Category Archives: Hands Off Waterford

The politics of politics and sport

One of the perverse consequences of the internet is that contributions placed on it are simultaneously ephemeral and timeless. You can post something topical and have it superseded in hours or forgotten about because it was placed onto the web just as the target audience was going to sleep. On the other hand, the magic of Google means that it can take on a whole new life months after the event.

And so it was that my post on the proposal to merge Waterford City and County, and my view that it was a product of malign intent emanating from the polity that is Kilkenny, came back at me when I thought it was so much virtual fish-and-chip wrapping. There’s a lot of (ahem) disagreement on that thread about what I said, so rather than engage in a slanging match I thought I’d address a few of the objections here where I can control the narrative be a bit more considered in my reaction. Remember Niall, this is for the ages.

Let’s start with the title, “They hate us, they really hate us!” This is a reference to Sally Field’s notorious Oscar-winning speech where she was misquoted (the legend is better than the truth) as saying “You like me, you really like me!” I would have thought that the jaunty exclamation mark at the end would have suggested that it wasn’t to be taken too seriously, but even Ian Noctor was quick to take up on the venomous nature of it, so I should have been less provocative. I’ll know better next time – note the bland title for this post.

It was suggested in the thread that the post was ‘gutter journalism’. This is gratuitously offensive. Calling someone a journalist! That’s below the belt, it really is. Seriously, it’s an ad hominem attack and it’s best to ignore those, so I will.

Let’s get into the meat of the objections. It was felt that this blog was an inappropriate venue for such a politically-charged piece. If you feel that way please don’t read my original contribution on the subject, luxuriating as it does in the oh-so-subtle title of “Take it down from the mast, Déise traitors“. I have sympathy with this argument. I’ve tried to keep this blog lighthearted over the years, eschewing attacks on referees (eventually) and always looking on the bright side of what I sincerely consider a glorious time to be a follower of Waterford hurling. Angry rants about the thin white/blue/black/amber line between Waterford and Kilkenny are a jarring contrast to that lightheartedness. If people give up on the blog because of it, that would be completely understandable.

However, I happen to think that the abolition of the City Council is important, seeing it as an assault on my identity as a Waterford man. And it’s because of the blurring in both heart and mind between that identity expressed through the history of the city and the GAA that I think it’s impossible to keep the two separate. The essence of most of the objections on the thread is that we need to keep the shite that is politics separate from the hands-across-the-ocean splendour that is sport. Well, that’s all lovely if you don’t come from a place where sport infects the politics of the day, but the reality is that they mix on the Waterford and Kilkenny border and you can’t wish it away.

I’ll get back to why I think the two mix in this particular instance later on, but I’d like to stick with the general concept that sport and politics shouldn’t mix. No one specifically mentions it in the thread, but so many people view it as axiomatic and therefore doesn’t need to be mentioned. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, tripe. If you’re going to adopt a posture that says the sport and politics shouldn’t mix, then what was your position when the nations of the world rose up to boycott apartheid South Africa? Now, please don’t characterise this as a suggestion that I think that the relationship between Waterford and Kilkenny are akin to those between white and black South Africa. I’m saying that the principle that sport and politics shouldn’t be allowed mix covers both scenarios equally well. If you’re going to ask me to leave the politics at the door when it comes to discussing matters GAA, then you are allying yourself with the exact same people who said that it was inappropriate in the case of apartheid South Africa. The issue should not be “sport and politics shouldn’t mix”. It should be “we should try to keep sport and politics apart, but when they do you try and make the best of it”.

This brings us back to the Waterford-Kilkenny situation. I would love it if sport and politics didn’t mix in this case because then we could have decisions based on what is best for the people living in the areas affected rather than public policy being decided by arcane concepts of tribalism. You can argue that the decisions being taken now are not influenced by the supposed attitudes of those in Kilkenny GAA, but I argue that they are and would like to introduce into evidence the words of no less a personage than Ned Quinn. The one thing I would definitely change about my piece would have been the specific references to him. I should have said “a senior Kilkenny County Board official” and left it at that, but seeing as the anecdote I used wasn’t aggressive I thought there was no harm in mentioning his name. In retrospect, this was naive as the rest of the article was aggressive so you couldn’t split one from the other. However, it’s there now and Google will probably cache it forever so changing it now would be bad form. So it might come across as ironic that I am now going to quote Ned Quinn to demonstrate that, as far as the Kilkenny County Board are concerned, the political and the sporting are inseparable. Enda McEvoy had an article in the Sunday Tribune back in 2005 about the proposal to move the border of Waterford city into south Kilkenny. In the article, Ned Quinn explicitly expresses his opposition to the ‘land grab’ on the basis of the loss of hurling talent:

“Our success rate in inter-county hurling probably masks that. But the loss of 5,000 people would certainly have detrimental effects, especially in the longer term.”

This would be fair enough if that was the upshot of the loss of territory. But that is not what was being proposed. 5,000 people may well move into the environs of Waterford city, and they could look forward to joined-up planning decisions that would have avoided the debacle of the shopping centre in Ferrybank. There is no way they would have been forced to play their hurling for Waterford, any more than Carrickbeg being administratively in County Tipperary means that St Mollerans can no longer play in the Waterford county championship or their inter-county hurling for Waterford. But even the possibility of a diluting of the identity of Kilkenny in that area meant that matters political were influenced by matters sporting.

