Council Affairs: Backhanded welcomes for Ukrainians in Askeaton

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

DON’T ye know councillors that a windy day is not a day for thatching? In such times of uncertainty, maybe a more heartfelt Irish welcome would have been more appropriate to Ukrainian refugees seeking shelter in West Limerick than making motions that give the half-baked céad míle fáilte a bitter aftertaste.

There was a motion on the agenda of last week’s full meeting of Limerick City and County Council that just reeked of insincerity. The motion, welcoming the planned use of the former Bank of Ireland for emergency accommodation for Ukrainian families, suggested the building see a swift turnaround to other community uses.

The proposal, from my old segotia Cllr Stephen Keary (FG), came across more like an underhanded electioneering effort than anything else. And look, maybe it was just me, but considering the refugees fleeing the war in their homeland hadn’t even arrived at the proposed site, it all felt a bit premature.

Fine Gael councillors from the Adare-Rathkeale district appeared to be hedging their bets, which didn’t go down at all well with the only local representative from the area.

“I am satisfied that this building will be refurbished and used as temporary residential accommodation for a period of two years as a member of the Council Executive,” Cllr Keary’s motion read.

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All relatively okay so far. Except for the fact that a timeline has already been put on the duration of the Ukrainians’ stay. Considering the human cost of Russia’s war on Ukraine, this makes me very uncomfortable.

Have they insider information directly from the Kremlin or what? Has Russia confirmed to the comrades in Rathkeale that the war will be all over in two years time or do we have an oracle among the local representatives from the area?

Maybe alternative accommodation has already been lined up for the 22 Askeaton refugees if they are still there in two years’ time?

I don’t know and the matter certainly wasn’t elaborated on. Either way, the lack of empathy was deafening.

“But”, the motion went onto say, “I am requesting that the process to prepare a feasibility study to establish its future community use and the preparation of a Part 8 planning application for a change of use to its intended use would commence immediately and be shovel-ready for inclusion for grant application under Town and Village Renewal programmes and other sources of funding.”

Making grand plans for the future use of the former Askeaton bank site are all well and good. As a wise man once said, ‘if you don’t sow in spring, you won’t reap in autumn’.

But the same fella also warned about counting your chickens.

At the same time that Ukrainian refugees are scheduled to move in, a number of council members expressed long-term wishes for the former Bank of Ireland to become a local library.

According to Cllr Keary, the people of Askeaton are anxious to see the building given over for community use.

“There’s a need for an upgraded library. The one they have is not fit for purpose,” he told the council executive.

There wouldn’t be a local election 13 months away, would there?

Fine Gael man Adam Teskey was also hot on the election trail. He expressed disappointment that the former bank site was being considered for temporary accommodation for Ukrainians. He was of the opinion that there was a more suitable site for temporary accommodation elsewhere in the town.

“I can’t turn my back on the people in the local community,” he declared.

Like the old song goes, “We’re all for housing or helping those in need, just not on our doorstep”.

Mark my words, these empathetic humanitarians will be spotted taking photos of themselves pointing at potholes any day now.

Askeaton native and straight-talker Cllr Kevin Sheahan could see through their ruse and was having none of it. The Fianna Fáil man is thirty odd years in the job and knows every trick in the book.

And anyway, he had plans of his own for the site.

“The library in Askeaton is a shambles and needs to be upgraded. The Council promised to look at it two years ago but we haven’t heard back. I asked on behalf of the library and I never got a Christmas card, don’t mind a communication,” he bellowed.

Sheahan went onto warn councillors not to be making promises to people. You know the kind. The ones they can’t and won’t keep.

Don’t be making promises to community groups in Askeaton or it could cause division locally, the former Mayor told council members.

But don’t forget, it is vitally important that a new library is delivered for Askeaton, he added.

Jaysus, I would have raised an eyebrow if Kevin hadn’t recently announced he will be putting away his auld soapbox next year and won’t be running in the local elections. More’s the pity!

“The library must be transferred to the bank in Askeaton,” he said, before going on to welcome Ukrainian refugees to their new short-term home at the former bank premises.

You can put silk on a goat lads, but it’s still a goat.