Tuesday 18 June 2019

Opposition to Sheehan's call to have New Ross twinned with Liverpool

Council 'emasculated' by JFK Trust claim made after row over twinning with Liverpool

Cllr Michael Sheehan
Cllr Michael Sheehan
Cllr Willie Fitzharris

David Looby

A suggestion by Cllr Michael Sheehan for New Ross to be twinned with Liverpool because of the strong historic links between both urban centres through the Graves shipping company came up against stiff opposition.

In a motion at the December municipal council meeting Cllr Sheehan called on the council to commemorate the 200th birthday of Robert Samuel Graves (June 7, 1818 - January 18, 1873) by agreeing to explore a formal twinning link with the people of Liverpool City and ask the Twinning Committee to outline the potential and if possible this link to be included in the Draft County Tourism Plan.

Cllr Sheehan said the Graves family are one of the town's most historic families. 'People emigrated on Graves' ships to Liverpool from New Ross and William Graves went on to become a British MP. 'He became one of the founding fathers of Liverpool and he was an industrial magnate and a MP who was one of the most successful in the House of Commons. Given our links with Liverpool through the Dunbrody and the Graves family this is a great opportunity for us.'

Cllr Sheehan said he has spoken with some Liverpool councillors who were quite sympathetic to working with New Ross council on the twinning initiative.

'Liverpool has been a European City of Culture and there have been extensive renovations of the city's museum spaces. The CEO of the city then, who is its mayor now, said that he would be willing to loan exhibitions to us in New Ross in the off season. We have a twinning committee looking for additional areas to investigate and we have a draft tourism plan which is about to be published. We could develop a link with Liverpool, not just on the sporting side, but in tourism and in culture also. I think there are great synergies and benefits to both populations.'

Cllr Willie Fitzharris said the Graves story is being researched by students at WIT and by local historians.

'This is something we have been working on for a number of years. I was an employee of Graves' and I am well aware of the company's great history. The last Graves family member died in 1924 and the company was taken over by the Elmes and McBride families until 1974 when it was sold to the Dockrells. There is a treasure trove of artefacts and correspondence and very significant archives and all of it is on public display and kept safely in Waterford.'

Cllr Fitzharris said students from Savannah, Georgia, have been researching the company and have made contact with people who emigrated to Savannah from the area.

'The whole story is there and it will be significant to New Ross. It's one of the most significant archives in the country. This has to be carefully planned and looked after. I think it's not so simple as there is a huge picture here to consider and we need to be careful that we get it right. I think it's a bit early yet,' he said, suggesting that to leave the twinning plans for another year or two is a safer course of action.

Cllr Michael Whelan said the council should let the JFK Trust conclude its research project and then proceed with the twinning plan. District director Eamonn Hore said: 'There is a great story there with the Graves, not only Robert but the other family members also. There are links with Newfoundland and Savannah and all over the world. It needs to be told in all its facets.'

Cllr Martin Murphy said he was fully supportive of Cllr Sheehan's twinning motion. 'Whether there is a question of delay or whether we should establish twinning now the story itself is fantastic and the comparison of what Graves achieved in the seas after he left New Ross is the very same comparison as to what Ryanair achieved in the skies.'

Cllr Murphy suggested that any travel between councillors and officials from both urban councils should be on the 'high seas' as that would represent exactly what the twinning means.

'Does the same apply for trips to Savannah?' Mr Hore joked.

'We should get cracking on it. Maybe there would be some merit in kicking this off,' Cllr Murphy said, adding that even though the Graves company established their main base in Waterford, they had a strong presence in New Ross.

Cllr Sheehan said other towns and cities will be looking to get twinned with Liverpool, saying there is an urgency to moving forward with the initiative.

'Because of the primacy of New Ross as a maritime capital town the twinning committee should be urged to go off and do their work.'

Cllr Fitzharris said to have a two-pronged approach would not work, pointing out that there will be a substantial financial benefit to the town through developing the Graves story. 'I think it's going to be a silly exercise. This is too important just to have it confined to a twinning committee. We can't stop the twinning committee from excluding the great work being done. I have discussed this with my colleagues. There is a huge group of people involved and a big body of work has been done and more has to be done,' he said.

Cllr Murphy said: 'Maybe we should be better informed before we make any decision. I withdraw my support until I am better informed.'

Cllr Anthony Connick suggested calling in the twinning committee, saying they may have other plans for New Ross also.

Cllr Sheehan said he had no difficulty in inviting in the committee, adding: 'I would be a little bit concerned that there are groups operating out there who are doing this. The municipal body is the prime body for the district and it is being emasculated by this.'

District manager Sinead Casey said she hadn't discussed the twinning suggestion with the committee. She suggested discussing the issues again with the twinning committee.

Cllr Fitzharris said: 'I don't know the twinning committee. We have the JFK Trust whether you like the set up or not they are doing a great job in the town and have Savannah on board. To simply say go and bugger off and the twinning committee is going to tell us what to do with the Graves story. This is a story that will be well presented here in New Ross.'

Cllr Sheehan said: 'They can't do anything until they take instructions here. We can bring in collaborative partners as we did with our sister cities in Hartford, Moncoutant and now Danville, (a friendship city). We are elected representatives on behalf of the people. We work on behalf of all of the district. Some elected members are having issues with that definition.'

Cllr Murphy proposed that Ms Casey and cathaoirleach Cllr John Fleming should meet with the twinning committee, only for Cllr Fitzharris to suggest he also attend.

In turn Cllr Sheehan asked to attend, so the suggestion fell apart.

Cllr Connick repeated his call for the committee to attend the meeting and this is being organised for early 2019. 'I've something we can all agree with. Can we congratulate Liverpool FC on their win last night,' Cllr Sheehan said, referring to the team's win over Napoli.

New Ross Standard