Some thoughts on the #LimerickCityofCulture debacle

Let’s get one thing clear at the outset: I have no in depth or insider knowledge of what has been going on with the Limerick City of Culture – or City of Vultures as some have christened it.

All I know is what I have read in the papers and on Twitter. In that regard, I suppose, I am very like the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD, who admitted on Radio last Sunday that he only knew what he had read in the papers. Doesn’t it make you feel good inside to know that the State’s money is being guarded so keenly?Limerick City of Culture

Looking at the whole debacle from the safe distance of South Dublin, it does appear to me to be an example of how resignation is not always the answer to a problem. An already bad situation has now been made considerably worse by not just one, but a whole series of resignations.

Contrary to the perceived wisdom of the past few years, if not decades, calling for someone’s head and demanding their resignation is not the solution to every problem.

As we are seeing in Limerick, instead of addressing a problem of governance, the whole debate surrounding who should and should not resign has moved the focus to a clash of personalities, even if the outworking of that clash has been entertaining to those of us outside Limerick.

While a resignation may offer a win to one side in a dispute, that victory is just Pyrrhic where the core issue is not addressed.

In the case of Limerick the sequence of resignations, starting with the Artistic Director’s and culminating with the Chief Executive’s (who I should declare is a highly regarded former colleague of mine) has only succeeded in having both sides in the dispute poking each other in the eye and undermining public confidence in what should have been an exciting time in Limerick.

Problems such as the lack of proper advanced planning and budgeting and transparency in the appointments have not been addressed. These issues persist, though not to such a degree that they are stopping the Limerick Year of Culture from proceeding, as it does have a publicised calendar of events for the coming months.

The net result of the resignations is a slew of bad publicity and a hiatus in administration while new personnel are properly appointed – what did that achieve?

Without doubt the individuals resigning did so for what they felt were genuine reasons – whether those resignations where “elective” or “unavoidable”.

“Elective” is the “I just cannot tolerate this any longer” approach where the person believes that resignation is their only remaining response to a problem, having exhausted all other options. Such resignations are often gauged to focus public attention on a major issue of governance, or as a protest against some major malfeasance.

The other, is where the resignation is “unavoidable” because public comment or media attention on some major issue or dispute has made it impossible for the person to reasonably remain in a position, it usually features the line: “it is now in the best interests of the organisation that I move on”.

While noble, do the Limerick resignations fall under these headings? Was there an initial “active” resignation precipitated by frustration at how things were being run – or did someone just peg their toys out of the pram at not getting their way?

Similarly was unavoidable resignation really unavoidable, or was their position untenable from the outset by virtue of the particular nature of the appointment process?

From this distance and with such piecemeal information to go on, I have no idea.

What I do know is that none of the resignations have achieved anything and that there are now four people out of work, each of whom could have contributed further to making the year a success.

Meanwhile the people in government who should be answering questions and acting speedily to undo the damage caused by their delays in 2012 and 2013 continue to act as if they were mere bystanders.

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the #LimerickCityofCulture debacle

  1. I’m not sure you’re entirely as impartial as you would like to believe, Derek, and therefore I don’t think this piece (for all its considerable strengths as analysis) is as strong as it could be, and certainly not as objective as it pretends. It strikes me that you come to this (as we all do, undoubtedly) with particular ideological baggage, and your includes a particular idea of how things ought to be sorted out that includes not rocking the boat overly much. This could be termed a ‘conservative’ position (and this view is strengthened when you say that you work in Brussels and also when you say that you are a former colleague of the Chief Executive). This is not to say that you may not be absolutely right. My point is only that you need to be aware that you are much more directed in your approach by your own allegiances than you indicate here. My own position is more radical. I tend to have worked from the outside of institutions (although since it is not possible to work entirely outside the system, because I work and pay tax and have not even always been self-employed, I am necessarily compromised, and enculturated, and enmeshed in the system, albeit, I’d guess, less willingly than you). I once had an academic supervisor who said, you change nothing from within. Art tends to have this character too, to be a discipline (or a caling) that requires the outsider’s view. I think if you appreciate this, you come to understand that the resignation of the Art Director and his cohort carries a different message from the pettish notion of throwing toys out of a pram. The idea is much more one of symbolic self exclusion from a process that may have been seen as tainted from the start. I hope you will not be offended by my offering my tuppenceworth. I undoubtedly know less about the Limerick Art scene, or the debacle with the City of Culture hype, even than you. What I do know about is the bias with which we come to view events, situations and conditions we find ourselves in. So I’m interested in highlighting it. But I really ought to be writing so I’ll sign off with good wishes to you and yours, and the hope that you consider this as a friendly observation.


  2. Professionally speaking, I’m glad that finally there have been wigs on the green and riots in the gallery about a problem that has dogged the arts in Ireland for decades, namely the lack of comprehension and planning by our public administration relating to the time frame, budgets and procedures required by any arts festival to work effectively. When Dublin was awarded European City of Culture for 1991 in 1987, nothing was set up by Govt until 1990. The year was a disappointing missed opportunity. The same with Millennium 2000, when it was again left until the year before to initiate anything. The result: a flop. Derry-Londonderry put years of preparation into their year in 2013, and it paid off. Willie O’Dea was right to criticise the Minister for not keeping his eye on the ball, but Wille’d win a lot more respect across the board if he picked up on the far more telling issue that this whole thing was cobbled together at the last minute, without anyone knowing for sure how much money they’d have until a few months before the launch. Imagine if Willie had packed off Peace-keeping regiments without planning that with the Defence Forces HQ so that they’d be fully equipped and trained for the task in hand. Deenihan’s behaviour was reckless from the outset, expecting something to be delivered without making adequate provision in enough time. Yet another case of a botched, rushed job being inflicted on the artistic community. Well done to all in Limerick for bucking! It’s time the BIG lessons were learned for the future!


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