Response to cllr John Gilligan from An Taisce Limerick Association re: the Opera Centre and LGC report on boundary extension
I don’t normally use the blog for local stuff but in this instance I’m going to step outside the norm. A former Mayor of Limerick stated last week that An Taisce were responsible for the failure of the Opera Centre to get off the ground. This is completely wrong and below is the text of a letter I’ve sent to the cllr seeking to correct the public record. He also repeated his claims on local radio, Live 95 later this week again getting the reality entirely wrong.
I am writing with regard to your reported comments in the debate about the Limerick Local Government Committee report.
Specifically I have to take issue with the content of the paragraph that states “Independent councillor John Gilligan criticised the “ugly sisters” who supported Mr Brosnan’s recommendations. He said heritage group An Taisce take a “we know better than you” attitude, and they are “the main reason” why the Opera Centre has not got under way.“ and also the claim that we gave a complete endorsement to the LGC report and were acting as the LGC’s ugly sister. I will take this in 3 parts the Opera Centre, the Brosnan Report and your unwarranted criticism of a voluntary organisation in your city whose only remit, where Limerick city is concerned, is the perseveration of the best aspects of the city and its sustainable development for everyone that lives and works here.
The An Taisce Limerick Association did not object to the Opera Centre at any stage in its application and we are certainly are not the main reason why it has not got underway. I’m sure I don’t have to go into the in and outs of the ownership of the Opera Centre, the saga of Anglo-Irish Bank, or the travails of great recession. The fact remains we are not part of any reason that the Opera Centre has not proceeded not to mind the “main reason”. That you would make this sort of wild and inaccurate statement, in a council meeting and for the public record, is very disappointing and a matter of considerable concern to us. If you have made the comments as reported in the Limerick Leader then we would expect that you would seek to correct the record at the earliest possible opportunity and ensure that they receive a degree of publicity at least equal to the original comments.
With respect to the original application reference number 05548 by Regeneration Developments the An Taisce Limerick Association did not make any submission to either the local authority or An Bord Pleanala.
With respect to the revised application reference number 08173 by Regeneration Developments, we made one submission in support of the development. A copy of our submission is available from the city planning department which as a city councillor I’m sure you have access to but I will include the following quotes from it for your consideration.
“We are broadly favourable to the general thrust of the development, and we believe that addressing the points outlined should allow it to proceed quickly to making a significant contribution to the city centre environment.“
“That we would be eager that the development should proceed quickly to the construction phase in accordance with the direction already given by An Bord Pleanála,” while noting “That the new design revisions are a significant improvement on the previous iteration” and that “that the increased openings onto and footfall for Patrick St. and Rutland St. are to be welcomed”.
You are free to read the rest of the submission in your capacity as a paid elected representative by requesting it from the planning department of the city council. There again, you must have done so already since you felt able to comment about it in public which begs the question of how you came to make this statement.
As regards the Bronsnan report, your claims that we, in any way, gave it 100% endorsement are also incorrect. In our submission to the LGC we said that our favoured option was a single strong city core that encompassed the entirety of the urban areas of the city, our boundaries were roughly contiguous with the boundaries the city council had previous indicated in its own representations to the minister and if anything were more extensive. This is detailed in our submission which is on the LGC website. I’m sure that you would as a paid elected representative passing comment on our position will have taken the time to read it. We did not suggest that the city and county be merged, in fact the opposite we suggested that if the LGC had a difficulty with a reduced Limerick County that it should be merged not with the city but with Clare and North Tipperary to form a hinterland authority. This received considerable public comment and reaction especially from Clare and Tipperary, you would have been aware of this too.
In speaking with the press after the Brosnan report was released, we noted that it did not deliver what we had wanted in it. We also noted that while it did not fulfil our ambitions for the city that nevertheless there were potentially positive aspects of the report. Our focus in saying this was to ensure that no one was under the impression that the report represented a win for the county position that a single authority was takeover of the city by the county. In truth the report leans more towards suggesting a take-over of the county by the enlarged city. That almost the entirety of the body of the current city councillors appears unable to see this raises a question mark over whether they have properly read the report at all.
What support we extended to the ‘Brosnan’ report was in respect of the recognition that the status quo is not longer an option and that it offered an opportunity to move away from the status quo for all that it offered anything else. We said in speaking with the Limerick Leader that if the choice was forced on us was to remain with the status quo or the report then we would go with the report. If we had our preferred option it would be to use the proposals in our submission that would have resulted in a strong authority for the city confined to the new extended city boundaries and with automatic revisions that would ensure all new medium density development at the fringes would be included in the city boundaries without a need for new commissions into the future. Evidently if forced into a choice you and most of your fellow city councillors would choose to stay with the status quo.
Your attack on An Taisce
To suggest that An Taisce was in anyway responsible for the delay in the development of the Opera centre or that we gave a ringing endorsement to the Brosnan report is wholly wrong. I have no problem with public and robust criticism of positions that An Taisce may hold but I will not stand by as a voluntary organisation, made up of people living in Limerick and who are committed to the prosperity of the city and the region, is used as a punch bag for what it has not done and not said, purely to provide political cover for elected representatives paid for out of taxes of the general public.
I believe that you served as an excellent Mayor and have long been a committed representative of our city. However, you are also capable of being wrong and on this occasion you were seriously wrong. Your misrepresentation of the positions of An Taisce is unbecoming your position as someone serving in the council chamber. If you do not retraction your comments then it will stand on the record that when the occasion demands it you will look for the nearest, convenient, unpopular minority and aim a kick at them for your own political ends.
Daniel K. Sullivan
Chair – An Taisce Limerick Association
P.S. As regards the reference to ‘ugly sisters’, while I don’t believe either of us will be winning beauty contests in the near future I think this sort of political grandstanding and terminology undermines the seriousness with which such an issue should be treated. When every issue involves disasters, decimation and ugly sisters and the cast and crew from Beauty and the Beast, it makes it that bit harder for the public to take real matters seriously. The city deserves better from all of us.
Link to Limerick Leader article with cllr Gilligan’s comments
Press Release by An Taisce Limerick in respect of the Opera Centre development at the time permission was granted.
“An Taisce Limerick Association chair Daniel Sullivan has welcomed the decision by An Bord Pleanála to preserve in part the existing character of the north city quarter in granting planning permission for the development of the Opera Centre. “It was always on the cards that An Bord Pleanála was likely to require that the historic facades on Ellen St. be retained given that their retention had been a condition of their original decision to grant permission. We’re pleased that Regeneration Developments eventually realised this and revised their application again on foot of their interaction with An Bord Pleanála.”
We would be hopeful that Limerick city council will grasp with both hands the opportunity given by the conditions from An Bord Pleanála with regard to their approval of materials to be used in the internal and external finishes to ensure that the quality of materials used in this development is consistent with the highest possible standards. This particular application also highlights the need for a more consultative approach in development. At no point in the entire process has Regeneration Developments sought to take advice from other local organisations or interested parties such as An Taisce. Perhaps if there had there been some engagement with local interest groups it is likely the protracted delay could have avoided. And contrary to what some candidates in the recent local elections had to say, these local groups were not blocking this development but were instead seeking that it should proceed according to the best possible standards. The city deserves no less and had those views been listened to the development would have proceeded much more quickly.
We would now look forward to seeing the project progress quickly to the construction phase, bringing much need employment and activity to the city. We remain open to engaging positively with anyone that has thoughts about contributing to the reinvigoration of the city centre. We would be hopefully that this development will re-energise those thinking of revamping this quarter of the city in manner that respects what is best about what we have and makes the most of the excellent location in the heart of the city.”