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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 15 June 2021
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What do the people of Waterford want from the Budget?

Jobs, mostly. But what else?

THE PEOPLE OF Waterford feel that they have been left behind.

The region’s unemployment rate sits at around 18%, 7% higher than the national figure. Jobs have been lost across pharmaceutical, manufacturing and trade jobs.

On a Tuesday morning, its main commercial area is the kind of quiet that indicates it’s not a one-off. Across the mouth of Waterford harbour, the Ard Rí hotel stands, empty and boarded up, as though mimicking the recent fortunes of the city.

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The people of Waterford are proud, but they would like some help. With what is expected to be the last of the austerity budgets tomorrow, the locals are hoping that the don’t get left behind.

Mary Roche has been a councillor since 2009 and believes that the south east region is under-served.

“Even with less money to go around, it should be divied up more fairly.

If you look at the funding of third-level education, funding of hospitals and our hospice, they are seriously underfunded in comparison to other regions.

“Everybody should be getting the same level of funding.”

Speaking in a cafe in the city’s revamped Viking Triangle, Roche says that the mood of people in the city is “generally poor”.

“The city is coming on, but I always feel that we’re operating with one hand and one leg tied behind our backs.”

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John Cummins is a Fine Gael councillor who was the mayor of Waterford last year. He says that the Budget has to provide one thing.

“It’s really all about jobs.

“Personally I’d like to see the Living Cities initiative implemented in its entirety.”

When asked if Waterford is going to have pull itself up on its own, Cummins says “we’ve been doing that for five years.”

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That motif, the ploughing of a lone furrow is found across Ireland’s oldest city.

Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in the case of Waterford Crystal. Once a symbol of the city, synonymous with the graft that city prides itself on, it is now owned by an American hedge fund and employs less than 10% of the people it did a decade.

Tom Hogan was a glass cutter in the factory for 42 years. He took retirement shortly before the factory went to the wall. It took over a year for some staff to be paid their statutory redundancies. However, many staff are still fighting for pension entitlements.

“I got my redundancy money by the month, but that stopped eventually. There were fellas working with me who said “I’ll go at Christmas”, but by the end of the year, the company was in liquidation.

“Some lads got nothing.”

A case returns to Europe in January, with employees having been paid less than 30% of their agreed pensions. That shortfall means that there was little bounce back from Waterford Crystal, such as spin out companies and local rejuvenation.

Hogan has been fighting this battle for years, but says he is not hopeful that the Budget will remedy the problems facing Waterford.

“I don’t think the Budget is going to mean a lot in this area.

Water charges are going to reduce disposable income further. Even if there’s a cut to taxes, it will be negated by that. People won’t feel it in their pockets. They’ll have to do something, because unemployment is so high.

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The issue of disposable income, and its effect on the local consumer economy comes up again and again in Waterford.

Bernard O’Keefe runs a butcher shop at the heart of the city’s commercial area. His shop is almost an anachronism: an individual trader amidst chain stores and multinationals.

He says that the city has been wilting because of this, that individual businesses are dying and no effort is being made to foster a revival

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As a city and county that relies on foreign investment, Waterford will be keen to see the corporation tax rate retained.

That is something that Nick Donnelly of Waterford Chamber is adamant of.

“You can use statistics anyway you want, but if you want to cut to the chase, the most important thing is job creation.

“If you have job creation, the extra earning power gives you enhanced capacity in all areas of peoples’ lives.

Job creation is singularly the most important thing for Waterford.

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All images Paul Hosford/TheJournal.ie

Follow our Budget 15 coverage here

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