Council meetings hears public donation of artworks an own goal for Limerick

The memorial to the Finucane brothers was unveiled at Barrington's Pier in August 2022.

PUBLIC art is important for Limerick. That was the strong consensus from a questionnaire by Limerick City and County Council, which will now help form policy on public art projects in the city going forward.

At this Monday’s meeting of the Community, Leisure, and Culture Strategic Policy Committee (SPC), arts consultant Vincent O’Shea reported back to councillors on the feedback received in the public consultation – which saw 99 responses to an online questionnaire, with 75 per cent of respondents coming from the Metropolitan area.

According to Mr O’Shea, there was a strong welcome for public art from the public consultations.

90 per cent of the respondents, he said, strongly agreed that public art was important for creating a sense of place, which 75 per cent would like to have more community engagement in the commissioning of public arts projects, and a further 75 per cent would like to see more “ambition” in the types of public art commissioned in Limerick.

The arts consultant also said that there was a strong consensus that the public and the creative community would like to be very involved in public art. This, he explained, will be allowed for in the policy.

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“When asked ‘what public art projects would you admire in Limerick’, there was a very broad range of opinion,” Mr O’Shea said.

“Some people were very for a particular project and some people were maybe not so in favour. ”

He said that public artwork is “in the public domain, so people love them, hate them, or maybe don’t even notice. It’s like a book or a film – some people rave about a book or a film while other people ask ‘what’s all the fuss about?'”

Overall, Mr O’Shea told the meeting that there was a very broad welcome for public art in Limerick with no great negativity met. Instead, responders looked forward to public policy being put in place.

Social Democrats councillor Elisa O’Donovan interjected that she took issue with a provision for donations of public artwork within the policy, which will now be brought to full council for approval.

“We have seen donated public art going in with no consultation and changing the structural integrity and landscape of our riverside,” Cllr O’Donovan claimed.

The City West representative cited a public bench and sculpture in memory of two Limerick-born brothers and priests, Aengus and Jack Finucane, known for their work as early founding members of the Concern charity, at Barrington’s Pier as an example.

Aengus Finucane also served as the CEO of Concern for a number of years.

“A memorial was put in place at Barrington’s Pier and, when I looked into this, it was literally put up overnight and it was a memorial for two men, I think it was two priests who had been involved with GOAL.

“There had been no consultation before that. GOAL basically decided that they wanted to give this to Limerick and they also decided where it was going to be placed,” Cllr O’Donvan told the meeting.

Cllr O’Donovan claimed there was “no discussion at that stage in relation to the structural integrity of the pier” as regards the public artwork.

“It is very concerning for me that anyone could come along and say ‘I want my memorial beside the riverside’ and they are getting it.”

Fine Gael councillor Olivia O’Sullivan told the meeting that she did not share Cllr O’Donovan’s views, and added that “it was Concern and not GOAL” that the brothers were forming members of.

“They are from Shelbourne Road originally and have family members in Ashbrook. There’s huge local relevance to them and a lot of people in the locality have great affection for the public art that’s there.”