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.
John Deasy has told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee that it was wrong to pin the blame for all the financial problems at Waterford Institute of Technology on former president Kieran Byrne.
He said: “On a personal level I think Mr Byrne was dealt with very badly. I think that ultimately all the issues which came about in WIT were lumped together and dumped on his doorstep, and it was unfair.”
“When you look at the documentation and the history of this, Kieran Byrne did a lot of good when it came to the institute and I think that’s been forgotten,” stated Mr Deasy, who is the PAC’s vice-chairman.
He said the entire responsibility had been laid in Mr Byrne’s direction. “He became the scapegoat frankly for a lot of things which went wrong in the institute and I think that was extremely unfair.”
In his opinion, “with regard to how he was dealt with personally by the Higher Education Authority, there are questions to be answered.”
With the non-renewal of Mr Byrne’s contract currently subject to legal proceedings, Mr Deasy said “it will probably be the court that determines that” — but “as the facts leak out” as to how he was dealt with, “it’s becoming more troubling frankly … and I’m not the only member of this committee who’s forming that opinion.”
Turning to the completion of the Carriganore sports complex — which, WIT President Willie Donnelly told the committee, will start next week and be completed by June — Deputy Deasy said this was very good news.
He said financial management at WIT has been regularised and since Mr Donnelly’s appointment in April he had “contributed an awful lot to that”. The institute was now at the point of being able to move on with the southeast university application process.
He said he and PAC chairman John McGuinness shared the view that it’s important “to draw a line under the issues that have dogged the institute” in the recent past, and I think that has been achieved … which is extremely positive.”
Mr Donnelly told Deputy Deasy he has “a very good relationship” with his IT Carlow counterpart. The previous merger discussions “fell apart before because the foundation wasn’t there” and “we want to get it right” this time round in order to develop “a university of real quality for the region.”
Deasy: Work to start within a couple of weeks
Waterford TD John Deasy says loan finance is to be made available by Government to finish phase 3 of the stalled Carriganore Sports Complex.
Work is to commence within the next fortnight and will be completed in June.
Deputy Deasy, who is vice-chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, had called on the State to step in to facilitate the completion of the complex, work on which ground to a halt over three years ago.
The PAC recently received documents indicating that costs will be significantly more than anticipated. In a report, Eugene McKenna, former CEO of Diverse Campus Services — the company tasked with delivering the project — blamed leadership and governance issues for work stopping in 2012.
While he wouldn’t disagree with that analysis, John Deasy says it’s important to “move on and ensure that the uncertainty surrounding the project was ended.
“Myself and the chairman John McGuinness have made it clear at the committee that leaving the building like it is simply isn’t an option. When the Higher Education Authority appeared before us last January it estimated the shortfall at €5m. The Department of Education had already committed €2.9m to the project but a realistic means of financing the remainder needed to be found.”
The HEA has already said WIT “overstretched” in advancing its own independent building programme before running into funding problems. The Phase 3 ‘Carriganore Arena’ element was meant to cost €9.7m. But financing issues arose within the college after €6.5m was spent and the multi-purpose building is still largely idle and incomplete.
When the Department was at the committee in September it indicated that a loan was being looked at. This financing has now been agreed on terms that are manageable. Deputy Deasy says the priority is to finish what’s been started, regardless of the various legacy issues.
“The PAC has been dealing with the Department for the past year on this and the WIT debt situation. I think there was a realisation from officials that the State needed to step in and give the Institute a helping hand.”
The Fine Gael TD said new WIT president Willie Donnelly “has steadied the ship and we’re close to being on the right track, finally, to becoming a university, which is the most important thing.”
“In an effort to avoid getting caught in traffic, cars are also stopping at locations that weren’t designed for parking and that’s a danger in itself.”
Waterford TD John Deasy says urgent local authority action is needed to alleviate traffic congestion in the vicinity of Árdscoil na Mara in Tramore.
“I’ve been contacted by parents and residents about this problem. They and teachers in the new secondary school are also very frustrated about traffic delays in the general Summerhill area and potential safety issues.”
The fact that the only access route to the school is via the same junction as the Summerhill Centre — which includes Tesco, Lidl, a busy doctors’ surgery, a bank, and other businesses — has created a bottleneck most weekday mornings and afternoons.
The issue is largely confined to peak times before and after school, particularly in bad weather, which multiplies the number of cars dropping off and picking up; often with chaotic consequences.
Deputy Deasy says the resultant traffic tailbacks are also causing considerable inconvenience for people living in nearby estates such as Moonlaun and Meadowbrook trying to get to work in the morning. Residents are also worried about the effectiveness of existing traffic calming and signage, with many people using Sweetbriar/Moonlaun as a shortcut.
