€350,000 will be spent on yet another report on the badly damaged Fermoy Weir, and not a penny has been found to repair it. Former mayors to the contrary, at this point you’d be better off throwing the money in the river, says Donal O’Keeffe.

New readers of The Avondhu might be forgiven these past few weeks for forming two mistaken assumptions about Fermoy Weir.

The first mistaken assumption our putative new readers might form, would be to think nobody campaigned to save Fermoy Weir until former mayor William Hughes belatedly noticed the problem, ten-plus years on.

Their second mistaken assumption might be to imagine that the weir has been saved by Fine Gael election candidate Pa O’Driscoll – another former mayor – and all because Pa is pals with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Neither of those things is true.

It would be churlish of me to point out that as former mayors of Fermoy, William and Pa both presided over Fermoy Town Council’s determined neglect of Fermoy Weir.

Forgive me while I do just that.

William Hughes, a former councilor who once claimed over €11,000 in entirely legitimate expenses, has in recent months begun to campaign to save Fermoy Weir. I write this in a personal capacity, but as someone who has, alongside anglers, oarspeople, swimmers and townspeople, been campaigning to save Fermoy Weir for over a decade, I wish him well.

We could have used your help when you were actually in a position to make a difference though William, back when you wore the chain, but sure better a decade-and-change late than never. But you were mayor of Fermoy, William. I really wish you had tried to save Fermoy Weir then.

And then there’s former mayor and Fine Gael general election candidate Pa O’Driscoll. If the number of people asking me if I’m uncharacteristically delighted is anything to go by, there seems to be a perception going around Fermoy that the weir is saved, and Pa had something to do with it. 

For the record, I’ve known Pa a long time, and I wish him well, although I do hope that – if he is elected – he is more helpful to Fermoy Weir as a TD than he was as mayor, when he smiled sadly and said there was nothing he could do.

I should declare an interest: a few months ago, I was one of the people Pa introduced to Finance Minister Donohoe in Fermoy.

Paschal was in town to endorse Pa’s candidacy. As one of those campaigning to save Fermoy Weir, I supplied the potted history lesson. At Pa’s instructions, we were asking for 50/50 funding for a report on repairing the weir to be commissioned by the weir’s owners, Cork County Council, a report which would theoretically form the first step toward repairing the listed, protected structure. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have misgivings, but like everyone else who has been trying for years to save Fermoy Weir, I’m desperate to see it fixed, so I met with Paschal Donohoe.

The minister listened politely to us and made no promises, but I did form two impressions: the first was that he seems a nice man, but clearly thought this nonsense was way below his pay grade. (One long-serving Oireachtas member told me “You ask Paschal for millions. Small change like this is an insult.”)

My second impression was that Pa wouldn’t have us ask Paschal for money if Paschal wasn’t going to say 'yes', so this could then be ballyhooed as a major victory for the young Blueshirt.

Sure enough, €175,000 was found down the back of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s non-communal-living sofa, and Pa hasn’t exactly been shy about claiming this as a personal achievement. Fair play, but what exactly has been achieved?

Murph-Dawg’s €175K will be matched by Cork County Council and there will then be an official ceremony on Kent Bridge, from whence €350,000 will be thrown into the river.

It might as well be. The money will be spent on yet another report. From memory, this will be the fourth (if not fifth) report on Fermoy Weir, for all the good it will do.

Here’s what will happen.

The report will presumably recommend a full repair of John Anderson’s 200-year-old weir. I’ve heard estimates you could do that for a million, million-and-a-half. Okay, this is Ireland, so €3 million.

The sticking point will – as always – be Inland Fisheries Ireland. Thwarted in their plan to replace Anderson’s Weir with a monstrous rock-ramp-pass, they are now insisting on a separate channel for salmon passage, if you like, a private river for fish, up through the Triangle Field and John McCarthy’s (and John Anderson’s) old front field.

Which doubles the price-tag.

In approving the €175,000, Eoghan Murphy made it clear we’ll be getting no more money from him. Besides, he’s a busy man, with a homelessness crisis to mismanage.

Cork County Council hasn’t a proverbial pot, so where are they going to find €6 million to rebuild Fermoy Weir? Answers on a postcard, please.

And yes, I do know that this is how things are done in Ireland, and nothing will be done without yet another report, but at this point I seriously doubt that anything will be done anyway. Please prove me wrong.

Thanks for all the help, though, William and Pa, but, meantime, the weir crumbles ever further away, and another €350,000 will be wasted, and Fermoy’s Blackwater remains at an 800-year low.

Do you remember that time toward the end of the unlamented Fermoy Town Council when they put €19,000 worth of sandbags along the top of the weir? Someone forgot to tie the sandbags and the water rose and €19,000 washed away down the river.

There’s a metaphor there somewhere.

PS: If you’d like to hear me make exactly the same kind of fool of myself, this time on the national airwaves, I’m told that – barring further Brexit apocalypses – I will be talking about Fermoy Weir on This Week on RTÉ Radio 1 next Sunday lunchtime.