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Column: Limerick City of Culture must not be allowed to fail

The City of Culture is a very important and valuable project for Limerick – and it can still be a success. But there are considerable issues and concerns to be addressed first, writes Sandra McLellan TD.

Sandra McLellan

THERE WAS A great deal of excitement and anticipation last year when it was announced by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, that Limerick would be the first city to be designated a ‘City of Culture’.

With good reason, it promised to be an excellent opportunity to challenge perceptions of Limerick as a city, to present a positive outward face to the world, and to attract a new cohort of tourists to the Mid West.

However, the developments of recent days, and further back, now threaten to undermine the entire project. The people of Limerick are understandably angry at the mishandling of the entire project.

Rich cultural heritage

Limerick is a city and county with a rich cultural heritage, stretching back from antiquity to 20th Century. This includes artists such as painter Seán Keating, actors such as Richard Harris, musicians like the Cranberries, poets such as Michael Hartnett and writers such as Frank and Malachy McCourt.

Of course, culture goes far beyond the Arts and, as Cork woman, I would clearly recognise the significant role of sport in our culture, and Limerick is a city which is synonymous with sport.

Enormous potential

The potential which exists for a year marking culture in Limerick is enormous.

The city deserves much more than the inept and half-baked approach which we have seen thus far from the Department and the Board.

Though one could be forgiven for thinking from coverage that problems have emerged only recently – but it was clear, particularly to the artistic and cultural community, that there were problems from the middle of last year. This is an ongoing issue, and I have attempted to draw the Minister’s attention to the problems with project for some time now.

In September, I put it to the Minister that the failure to outline what budget would be available was seriously hampering planning for the coming year. This was only months before the year as City of Culture was to begin, and yet the planners were limited in what they could book due to being unsure what budget was available to them.

Derry ‘s budget agreed more than two years ahead of event

The Minister responded that the budget would be agreed following the estimates, leaving a period of mere months to plan for the programme. The last twelve months has seen the tremendous success of Derry’s year as City of Culture. However, that did not happen by accident. They had an agreed budget two-and-a-half years before the event, and was well supported and resourced by the Department of Arts Culture and Leisure and the executive in the North.

It was clear from an early stage that there were potential difficulties with the City of Culture project in Limerick. This was further underlined by the fiasco regarding the appointment of the CEO in November. Regardless of the credentials of Patricia Ryan, it is clear that the appointments process was far from best practice and was entirely lacking in transparency; we are now seeing the fallout of that. This is particularly disappointing under the watch of a Government which promised a new era in public appointments.

It is in this context that we must judge the resignation of the City of Culture’s artistic director Karl Wallace and programmers Jo Mangan and Maeve McGrath, and the public meeting at which the Limerick public gave voice to their understandable frustration and concern.

Quite clearly, tensions and difficulties have been under the surface for some time.

A very important and valuable project for Limerick

Now we see that Patricia Ryan has resigned as CEO and there is clearly an impetus for the Minister to intervene as soon as possible in order to ensure that the considerable issues and concerns are addressed. Such a move would strengthen the foundations of what still is a very important and valuable project for Limerick.
The year can very much still be a success. I know the people of Limerick are keen to ensure that is the case. The Opening Ceremony gave a glimpse as to the potential of the year.

However, there is now a significant shadow over the project, and there is a need for action. The Department of the Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht was responsible for awarding the designation, and they cannot simply stand back and ignore the situation.

I believe that the Minister, Jimmy Deenihan TD should seek to bring together all the stakeholders in this process, between the local authority, artistic and cultural community, public representatives, planners, and the people of Limerick, to see how the project can be gotten back on track.

The people of Limerick deserve the opportunity to showcase their lively cultural scene to the world. The Minister should now intervene to ensure they get that opportunity.

Sandra McLellan is a TD for Cork East, and the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Read: Limerick City of Culture CEO resigns

Read: Arts Minister read about Limerick City of Culture resignation ‘in the paper’

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Sandra McLellan

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