Fianna Fail councillor Sean Lynch, based in Patrickswell, successfully sought to keep the area’s former Royal Irish Constabulary barracks off the list Picture: Adrian Butler
COUNCILLORS have voted to keep a former garda barracks in Patrickswell off the protected structure list after one of the closest council votes in recent times.
Limerick City and County Council’s conservation officer Tom Cassidy, and the Arts Minister Heather Humphreys were bidding to add the former Royal Irish Constabulary barracks to the register of protected structures.
But a small majority of members, led by metropolitan mayor Sean Lynch, expressed opposition to this, pointing out the building was bought by a developer who wants to convert the building into four apartments.
He argued adding it to the list of protected structures would make it commercially unviable to do just this. “A young man has come back from Australia and brought it in good faith - there was no notice of it being added to the record at any time. He wants to turn it into apartments. In my experience, when buildings are protected, they become an eyesore. Why spend €1.3m on the village upgrade when we might have an eyesore right in the middle,” he asked.
There was a clash between the mayor and Mr Cassidy, with the council official suggesting Cllr Lynch was using the “politics of exaggeration”, a move criticised by Cllr Daniel Butler, who called for “respectful discourse”.
“We are crying out for houses and we cannot keep putting obstacles in the way of people. He wants to provide accommodation for up to four people here,” Cllr Lynch added.
Independent councillor John Gilligan said he was minded to support the addition of the structure to the list – but had changed his mind.
He said the former garda stations at Mary Street and Edward Street “are some of the biggest eyesores in the city”.
“We will not get far being too sensitive to these things,” he added.
But City West councillor Malachy McCreesh supported adding the building, saying: “It has served many functions, mainly as a barracks, but it was also a hospital during the famine. I have seen many protected structures deteriorate. That does not mean it has to be the case here.”
Cllr Frankie Daly, Independent, said: “The words which come to mind are: eyesore, homelessness and forward thinking. This is a small example but we must look at the bigger picture."|
Cllr Cian Prendivile said: “If the conservation officer has looked at the building, and there is a history that needs to be protected, are we going to overrule him on the basis of lobbying by a developer? I have a real concern about this. We should hear from the conservation officer and let's have a full debate about it.”
Former metropolitan mayor Michael Sheahan said: “It's derelict, it's an eyesoere. This building could fit in very well to the development of Patrickswell.”
And Fianna Fail’s leader in the metropolitan district, Cllr James Collins said: “We are in the middle of a housing crisis. We can agree and disagree on the architectural significance of the barracks. We can preserve the historical significance of a building, without putting it on the register. People say that by putting units on the housing register, it will unlock the gates to funding. It's not. There is a very small budget there, and it's spread very thinly.”
Mr Cassidy warned if members voted to keep the barracks off the register, they must offer a valid reason to Minister Humphreys on why they chose to do this.
Cllr Collins said the major reason is that if the site is on the register, it would become commercially unviable to develop.
A roll-call vote was held, which saw nine members vote to keep the building off the list, and eight to put it on the protected structures register.
Sinn Fein’s three councillors McCreesh, Seighin O Ceallaigh and John Costelloe were among those who wanted to add the structure.
Fine Gael councillor Elenora Hogan, a member of the Limerick Civic Trust, went against her party colleagues and sought to add it.