(Update 24/5/13: follow-up post here)
I heard a story in the aftermath of the weekend which saw Waterford exit the All-Ireland last summer where Ned Quinn, chairman of the Kilkenny County Board, was supposed to have said that any weekend where Waterford lose and Kilkenny win is a good one. I have also heard a story of a resident of Carrigeen who insists on putting “Carrigeen, Co Kilkenny” as their postal address even though it takes a day longer to reach them due to An Post’s delivery system than if they were to use “Carrigeen, Waterford“. This resident in question, according to my source, is Ned Quinn’s daughter.
Please note that each of these stories is purely apocryphal and shouldn’t be taken as being holy scripture of the Quinn family. It could be just as easily about Seosamh and Seosaimhin Gallúnach from Muileann an Bhata, even if it would lack a certain immediacy. The stories would still pass the smell test for attitudes towards Waterford in Kilkenny. It’s also kinda gratifying to see that Kilkenny people care so much about how we get on despite our respective places in the hurling firmament. I’m sure supporters of Tranmere Rovers would be delighted if Liverpool and Everton were ever to exhibit similar attitudes towards them. In the context of today’s game it’s all good knockabout fun, and should we overcome a woeful record at Nowlan Park in today’s game – four wins in 26 league matches – it’ll only make effectively dumping them into the relegation playoff all the sweeter. And that would be sweeter than a Wham bar.
The GAA doesn’t exist in a vacuum though, and these attitudes have consequences in the real world. Watching the Waterford St Patrick’s Day parade on the telly on Sunday, it struck me how the reviewing stand contained the members of the City Council in all their finery. You can argue about how impressive they are as individuals, but they stand for something very impressive indeed, representatives of one of Europe’s oldest cities. And in order to satisfy the parish-pump politics of south Kilkenny, they’re not going to be there much longer as Phil Hogan’s chicanery will lead to the end of the City Council.
This is not hyperbole. The electoral red meat in Phil Hogan’s proposal’s to reform local government in Ireland is there for anyone bothering to scratch the surface. On the one hand county boundaries are sacrosanct, so there is no danger of Carlow and Kilkenny being merged even though that would be a logical consequence of reducing duplication of the provision of services by merging small councils. Given its long history as a single Dáil constituency – with the movement between Waterford and Tipperary South over the years, it could even be said on this metric to be more of a unit than Waterford City and County – and sharing other services like a local radio licence, Carlow and Kilkenny would seem ripe for merging. But on the other hand, by playing to the GAA gallery we have a situation where the new council will have responsibility for boreens in Kinsalebeg and rubbish collection in Ferrybank but can only watch in consternation as a white elephant of a shopping centre that is a magnet for every vandal between the Suir and the Barrow is 100 metres beyond their boundary but might as well be on the Moon for all the influence they’ll have on it.
The shopping centre in Ferrybank is the poster child for the cut-off-your-nose mentality that typifies relations between Waterford and south Kilkenny. It was an epic folly, designed to be a bulwark against any hopes on the part of Waterford City Council for an expansion into what is, if you are in any way serious about effective local government, part of the city’s hinterland. It was never a very good exemplar of good public policy in the first place, designed as it was to suck business out of the city. Now it can’t even claim to be a worthwhile commercial proposition in its own right. But is there a revolt among the people of south Kilkenny at those who have inflicted this monstrous carbuncle on their landscape? There is not, for it has fulfilled its primary purpose admirably, i.e. driving a wedge between the city and the aforementioned hinterland. Several years ago there was a piece on RTÉ’s Pobal programme where the people of Glenmore were lamenting the loss of their regular bus service to Waterford. Why the authorities should care about giving people access to a place that was the lair of the Antichrist in other circumstances was never raised on the programme, but such a lack of joined-up thinking doesn’t seem to concern people north of the river.
This is a local issue, but one with national repercussions. Almost everyone agreed on the need to slim down local government in Ireland – there are few laments for the loss of the town councils – but we have a Minister for the Environment whose fundamental guiding principle was that Waterford City could never, ever, be in a position to encroach in south Kilkenny. So even though local government in Waterford will be slimmed down, Leitrim County Council will increase in line with a minimum councillor requirement. It’s depressing in general that public policy is being shaped by the need of an individual to satisfy the prejudices of his people. It’s depressing in particular to see it having such a detrimental impact on Waterford and its ancient standing.
The match today, which I will not be attending for reasons which have nothing to do with boycotts or hostility towards the Cats, will still be a good thing in itself. The nasty conditions in Fraher Field last week, where two teams duked it out for nothing more than the honour of their respective counties, gave me a heightened appreciation for the principles upon which all sports were founded and which the GAA seems increasingly to be the last refuge, principles that will (barring some timber merchantry from either side) still be on display today. But the on-field rivalry is making waves off the field. It makes me sad, and there’s no guarantee that such sadness won’t metastasise into anger.
Update 21/3/13: when it comes to the abolition of the City Council, I tend to follow the Hugh Gaitskell school of thought (“the end of a thousand years of history!“), safe in the knowledge that Mary Roche has my back with a more rational defense of the unconquered city. She noted in a post back in January a ‘glaring’ difference between the terms of reference for the mergers of Waterford and Limerick:
The wording of the Implementation Committees terms of reference for Limerick & Waterford are almost identical except for two glaring differences. Section 14 of the Limerick terms of reference state that the new Limerick authority will “establish appropriate joint arrangements with Clare County Council under local Government law to ensure the most effective discharge of functions in the areas which the Local Government Committee recommended for transfer to the new Limerick Authority”. Interestingly there is no mention at all of this in the Waterford document in relation to South Kilkenny. This can hardly have been an oversight as otherwise the document is almost word for word, identical. Also interestingly the Limerick amalgamation committee actually looked at this issue whereas the Waterford amalgamation committee decided (or were directed!) very early on that they could not look at the Kilkenny issue….
You see, I was barking up the right tree all along! It’s true, a stopped clock is right twice a day.