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.