when we had money to spend on infrastructure. There were plenty of announcements by sitting ministers, but nothing happened.”
Deputy Deasy attributed this continuing “substantial increase” in passenger loads — “albeit from a very small base” — to “good marketing, an uplift in the UK economy and a determination on the part of the Minister, the Department, airport management and everyone involved to make this work.
“It is working. Slowly but surely, Waterford is proving business can be found if an airport sticks at it.”
However, he said, “This is not to say that there are no unresolved issues. Money is being raised on the ground to supplement a Government investment that I hope will continue.
“The planning process for the runway extension is nearing completion and an arbitration process will proceed within the coming months, all of which should amount to an additional 200–250m of runway.”
Also, “Talks are continuing with commercial operators regarding the restoration of the Waterford-London route” — and the verified success of the current UK services should assist with this, he said.
While the region’s local authorities are “making the airport a priority and stepping up their involvement” as well, Deputy Deasy cited the Government’s “imagination to see the possibilities and to invest in critical infrastructure when times are tough” as “the key factor.”
By contrast, while he was “not going to bash” the previous administration, “for the life of me, I could never understand why barely a penny was invested in Waterford Regional Airport in the years when we had money to spend on infrastructure. There were plenty of announcements by sitting ministers, but nothing happened.”
Deputy Deasy agreed that “When a recession bites it is even more important that a government spends its money wisely.” But the passenger growth achieved this year “demonstrates that additional capital and operational funding for Waterford and the other regional airports is smart business and is a positive for the country's economy as a whole.”
Deputy John Deasy says the Government’s decision to release funding to allow for a limited but vital runway extension at Waterford Airport is a “very significant” breakthrough.
Having been working to secure this investment for a number of months, dealing directly with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, the Waterford Fine Gael TD had argued that a relatively modest outlay by the state could yield major benefits for the region’s economy.
The same capital expenditure grant of €405,000 was originally approved in late 2011 only to be frozen after Aer Arann’s decision to pull out of Waterford from January this year. Following a meeting with the airport board late last month, the Minister – despite the instability within the aviation industry – has now given Waterford Co Council the go-ahead to CPO the required 18 acres of land.
With the agreement being dependent on a contribution from a number of companies, along with local authorities, in the region, “In committing this funding I think the Department feels relatively happy with the private sector involvement in meeting the balance of the project cost, including laying the new stretch of runway,” Deputy Deasy says.
“There’s also an acknowledgement that the people who have worked at Waterford Airport for the past four years have used every cent to try to pave the way for additional expansion to bring in different kinds of jet aircraft, including small jets, and to connect to London in particular.”
“Psychologically it’s very important that we move to ensure that the airport is viable going into the next five or 10 years at the very least."
The additional lands are also needed to comply with international safety standards, including the provision of a runway end safety area. The 150m runway extension itself will, Deputy Deasy expects, “greatly improve the prospects of attracting a carrier to operate the Waterford–Luton service.”
Applauding the airport’s proactive approach despite the challenges it has faced in recent times, Mr Deasy added: “I don’t think there’s anyone in Waterford or the South East who doesn’t realise how critical this piece of infrastructure is for the region, for the city, for the county – an area that is suffering very badly.
“Psychologically it’s very important that we move to ensure that the airport is viable going into the next five or 10 years at the very least. Direct air access to our biggest trading partner is extremely important, and Waterford Airport supports considerable direct and indirect employment – not least in terms of tourism, which accounted for over half the inbound traffic from the Luton route.”
Now, after what’s been a lengthy process of negotiation, Deputy Deasy hopes things can progress swiftly, with a CPO operative and the contracts already agreed. Though the transfer of lands to the Airport will require a Section 183 Resolution by Co Councillors, officials believe this will not be a problem and that work can commence within a matter of months.