Historic Limerick mayoral debate shone light on issues and individuals

Participating candidates on the Millennium Theatre stage with Limerick Post publisher Will Ryan, Seán Golden (Limerick Chamber), TUS president Vincent Cunnane, Noel Gavin (Limerick Chamber), and host Pat Leahy. Photo: Shauna Kennedy.

THEY were leery of even sitting together in the front row where seats had been allocated to the candidates in the Millennium Theatre in TUS for this week’s big debate.

The coin toss for the order in which each of the two debates would be held was greeted by some with the kind of nervousness normally exhibited by grown adults being persuaded to climb aboard the biggest roller-coaster by their offspring.

It didn’t help that the opening music played was Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust‘.

But any nerves went west when the candidates took to the stage and the debate – organised by the Limerick Post, Limerick Chamber, and the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) – caught fire.

A packed theatre with all 300 seats filled and an average 600 watching the live stream (not to mention a waiting list of 200 for cancellations) meant that more than 1,000 voters got a look at the cut of their jibs.

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Under the guidance of Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times, candidates were warned to try to confine themselves to issues that the new mayor might actually be able to do something about.

That didn’t stop them.

Issues ranging from hospital overcrowding to the housing crisis were flung around the stage, with one candidate promising to solve the housing crisis within his five years in office.

Outright political battle was engaged – it was polite, but facts were disputed, priorities called out, and the failures of all political parties in government since the foundation of the State cited.

Closer to home, candidates made proposals and promises for cleaner, safer streets, tackling aggressive begging, better cultural and leisure facilities, housing and business development in the city, getting people to live over the local shop, supporting the county’s agricultural sector, attracting more and bigger retail offerings, a realistic transport system connecting the city, the airport, and the port, and laying solid foundations for a comprehensive rail system.

One candidate, frustrated with the glacial pace of the planning process, promised to give planners a “boot up the backside” to speed up housing builds.

Another pointed out that in a society where people are sleeping on the streets, cleaning those streets is probably a lesser consideration.

Some came to the night with a list of aspirations as long as the works on the O’Connell Street makeover.

Others had very specific ideas about what their legacy would be and how they would spend the €40million allocated to the mayor’s office for works that would help transform Limerick.

At times the subject matter became as fantastical as a Marvel movie. At others, there were solid proposals that made great sense.

Opening the debate, Pat Leahy reminded participants that the directly-elected mayor will be in charge of an organisation with a budget of €700million.

And most outlined the experience and qualifications which would make them unafraid of juggling that kind of money.

Speaking before the event, TUS president Vincent Cunnane laid down a marker for whichever of the candidates is successful – he will be knocking on their door.

“Our newly-launched Coonagh Campus is our second on the northside, and will fulfil a regional and national remit.  It is the first major development on the Coonagh to Knockalisheen Road, and obviously we hope for further development on this corridor,” he said.

“The support of the new mayor will be essential in ensuring the continued success of major projects.”

As one candidate pointed out, it’s an historic vote that is really all about the future.

To watch back Tuesday’s historic debate, scan the URL code or visit limerickpost.ie/mayoraldebate.

14 of the 15 mayoral candidates (or all those who had confirmed candidacy at the time) were contacted directly to participate in the debate, before the registration closing date on May 8, two weeks before the event.