Old hands at the catering business thanks to their tours of duty overseas, United Nations peacekeeping veterans turn their expertise to more domestic matters this week when they take over the café and toilet facilities at Clonmel railway station.
The lack of such services has been much-lamented locally in recent times, with bus and rail travellers left with no toilets and no refreshments while waiting for their transport or when exiting at Clonmel.
Now, thanks to a new arrangement between the Irish United Nations Veterans Association and Íarnród Éireann, the facilities will re-open to the public and are set to be available at key times when passengers are getting on or getting off the buses and trains.
“While in the military and overseas in the Irish defence forces, those facilities such as restaurants or dining halls were always run by ourselves,” association chairman Mick Haslam said this week. “One important thing about our jobs overseas was catering!”
The UNVA have already made the old station master’s house in Clonmel their home after taking out a long-term lease with Íarnród Éireann for part of the building to use as an office, meeting room and consultation room, in an arrangement which has proven “excellent” for the 64 members, according to Mr Haslam.
The last version of the coffee shop, Suave Café, closed its doors last year when it proved unsustainable but now the unit will be managed by the UNVA on a voluntary basis.
“The coffee shop hasn’t been working, so CIE were anxious to get it working because of the lack of toilet facilities, at the very least. We felt that we may have been able to assist CIE Property by taking it on, on a similar lease to what we have at the moment, and maybe running it and keeping it open for them.”
That idea is now a reality with the toilet facilities due to re-open on a full-time basis today (Wednesday) and the café set to re-start in the coming days, at times when rail and bus-users will be in the station.
News of the new deal at the railway facilities was welcomed by local Fine Gael councillor Michael Murphy and TD Tom Hayes.
“We are delighted,” Deputy Hayes said, “with the decision to re-open the café and provide toilet facilities once again at Clonmel station. We would like to commend UNVA, CIE and Bus Éireann and all those who contributed to this positive development.”
The issue was the subject of a notice of motion last year by Cllr Murphy, who described the lack of toilet and refreshment facilities as a “fiasco” and called on the relevant authorities to re-introduce such services “as a matter of urgency.
Tom Hayes pointed out this week that the matter has generated a lot of public debate. “It was unacceptable to have no toilet facilities or refreshments available to passengers at Clonmel station,” he said. “This is very important for passengers and with the Gathering under way, it is essential that refreshments and toilet facilities are available to tourists visiting our area.”
The UNVA membership is made up of Irish people who have completed a tour of duty with a UN Force.
At the moment, Íarnród Éireann operates a three times-daily return service at Clonmel between Limerick Junction and Waterford, allowing passengers to connect with Dublin-bound trains at Limerick Junction.
Buses run to a number of destinations including Dublin, Kilkenny, Rosslare, Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Galway.