Wind forward eight years and that’s the reality in which the merger of Waterford City and Council finds itself in. The same thing is being done with Limerick City and Council but, as Mary Roche has noted, while there is specific provision to “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”, no such provisions are established for ‘joint arrangements’ between the new Waterford authority and Kilkenny County Council. If people can think of some decent reason why these two situations are being treated differently, I’d love to hear it. But until then, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to view it through the prism of Phil Hogan’s desire to solidify the boundary between Ferrybank and south Kilkenny.

I don’t hate Kilkenny. I’ve written admiring articles in the past about them (I got called a “Cat arse licker” for this one). When it comes to anger about what is going down, I reserve most of my fury for our local politicians. Legend has it that Austin Deasy threatened to resign from the cabinet should the South-Eastern Health Board regional hospital be situated anywhere other than Ardkeen. Contrast such spunk in defence of our interests with his son, recently seen tickling Phil Hogan’s tummy in the Dáil. But the issue of the City Council is important to me. I’ve always been interested in the history of the city, an interest reinforced when my wife first clapped eyes on the place eleven years ago and was bowled over by the legacy of that history that is all around us in a way that is surely unique in these islands. Yet a large part of that legacy is being chucked in the bin, motivated by crass populism, and nobody seems to give a damn. If my cri de coeur oversteps the mark,  I’d rather by accused of that rather than be asked by future generations why I said nothing at the time.

They hate us, they really hate us!


(Updated below)

(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.

Take it down from the mast, Déise traitors

During Heritage Week, I had the pleasure of being part of a tour of the walls of Waterford in the company of Eamonn McEneaney, the curator of the Museum of Treasures. In the course of the tour, he noted that during the early years of the Norman ascendancy Waterford was effectively run by a group of fifteen plutocrats, merchants who carved up the city, courting the church by granting property to the Church in areas like Greyfriars and controlling the right to trade. Due to the numbers on the tour, I never got the chance to ask him whether the number of councillors on the modern city council was related to that number but it seems like too much of a coincidence, especially in a place that can trace an unbroken line of Mayors dating back to 1377.

And with one fell swoop all that is history, and not in the good way that Eamonn McEneaney is trying to exploit, as the proposal with the Orwell-inspired title ‘Putting People First’ aims to abolish Waterford City Council. And make no mistake, that is what is happening. You can see the party apparatchiks spinning for all its worth . . .

. . .  but people capable of thinking outside the groupthink of party politics quickly punctured such nonsense . . .

‘Mayor of what’ is right. There’s a King of Greece knocking around even though he doesn’t have a kingdom. Maybe it’ll be like that. Mary Roche has fought the good fight on the political side of things and her blog is well worth a visit to get a sense of how misconceived this shameless act is. But having tried several times to make this blog post an excoriating denunciation of John Deasy, Paudie Coffey and Ciara Conway for standing idly by while this was visited on us, I’m going to leave the politics out of it and focus on the emotional trauma of this decision.

While this blog has always focused primarily on the goings-on around the Waterford hurlers, the hurling has been secondary to the Waterford. Yes, hurling is great it’s the glory game thousands of years old not men but giants blah blah blah. But you don’t read the match reports on this website because you want to know what happened during the match. I can barely remember what has happened from one moment to the next because I’m too busy fretting for Waterford. What will it mean to everyone in the city and the county? What will others think of us? Will tears of joy be shed at gravesides for those who missed this or will the soil be freshly turned at another humiliation? While it’s lovely to play such a lovely game, it’s all about the Déise. I’m secure enough in my sense of Waterfordness that the fact that I have to put Kilkenny down as my county of birth on census forms – while I arrived into this world in Airmount, my parents were living in Mooncoin at the time – does not bother me in the slightest. As Daniel O’Connell said of the Duke of Wellington, just because you’re born in a stable does not mean you’re a horse. It’s Waterford first, last and always. And intrinsic in that sense of Waterfordness is the city. Urbs Intacta Manet Waterfordia. Yes, the city is right over in the east and it’s a long way west, but you don’t have to live in Jerusalem to be a Jew. For years the Three Ships of Waterford were the symbol of the entire county – you can still see it in the top left of this page. This is because  the county draws its name from the city, not the other way round, and to reduce the city to a trumped-up town is to diminish both.

Recently my wife and I were driving from Clonmel to Carrick-on-Suir on the south side of the river and we passed St Mollerans in Carrickbeg, proudly flying the white and the blue of Waterford. Was this County Waterford then, she asked? Well, once it was but then they moved the border so now it was in Tipperary but that didn’t really matter because Carrickbeg was still in Waterford in GAA terms and that’s all that mattered. Clear?  I’ve probably not gotten the details of that right, but I use it to illustrate that the river of identify can take the odd rock thrown in its path and flow around it. The scaling-down of the city isn’t a rock though. It’s a whopping great Hoover Dam. I can’t speak for people in the west of the county but it always felt that whatever our travails we were that bit better for being both a city and a county. Most other counties were cobbled together for administrative purposes, but we were there before everywhere in northern Europe except London and Paris. Once this change goes through, we’ll be like all those other counties who happen to be named after a town. Donegal. Longford. Wicklow. Cavan. We’ll be at the same level as them, and that’s before you consider the really offensive examples closer to home. If you have tears to shed . . .

I’m incoherent with rage over this, or at least more incoherent than usual. This is an assault on our identity as Waterford people. Support or even acceptance of this is nothing short of treachery. Remember who has done this the next time some parasitic political hack comes knocking on your door looking for a vote.