“What’s happened here was inevitable. You’re talking about a school of around 1,000 students and 100 staff, many coming from a wide catchment with no transport other than by car when it’s raining.
“Combine this with the traffic associated with the Holy Cross primary school a short distance away — another 700 pupils and teachers all using the same road network — and it was bound to happen.
“However, people who raised concerns were dismissed. I contacted the council to express my reservations about the traffic arrangements back in March 2014, asking if a revised layout could be put in place instead of traffic lights before the school opened. But I never received a response.
“What you have now is a build-up both on the Ring Road and also coming from the town centre, with the roadway between the Holy Cross Church and the traffic lights extremely narrow.”
These snarl-ups are most severe coming up to 9am, Monday to Friday — but with the Tesco car park effectively being used as a second collection point, there’s a major build-up at these lights after school as well.
“In an effort to avoid getting caught in traffic, cars are also stopping at locations that weren’t designed for parking and that’s a danger in itself,” Deasy says. “I’ve been told of near-collisions, with motorists taking a chance and ducking out blindsided into, and through, queues of cars.
The Fine Gael TD adds: “The council seems to have taken a ‘wait and see’ approach. But if you’re providing for a school of that scale, safe access should be paramount.
“I’ve looked at the location closely and think roundabouts would have been a better solution to begin with. It’s my understanding that the original plans for the Summerhill development included a roundabout system.
“I contacted the council again a number of weeks ago to survey traffic patterns and also the infrastructure leading to and from Árdscoil na Mara with a view to taking immediate remedial steps — not just on the grounds of improved traffic flows but also in terms of health and safety.
“It was entirely predictable that the current system clearly wouldn’t be capable of taking the volume of traffic, and the situation is becoming unsafe,” Deasy says.
He thinks any potential to provide a managed drop-off area should also be explored in an effort to address haphazard parking and driving in the immediate vicinity of the school campus.
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.”
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.”
Fine Gael TD John Deasy says this week’s opening of the new €50 million TAMS II Dairy Equipment Scheme is essential for Waterford farmers looking to increase production efficiencies following the abolition of milk quotas.
With a standard aid rate of 40% available, the funding will assist dairy farmers to modernise milking parlour technology.
Deasy said: “Already we're beginning to see major volatility in global milk prices. Demand from China has eased and Russia’s response to EU sanctions has had a major effect on prices. It has been compensated by a drought in New Zealand, but we now know we’re in a global market.
“Waterford farmers should avail of TAMS II as much as they can. The long term outlook for milk is still very good but a lot will depend on how efficient and technologically advanced individual operations are,” he added.
The scheme covers investment in milking machines, milk cooling and storage equipment, water heating and in-parlour feeding systems. All applications must be made online. The first funding round opens next week and runs until early October.
John Deasy: strong perception locally that he was poorly treated by Department
The Department of Agriculture has told Waterford TD John Deasy that it will direct a special steering committee to review the circumstances in which a Dungarvan farmer was compelled to slaughter 4,000 pigs at a loss of almost €750,000.
Speaking at last Thursday’s meeting of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, which discussed the Department’s handling of the 2002 mass destruction of pigs at the Ballinamuck farm of Tom Galvin, Secretary General Aidan O’Driscoll said they would not allow a similar situation to unfold again.
“There’s no doubt that that. There are many aspects of this that we wouldn’t handle the same way. If we did allow on-farm slaughter we would supervise the whole thing.”
Outlining the case history, he told how traces of Carbadox — banned in the EU in 1999 because of its carcinogenic properties but still legal in the United States — were found in a pig carcass traced to Mr Galvin’s farm, where officials later found several bags of the product.
Mr Galvin was convicted under animal remedy regulations but successfully appealed the verdict. The Department did not defend the appeal on the basis that the Supreme Court had decided that the Minister did not have the right to amend regulations.
Deputy Deasy, vice-chairman of the PAC, told the Secretary General: “When it comes to Tom Galvin, I have to say he’s someone who’s very well regarded and the feeling locally would be that the Department treated him poorly, and that’s my own subjective view having looked at the evidence.”
Deasy said he’d formed this opinion “regardless of the constraints Department officials might have been under when it comes to the rules and regulations in dealing with animals suspected of being diseased, or fed things allegedly that would affect the food chain adversely.”
Mr O’Driscoll, stressing “he’d no axe to grind” with Mr Galvin and “he could well be a fine person, as you’ve said”, explained why officials entered the farm and that the farmer admitted spreading the product on the floor of his pig pens.
