Council Affairs: Long live democracy and bicycles

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

WE are very lucky to live in a democracy. At least that was the opinion of one council member at last week’s Metropolitan District meeting, when 21 of our elected representatives, and the workings of local government, were put on full display.

With a jam-packed public gallery, and many more residents, businesses, school representatives, and other stakeholders tuning in online, councillors were looking a little green around the gills.

Normally, our pothole politicians like to put on a bit of a spectacle for the media, but heck, this was the people who vote for them, sitting in the cheap seats, and they were expecting their money’s worth.

It was obvious that many councillors had stage fright, lost the will to live even, and hadn’t kept a meal down for days in the run up to the biggest shit show this side of Dodge.

Even the council executive seemed to be enjoying watching councillors squirm as they took their seats in the Dooradoyle chamber.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

And why was the scene that unfolded out in County Hall like something out of Gladiator, with those pesky Christians about to be fed to the lions, you ask?

Shur, it was your only man — the Active Travel South Circular Road Cycle Scheme – that had onlookers baying for blood and council members all a fluster.

Green Party TD Brian Leddin had made it very clear in the media in the run up to the meeting that there would be no more funding for Limerick City and County Council if they didn’t get their cycle path.

Democracy my hoop!

More like hostage negotiations at gunpoint. My way or the N20!

This was a relentless battle, one where there was going to be countless casualties. No matter how hard they fought or what tough decisions they made, councillors were going to hurt, and there was no escaping it.

Councillors were mere foot soldiers in a larger political battle here. I would have almost felt sorry for them, if it wasn’t all so damn entertaining.

The scene that unfolded, as councillors finally climbed down off the fence, was reminiscent of scenes from the BAFTA award-winning film All Quiet on the Western Front.

Like the troopers they are, councillors crept out of their watery foxholes to come face-to-face with the heavy artillery fire of gunners from Summerville Avenue and Lifford Avenue, and battalions from all along the front lines of this cycle path conundrum.

You make take our freedom, but you will never take our parking spaces!

My friends, it was an absolute cluster f**k.

But as Independent councillor Frankie Daly pointed out, more than once, much to Green Party councillor Sean Hartigan’s chagrin, they had democracy on their side.

Many councillors had given up their weekend prior to the Monday morning meeting to attend workshops and briefings to gain expert advice on plans for this new planet-saving cycle route on the South Circular Road — those with skin in the game, at least.

These councillors appeared to be well informed and ready to tackle one of the more controversial planning issues to have come their way since, well, the last Active Travel scheme. Either that or they are great bluffers altogether.

A tough old station, for sure.

According to those in Fine Gael, decisions had been reached over the course of these talks, and that should have made light work of the Part 8 process. But baby, that ain’t how the council members of Limerick City and County Council roll. No siree Bob, these bad boys like to improvise and make it up on the spot. Keeps things interesting, you know?

Many councillors arrived in on Monday morning looking like the dog ate their homework and without the absolute foggiest what was going on. They didn’t know their permeability filters from their shared surfaces, and teacher was not going to be happy with these dunderheads down the back of class for their hapless approach.

Adjournments to study maps, votes on amendments to the Part 8, lighting candles and saying another mass were all called for. All this while councillors were taking potshots at each other and crying out about the joys of democracy – and one particular council member fighting back the urge to murder.

I had seen more civilised behaviour from drunken oafs outside city chippers after a feed of pints and kebabs.

It was all kicking off. Simply glorious display, you love to see it.

“In a democracy, it is all about debate. You don’t have to agree with everyone,” Cllr Frankie Daly cooed before pledging his support to a Fine Gael amendment to the scheme.

“You never even went to a workshop,” Cllr Sean Hartigan replied, steam billowing out of his ears.

Labour Party councillor Conor Sheehan piped up at one stage that proceeding had “all gone a bit Ballymagash”.

Councillors couldn’t agree where to go next and glasses of warm milk weren’t going to appease their hot heads at this stage.

“It’s a democracy. Just take a vote,” Daly reminded council members, the sound of the ice beneath his feet cracking with every other word.

Ultimately, the Part 8 was passed by 13 votes to 8 despite concerns raised that cyclists, including schoolchildren, would have to cycle against traffic on a shared surface between Summerville Avenue and Laurel Hill Avenue.

Democracy folks, at its very best.