Council Affairs: Wolves at the door in latest Council spat

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

NOTHING raises the mob’s temperature in Limerick these days nor has them reaching for the pitchforks faster than the very mention of cycle lanes.

And while Independent councillor Emmett O’Brien’s prediction before the 2020 General Election hasn’t yet come to pass, many folks believe it could yet happen.

Ahead of the last general election, Cllr O’Brien, who referred to the Green Party as “watermelons”, criticised party leader Eamon Ryan’s proclamation that if they came to power, rural dwellers would have to carpool, one car for ten people.

“And while we’re navigating our way to find a car, we’d have to contend with wolves, which the Green Party propose to introduce to rural Ireland,” the Pallaskenry man warned at the time.

Cllr O’Brien’s Green cough appears to have softened since then on the back of the proposed redevelopment of a 42-kilometre rail line between Limerick city and the Port of Foynes. But while he has even been spotted out rambling with Green Party TD Brian Leddin along the route, many are still fearful about being left to the wolves.

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Just like everyone has an arse to sit on, they also have an opinion, and when it comes to Active Travel, there’s many a burning arse this side of the Shannon.

Last October, the yays and nays were out in force over Active Travel plans for the Northside of the city. A total of 389 written observations were sent in online and over 200 signed physical requests were handed to Metropolitan councillors over a proposed filtered permeability trial.

Well, didn’t the proverbial hit the fan, spray the walls, and leave a very bad odour around the halls of power in City Hall. Residents objected, politicians stood into photographs (as is tradition), and the plans – bada bing, bada boom – were shelved.

But it was a close call and it left many of our local councillors, quick to brandish the pitchforks themselves, a bit shook.

Here we are again, a couple of months on, and the wolves are howling, arses are once again firmly ablaze, and councillors are quaking. This time over Active Travel plans on the Southside of the city.

Last week, Conor Buckley, chair of Limerick Cycling Campaign, heralded the battle cry, like something straight out of Braveheart, beseeching local representatives to show courage on the issue. Faint heart and all that, as a recent Irish Oscar nominee would say.

Stopping just short of lifting his kilt and slapping his own flaming posterior, Mr Buckley took the view that compromise would not do on the South Circular Road Active Travel scheme.

Fighting talk, indeed!

He believes that to remove the cycle track from any section of the scheme, in favour of a small number of private on-street parking spaces, goes against Limerick’s recently published and ratified transport strategy.

“It goes against national climate action policy and it goes against the students, workers, and families that will benefit from this active travel corridor,” he claimed.

The sound of gloves being dropped to the floor could be heard somewhere off in the distance as Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea, who Mr Buckley took a pop at in his statement, came out fighting.

“Is Mr Buckley from the area?” Deputy O’Dea pressed.

“Pertinent question,” replied Gabby White on Facebook.

Willie takes the view that the extra parking spaces proposed are completely inadequate, particularly for the elderly and disabled.

And whether you agree with Buckley or O’Dea on this matter, I take my hat off to both of them. At least they have the conviction to get off the fence (or saddle) and make it clear what side of the battle lines they are on.

When residents get upset and are on the blower to their TD or councillor, it quickly becomes a political football and the rules of engagement can alter when opinions quickly are seen as votes.

Speaking in County Hall last December, Labour Party councillor Conor Sheehan took the view that the scheme in Bellfield Gardens had been used as an “election hobby horse” by some politicians for their own public gain.

“We had a bit of argy-bargy … I don’t want to say drive on, but we can now cycle on with the scheme,” he quipped.

A lot of the time when there is controversy surrounding schemes such as these, councillors tend to go underground or become reminiscent of Nobody, the Native American man in the Jim Jarmusch western Dead Man, who was referred to as ‘he who speaks much, but says nothing’.

In situations like these, where temperatures are frayed, and opinions and political agendas at play, it can all get Shakespearean very quickly, so I don’t blame them for vanishing off the face of the Earth until the storm blows over.

Damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Sometimes you are better off just saying nothing! Keep them guessing and look pretty.

And when compromise is the furthest thing from the baying mob’s mind, what else are you to do?

You know well there has to be something rotten in the state of Denmark when you are getting submissions on Active Travel schemes in Limerick all the way from Navan, after all!

In fairness though, it’s a tough old station councillors have. Stuck in the middle they are. Panic-stricken residents trying to cling onto their parking spaces on one side, and Lycra-clad environmentalists mad for road on the other.

Thankfully, though, Eamon Ryan hasn’t set the wolves on them. Yet.

A small mercy for our long-suffering local representatives.

As the great bard was once anachronistically misquoted as saying: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the cycle helmet.”