“Once that admission was made, effectively the pigs had to be slaughtered,” he said. No further testing took place. Mr Deasy wondered why not, if only for clarity’s sake. Mr O’Driscoll acknowledged “there must have been a test we could have done, yes.”
The Fine Gael TD disagreed with his contention that “there would have been nothing served” by testing the pigs on the farm. If it had produced “incontrovertible evidence as to what might have gone into the food chain, I think it would have solved an awful lot of problems subsequently.”
Though accepting the Department has to act in cases involving threats to the food chain, “I think you made a mistake — and left a real grey area about the state of those pigs — by not going down that road [testing],” he said. Mr O’Driscoll agreed that this was a reasonable assessment.
The Department had told Mr Galvin to have the pigs destroyed in an approved plant as they must not enter the food chain. Instead, he asked to carrying out the slaughter on his property using a humane killer.
The Secretary General said the disposal of the carcasses was supervised by a Department official at all times. Around 25 percent of the slaughter was overseen by a veterinary official and it was done “meticulously”.
Mr O’Driscoll — who refuted an allegation that a Department official overseeing the slaughter had handed Mr Galvin a lump hammer and told him to finish the job — said he understood that about 10 animals were killed in this way before the vet intervened and took away the hammer.
Mr Deasy said that for the Department to admit it wouldn’t allow such a scenario to unfold again “is significant”. The fact that the Veterinary Council had exonerated the vets involved was “fair enough” but “that doesn’t mean that things that happened were done properly” or that this “should have occurred the way that it did.”
Mr O’Driscoll said: “You’re quite right — if we did this again I’m quite sure we wouldn’t do it in the same way and in the same circumstances. In particular, if we did allow on-farm slaughter by the farmer I think we would supervise the entire thing. Would we allow [it] at all? I don’t know, I’d be unwilling to say definitely not.”
Deputy Deasy said, “It amazes me that when it comes to the obvious, potentially devastating financial result that did occur that only 25% of the slaughter was actually supervised” — compounded by the fact that procedures didn’t change even after the alleged use of a lump hammer; which Mr O’Driscoll regarded as “a fair point”.
Having been “constructively made [to] slaughter those pigs himself,” he deemed it “understandable” why Mr Galvin asked permission to do so on his own farm, given that he’s gone to a couple of abattoirs who refused, presumably because they didn’t want any potentially contaminated pigs going into the foods chain. Plus, “it was probably the cheaper option at the time.”
Mr O’Driscoll had “no problem with that interpretation”. The only other option would have been to bring a professional slaughterman onto the farm, “and I think if we were doing it again that option would be quite a prominent one.”
In his opinion, “The key error we made was not having 100% supervision.” However, Mr Deasy maintained this was “not the only mistake really”. First off, when that singular pig was believed to have tested positive, the Department left Mr Galvin “remain in a state of limbo for three months.”
He couldn’t understand how, “if it was so crucial that those pigs were slaughtered, why did you wait three months? It seems to me it really was a haphazard approach by the Department.”
During that time, the pigs got sick, disease spread, medicines were taken away from the farmer, and he moved animals in that interim period; “probably because he needed cash to keep going.”
The Secretary General said because Mr Galvin contested the slaughter order in the High Court, which found against him, a lot of delay before the slaughter took place “related to those legal issues.”
Deputy Deasy also said Mr Galvin “would contend that the manner in which those pigs were slaughtered was not correct”. Mr O’Driscoll said the method the farmer had used was very widely applied in the UK during the swine fever outbreak two years previously.
Another option was the Department could have taken over the pigs and got them slaughtered — but the legal advice was that it would have ended up having to pay significant compensation. “Would that have been a better outcome?” the Secretary General asked. “Not for the taxpayer.”
But, Mr Deasy said, “You could certainly make the argument, for fairness sake, it might have been the best option.” He added that, notwithstanding the disease risks associated with the movement of animals and so on, “there’s also the question of treating somebody fairly, and when I look at this I think, actually, he was treated poorly”.
On account of a product that’s still not banned in the U.S. to this day, he’d been left out of pocket to the amount of €0.75m.
With a 2005 review of the case conducted without Mr Galvin’s input, and its findings still unpublished, Mr Deasy said: “I think your new steering group within the Department should take another look at this, for the sake of fairness to the individual in question who was put out of business... and at least offer him the opportunity, outside of an adversarial setting, to make his case.”
The Secretary General had “no difficulty with that” and said the best thing he could do was to refer the 2005 internal report to the steering group for its consideration, and also hand it over to the PAC. Mr Galvin could make a submission to the steering group, “if he wants to contest anything that’s in the report, or just present his own narrative.”
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.