17 January 2002 Edition
New Ross Sinn Féin's vision for the future
A blueprint for local democracy in Wexford
Sinn Féin in County Wexford, seat of the 1798 Rebellion, has launched a development plan for New Ross that represents a major challenge to the government parties and their methods of administering local government.
"We took over the British system of local administration after the Civil War, lock stock and barrel. Establishment parties are happy to continue this sytem which leaves us all subject to unaccountable planners, decisions through backhanders to favoured interest groups feathering their nests, without democratic participation, consultation or transparency," says Councillor John Dwyer, Sinn Feein member of New Ross Urban District Council. "As a result, development and the wider community continue to suffer - little realising that things could be different. We've launched this Blueprint for New Ross to show how things could be different."
New Ross is a lovely old town on the banks of the estuary of the beautiful river Barrow. It could have all the facilities that could ever be wished for. As it is, there is a shortage of housing, of jobs, of child care facilities, a lack of hospitals and immediate accident and emergency facilities, a lack of well-provided school facilities, and a failure to develop the marvellous tourist potential of this beautiful town on the Southeast coast of Ireland.
There are derelict buildings, an eyesore on the estuary frontage; there is no third level educational institution. Major industries, like shipbuilding, Celtic Sea foods, the port facilities, are all gone, even Albatross fertilisers is threatening to close.
As more jobs go, all the signs are there that New Ross will become a satellite town to the economic centres of Waterford city, 15 miles away, and Wexford town.
People even commute from Ross to Dublin. Commuterville brings urban sprawl, but the council has no real authority to challenge, or even negotiate its future with neighbouring Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford councils.
"New Ross is so close to Waterford that the 'dormitory town' syndrome threatens the very core of New Ross development," says the Sinn Féin document. "Already, one can see estates built with minimal garden and social space, typical of the 'convenience condo' style that emanated from the USA, where car-based urban sprawl ate up suburban landscapes in the years following the war."
"We don't need to endure this or to watch our town underdevelop and miss all its opportunities to develop a vibrant community, or see our rich agricultural land delivered to planners for urban sprawl, all because our council is undemocratic and disenfranchised to represent the people of this area in planning development for the region.
"Not only is the council unrepresentative of the people and disenfranchised from decision making, as all councils were under British rule, but even the property relations under British rule remain, where Tottenham Estate, now a limited company, owns the ground rents in the town, restricting the largescale redevelopment needed if New Ross is to become a vibrant community."
A new Vision
"We need radical thinking, we need to have an alternative vision of how things could be, and this is what our blueprint for New Ross is all about," says John Dwyer. "We have proposed this blueprint for people here to discuss, to assess, to build a vision of the life we want in this century."
"We have proposed the development of sustainable industries, the development of two marinas, which could bring in over £2 million, an Arts centre, which could link the existing theatre in Ross to a range of cultural activities all under one umbrella, using the old buildings which otherwise will fall derelict, including the magnificent old St. Mary's Church and the old Augustinian school.
"We are calling for a campus in New Ross as a part of the Wexford Institute of Technology which the Minister has reluctantly conceded for Wexford. Such a specialist third level education centre would halt the drift of young people away from this town to Dublin and revitalise New Ross through a student population. This would attract local industry.
"Agriculture has always been central to the economy of New Ross, and our blueprint suggests Ross as an appropriate centre for an Agri-forum 'think-tank' to address changing times and technologies in agriculture and to facilitate local farmers articulate their vision of the future of this crucial industry.
"A key part of developing this new vision for our people is education. Parents now have little way to assess the education kids receive with the changing technologies coming out of the IT revolution or to evaluate the curricula their children have in school. Parents have been left behind and excluded from the current education process. We need to re-enfranchise them and provide an opportunity, through a local forum, to inform parents of new curricula and methods of teaching."
These are indeed exciting ideas, but they rest on the economic revitalisation of the town. Crucial to this is the whole question of the town bypass. The day before Sinn Féin New Ross launched its blueprint, the National Roads Authority announced its preferred option to cross the Barrow four miles from the town at Pink Rock. There, the NRA proposes to spend £100 million what will be the highest bridge in Ireland, for a road from Waterford to Rosslare, through some of the most beautiful scenic area in the county. The total annual government subsidy to the New Ross UDC is a miserable £340,000.
The Sinn Féin plan proposes a bridge costing half as much at Marshmeadows, less than a quarter of a mile from New Ross. "It is morally and politically inexcusable that we should spend £50 million unnecessarily on a bridge that will help destroy our town, when we can't even have a local hospital with Accident and Emergency," says John Dwyer.
"These are the questions which New Ross needs to discuss with neighbouring counties. As things are, with the crazy distribution of local authority areas, between UDCs, corporations and county councils, the people of New Ross are entirely disenfranchised from the decision process that determines their future and the economic future of our town.
"Our blueprint is not a plan so much as a vision, a set of proposals for discussion among people. We want to take the power that now resides with a handful of councillors and planners, working in tune with developers, property speculators and ministerial appointments, and give it to the people who are affected by these decisions.
Our blueprint seeks to develop a vision that finally gets beyond British rule and the traditional system of powerbroking behind the backs of the people."