“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.”
The latest Coast Guard helicopter call-out figures further vindicate the Government’s decision to retain and invest in the Search and Rescue base at Waterford Airport.
Waterford’s Rescue 117 saw the biggest increase in missions of the country’s four bases last year, up 33% (from 144 to 188) primarily due to the prolonged good weather, as well as additional work undertaken assisting the national ambulance service, particularly with medevacs of patients. Dublin, by comparison, had 140 missions in 2014 (unchanged).
Statistics for the past two years, obtained by John from the Dept of Transport, consolidate those for the 2010-12 period, which showed Waterford to be the second busiest base after Shannon. The 144 day and night-time missions attended to from Waterford in 2013 was itself up 40% on the previous 12 months. Shannon and Sligo were the most called-upon helicopter units in 2013-14.
Covering an area stretching from south Wicklow through to Glandore and 50 miles southwards, the southeast service has been run on a 24/7 basis since 2002, with coastal and inland assignments to date fast approaching the 1,500 mark. This is in addition to the crew’s routine work with the RNLI, HSE, An Garda Síochana, the Defence Forces, Local Authorities, and many other agencies.
However, the continuation of a full-time, round-the-clock response service from Waterford had been in jeopardy back in 2010 following a very quiet 2008 call-out-wise. But the figures since have shown that to be “an aberration,” says John. “Had cover been curtailed it would have been a mistake — and it would have probably cost lives.” Also, with missions fairly evenly spread between bases in the intervening years, “it goes to prove that Waterford, like the other locations, has been pretty much spot on.”
A world-class upgrade across all four facilities saw a record €67.9 million allocation for the Coast Guard in 2014. Waterford’s new Sikorsky S92 R117 SAR helicopter was launched a year ago. Faster and safer than its predecessor, with an extended range of 270 nautical miles from base, it can fly at higher altitude and in much worse weather.
Also, each new Coast Guard helicopter is capable of carrying up to 22 casualties, enabling them to provide emergency medical transport for the HSE — including bringing patients or organs for transplants or other serious surgical procedures to the UK.