WE are on the final furlong now before perhaps the most significant event in Limerick local government history, the amalgamation of our two councils. In the county, a new cathaoirleach was ushered in withour fuss or controversy on Friday, a marked contrast to events at City Hall which were the subject of criticism in this column last week. We cannot expect a joint authority with 40 members to be a polite tea party (heaven forbid, that would be boring), but the message should go out now to those councillors who like to induldge in showboating and tiresome rancour that Limerick needs a different and more constructive approach.
Cllr John Sheahan struck precisely the right tone in his opening address as cathaoirleach, after he was elected to succeed his party colleague Jerome Scanlon. (It should be noted that the latter, like former mayor Gerry McLoughlin in the city, was an energetic and productive incumbent).
“I intend my chairmanship,” Cllr Sheahan stated, “to be based on respect for the office, respect for the members, respect for the management and officials, which will, in turn, command a respect from the citizens of County Limerick, the people who have mandated us, as a body, to work on their behalf.” Amen to that. Come election time next year, councillors will stand or fall on their record on the ground. That is as it should be, but we hope that all of those putting their names forward – as well as new faces seeking a mandate from the people from the inner city to the furthest reaches of West Limerick – will commit to the big picture.
Limerick has no time to lose and the amalgamated authority needs to hit the ground running. We can but hope that the 12 months leading up to the big event will be characterised by the kind of dignified approach witnessed in the chamber of the county’s HQ last week.
In the city, Fine Gael can set an example by allowing the freedom of the city to be bestowed upon President Michael D Higgins, thus jettisoning the childish refusal to sign up to it in the wake of the party’s candidate being beaten in the mayoral election, following the collapse of a fragile pact with Labour.
In his address to fellow councillors John Sheahan also spoke of bringing an end to the rotational system that brings us an election every year. He advocated a five-year term and the idea is one that should be explored under the remit of the new council.
Limerick will not get where it needs to go by sticking with the status quo.