HARK! O come and rejoice, the extensive public realm works on O’Connell Street are nearing completion.
That was the missive from a message-bearer from Limerick City and County Council last week.
The works, we were informed, include widened footpaths, improved lighting, and street furniture, upgraded crossings, and the planting of new trees ands shrubs.
“These changes have not only improved the aesthetics of the city centre but have also made it more welcoming for visitors and residents alike,” the Council enthused.
And don’t forget, there’s a great little spot to pull in if you need to dash in and grab a takeaway in a hurry as well.
To hell with busses and begrudgers, won’t we now have a place to go and enjoy a bag of cans on a rain-soaked Lanes of Limerick day.
In the local authority dispatch issued to the media, the Council’s Director of Services for Economic Development and Enterprise, Vincent Murray, gushed: “With the project nearing completion, we invite everyone to come and witness the transformed city centre, which features improved pedestrian areas and greater accessibility.”
Sorry Vincent, but I am not hearing much enthusiasm and fanfare from the man, woman, child, or dog on the street.
There hasn’t been many thrills to be had on O’Connell Street in the last decade — shrubs and garden furniture, or no.
We have to go elsewhere to get our jollies these days. I’ve heard the karaoke bar on John’s Street is a good’un.
On Facebook last week, one commenter wanted to know if the works will be ready in “May 2024, 2025 or May 2026?”
2023 wasn’t even getting a look in for this Limerick man it seemed.
Others complained that the €9 million revitalisation project on O’Connell Street has seen the taxpayer sold a pup. Woof woof, indeed.
“I wonder will the Council release the true figures or will it be left at €9m. €9m might have been the contract value but there is no chance in hell a contractor takes that long. Having stone masons, services engineers, machine operators, labourers etc. standing round all day looking at each other would never happen on any other site,” another commenter hit out on the auld social media.
More embarrassing at times than a container ship blockage on the Suez Canal, the revitalisation project has been the bane of many a local business owner’s life, a running joke with the wan’s on the street, as well as a stick for councillors to beat the council executive with.
Of course, if truth be told, it has been the greatest story ever told (the longest for sure), since the hullabaloo in the opening days of Limerick’s City of Culture festival. Up there as well with the whole Niall Collins debacle at present.
According to the Council, countless delays in the public realm works were down to unforeseen remedial works required to address localised pre-existing soft spots uncovered within junctions in advance of laying the final surface treatment.
In addition, necessary repairs were required to rectify unforeseen damage to underground vault structures.
Nothing to see here then. Good-o.
At last week’s Economic Development meeting, the cost of this unprecedented shambles was on the mind of Fine Gael councillor Stephen Keary. No better buachaill.
The former Limerick Mayor had previously called for a special meeting, which never came to pass, around the delays and to get answers on the overrun of costings. They say an elephant never forgets, and neither does Stephen Keary. He wasn’t letting council management off the hook.
“This is a typical fob off by the executive once again to try and keep the councillor down at all times. Don’t facilitate them no matter what you do, don’t facilitate them. Make sure they’re kept in the dark,” Keary implied.
Responding to the Adare-Rathkeale representative, Mr Murray explained that the project team are dealing with the contractor to get the works finished as speedily as possible.
“At this stage they are almost finished, there is only a short time left in completion of the works,” the Council Director said.
He went onto raise concerns about having a special meeting at this stage due to a number of contractual issues and claims to be resolved on the job.
“It’s probably best that we don’t have a special meeting to discuss the item and blaming different people while it is going through a separate process of conciliation”.
The response, according to Keary, was “miniscule”.
Not only that, the blame, he felt, couldn’t all be directed at the contractor, “instead pointing the finger at the executive”.
“The O’Connell Street project is almost a year over contract. Whoever the project engineer was engaged by this authority, what was he doing while Rome burned?” he asked.
Well, Rome, as we know, wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the O’Connell Street revitalisation project.
“Have you any idea what kind of overrun is going to be there? It is taxpayers money,” Cllr Keary hit out.
However, this wasn’t a conversation the council were comfortable having with the media present at their meeting. They will save it, I am sure, for one of their many ‘workshops’ where the real roaring and shouting is done and deals are signed off.
Mr Murray also indicated that he didn’t have any report on it at this stage.
“I am conscious of not discussing it at the meeting with the press present,” he told council members at the public meeting.
So there you have it. The overrun of costings on the public realm works — taxpayers money all of it — is a discussion for another day, behind closed doors, when those pesky reporters aren’t sniffing around.
For now, you can hotfoot it to our main thoroughfare to enjoy the spills and thrills of a city centre on its knees, but hey, it’s got street furniture.