Council Affairs: The O’Connell Street Christmas conundrum

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Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

ROME, they say, wasn’t built in a day. Nor Limerick’s O’Connell Street Revitalisation Project either, it now feels safe to say.

The Treaty City, in recent times, appears to have more in common with the ancient city of Pompeii, in terms of its swift and irrevocable destruction.

It’s unrecognisable to the thriving city I remember visiting with my family as a teenager and young adult in the seventies, eighties, and nineties.

As a blow-in to Limerick, but someone who has always had a real love of the city and its people, I find some of the planning decisions made by the local authority here truly mind-boggling.

I mean, seriously, what are they putting into the scones down in City Hall at all?

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If the never-ending €9 million O’Connell Street Revitalisation Project, which commenced in March 2021 and met delay after delay since the Covid pandemic, is anything to go by – the jam must be laced with some really potent psychedelic substances.

Look, just like Richard Lynch, I love Limerick. I’m glad to have made a home here in recent years. My weekend wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Milk Market for a block of costly gourmet cheddar, or traipsing the Three Bridges Walk with the rain pissing sideways in a masochistic attempt burn off the aforementioned dairy delight.

But it doesn’t really take a brain surgeon to figure out why people flock to the Crescent Shopping Centre, with its free parking and sunshine indoors and shops that open on a Sunday.

The soul has been sucked right out of the city centre and the ongoing works are just the final straw. We’re doomed, I tell you!

But, fret not. The Council have a cunning plan.

If these eternal roadworks aren’t finished by November 25 (yes, the one that’s just two weeks away), they will come to a halt until January 2023.

“Two lanes of traffic will open up on a temporary basis for the month of December, and the proposed bus lane would not be implemented until the end of the project,” a Council missive announced.

The local authority also says that, between now and December, the focus will be on completing areas currently opened up and being worked on.

Yippee!

So, Christmas will be saved after all and Tiny Tim will get to soak up all the magical Christmas cheer and spilled Chicken Hut gravy  O’Connell Street has to offer.

I’ve heard tell that this year instead of carollers we’re going to have a gaggle of bus drivers wielding angle grinders in an en masse symbolic bollard-cutting ceremony to mark the true reopening of city centre roads.

It’s enough to bring out the best of Christian goodwill in anyone.

Speaking at a council meeting back in September, Cathaoirleach of the Metropolitan District Cllr Olivia O’Sullivan (FG) told members that Christmas 2022 in Limerick “needs to be magical – despite the challenges faced”.

Ironically, it’s beginning to feel like magic or divine intervention will be the only thing to get the bloody road finished at this stage.

“Reassurances have been given that, should the O’Connell Street works not be finished in time, a moratorium will be in place so that all work stops from November 25 and we have the opportunity to bring the Christmas magic back to the city centre,” Cllr O’Sullivan commented.

Praise the lord. 

So, chances are the O’Connell Street Revitalisation Project, which will return with the January blues, will still be knocking around when the Limerick to Cork Motorway is built. But at least there will be festive fun for everyone!

Back in January, with St Patrick’s Day only around the corner, Labour Party councillor Conor Sheehan raised concerns about stoppages at the time and the need to have works completed before our national holiday.

Councillors have continually raised the issue at meetings and highlighted how local traders are struggling due to the hindering works, which have caused an imposition to deliveries due to lane closures.

The sluggish – sometimes static – works have had a knock-on effect on traffic and trade all over the city centre.

The contractor has been urged ad nauseam by councillors to continue at pace to ensure businesses are not adversely affected for longer than necessary.

Yet now, a reprieve for Christmas seems like our best hope.

Maybe the contractor will surprise us all yet and complete the job by November 25.

However, after visiting the city during the week and witnessing chaotic scenes straight out of a disaster movie (that movie being 2012, coincidentally also the year it feels like works on O’Connell Street started), I wouldn’t put money on it.

Speaking of money, it would also be nice to know if the project is being delivered within budget?

I remember a certain Fine Gael Mayor being ridiculed a few years back when he suggested that Brown Thomas be pulled down and replaced with a fountain.

It seemed like a totally off-the-wall notion at the time. But now I have started to view this madcap proposal as the thinking of a true visionary.

You know, he might have been onto something. Why don’t we just pull the whole town down and build a meadow. Start all over again from scratch and stop pretending we’re living in Barcelona.

And look, if that doesn’t work out, we can always take a bus trip to Cork to see the Richard Harris exhibition in UCC.