June 20: All of Limerick should back our 2020 bid

Mike Fitzpatrick, director European City of Culture 2020 bid speaking at a meeting to outline the aims and priorities for the years ahead Picture: Sean Curtin Photo
Limerick’s bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2020 is gathering momentum and there is no reason why we should not dare to dream – and dream big.

Limerick’s bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2020 is gathering momentum and there is no reason why we should not dare to dream – and dream big.

Certainly, the opposition we face from other Irish cities is formidable and there may be a view that we are underdogs in this race, but an innovative, well structured bid that has the backing of the entire city and county will be a compelling proposition.

The point about public backing is an important one. It should be very clear to the decision-makers that the people of Limerick and indeed the wider Mid-West region recognise the full value of just what is up for grabs here. But – other than the truly committed who are rallying impressively around the cause – do they? Perhaps not. Or not just yet – but the process of engagement is under way and we at the Leader very much see it as part of our remit to build awareness and enthusiasm for Limerick’s bid. Because make no mistake, winning this designation would be huge.

Limerick’s self-confidence is growing – and with good reason. The bleak circumstances which six years ago led to the formation of a special task force charged with spearheading a recovery seem like relatively distant days. This is not to be complacent – we are of course still only in the early days of the journey of recovery. But, by and large, things are moving in the right direction and it is being noticed well beyond the Mid-West. Negative perceptions are fading. Awareness of what we have to offer here is growing. And so it should.

Now think of the potentially transformative effect that this designation could have, both locally and in terms of Limerick’s wider reputation. Think of the five-year build-up to an ambitious 2020 programme and what that could achieve. And think of the rewards that would come from the year itself – cultural, financial, reputational and more.

A report this week suggested that almost €44m was generated for the local economy by Limerick’s designation last year as National City of Culture, but when it comes to weighing up the benefits of initiatives this powerful, monetary measures only scratch at the surface. From the outset, those who planned last year’s programme had one eye on the bigger prize ahead; call it 2020 vision.

Anyone who might be a little sceptical about the powerful impact that this badge of honour can have should read the words of Phil Redmond, who was creative director of Liverpool’s term as European Capital of Culture. Liverpool, like Limerick, has endured some tough times but it benefited enormously from the 2008 designation. Three years later Redmond said this: “Around about a third of the way through ’08, I realised exactly what we had ... the media were beginning to take more interest, we were beginning to get a lot more media exposure, the analysis was starting to come back about positive stories, and I could sense the excitement and buzz around the city, and all the different conversations that were going on, whether it was in regeneration, whether it was in tourism, or in health or in art ... and I suddenly realised that this was a very powerful thing, and that actually, all that it was coming from was a title… the ‘badge of authority’ to do something with it.”

Limerick has everything required to wear that badge proudly and make the most of the opportunity. It comes around once every 15 years and we don’t want to wait until 2035. We should all do our bit to convince the decision-makers for 2020 that Limerick is the Irish city best placed to seize this wonderful chance.