Last week was momentous for Limerick: on Friday we received news that an €85m loan to the City and County Council had been approved, with additional funds in the pipeline.
While it sounds great – and much-needed investment is great – it’s important to drill down into the figures and look past the singing-and-dancing press releases for the where, what, why, and for whom.
Darragh Roche has researched these issues for this edition, investigating the rationale behind the loan, pointing to ‘Brexit-proofing’ as one possibility. He examines the little-reported details of the loan, including the interest rate, for example, which, while low at present, is something that tax-payers should be cognisant of. He also addresses the challenges inherent in the proposed ‘rebranding exercise’, pointing out that other major cities have tried – and failed – in this regard. Urbanist Greg Clarke said that “city positioning is a long, slow process that doesn’t involve much money or ad agencies. It does involve leaders bringing together different representatives of the city.”
That’s a point that Martin Mullins touches on as well, in a hard-hitting column this week on the disparity within our city. He suggests asking ourselves some uncomfortable questions about how we treat – even unconsciously – our fellow citizens who may look and sound different to us, whether by virtue of “the white trainers, the grey trackies, the tied-up hair, the fake tan,” or Martin’s “favourite piece of working class resistance, [the] outside pyjamas.”
In writing the Limerick through the Ages series, I have regularly come across references to the ‘lower orders’, the ‘poorer classes’ and the ‘riff-raff’ of the 19th and 20th centuries. Thankfully, these terms have become obsolete, consigned to be used tongue-in-cheek. We may pat ourselves on the back that we no longer use such offensive descriptions, but quite often, the sentiment is still there, no matter how well-hidden beneath our liberal protestations and social niceties.
It carries through to our political decisions as well: according to the think tank Social Justice Ireland, a single person earning €75,000 each year will gain close to five times more from Budget 2018 than a single person earning €25,000. That same group, Martin points out, puts the number of Irish people living in poverty at 750,000. This is an extraordinary number for such a small country, with such high levels of education. These figures – along with ever-increasing homeless numbers – demonstrate the increasing marginalisation of the economically disadvantaged. Martin hopes that the “legacy of a divided city suggests that the [Opera Centre] redevelopment should produce an urban environment that is inclusive and welcoming of all social stratums.” Indeed, we should all hope so, or we are only laying expensive groundwork for a city that will grow more divided by the year.
Elsewhere, Ciarán Ryan speaks to the organisers of the upcoming French Film Festival, and our newest contributor, Olivia Beck, talks us through health and wellness in the winter months. Sharon Slater takes a snapshot of 19th century Limerick, tracing our ancestors’ struggle with the vagaries of life. They are not dissimilar to today’s: fluctuating economic circumstances, political protests, and corporate lies.
In this edition’s Focus, Mary O’Keeffe scrutinises the controversial Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. She examines both sides of the arguments, but also highlights some sobering statistics: for example, alcohol-related deaths in Ireland are higher than the European average. In her column this week, she writes that while 2017 seems to be a “year of reckoning” in the field, gender equality is not set to be reached for another 217 years.
It doesn’t bode well for equal opportunities across the board – between various social strata or ethnicities – if we have to wait another two centuries for basic equality between two genders.