On New Year’s Eve, at the end of a year in which water charges dominated the news agenda, a young couple living in a two-storey house on a quiet lane in the heart of the city centre found themselves without running water. In fact, their taps ran dry on Christmas Eve. Reconnecting it over the holiday period wasn’t a straightforward matter. First, a representative of Limerick City and County Council expressed surprise that somebody was living in the lane. The council suggested calling a plumber – on the grounds that they had received no other complaints. A week later, with hours left in 2014, the couple found out the reason they still didn’t have the merest trickle of water – a huge leak on the adjoining street. As a result, it would take the best part of a week to restore their supply, they were told.
The story serves as a microcosm of a wider problem. Why, Christmas holiday aside, does it take a week for such a problem to be detected in the middle of the city? Why does it come as a surprise that a house of long standing is actually being lived in? There was a time when such lanes were full of families and Limerick could truly be described as a living city. Of course, the lanes were also full of squalor and deprivation, and their demise was lamented by few. But a good half-century after most of the dwelling houses were abandoned and their former inhabitants moved further out to new estates, the sense of community that once existed on our city streets has largely disappeared.
In the great cities of the world – London, Paris, New York – many affluent citizens make the lifestyle choice to live in the centre. The period buildings that accommodate them are cherished and sought after. In Limerick, there are many who would like to experience the convenience of city-centre living, amid our splendid Georgian streets, but they find their choice of comfortable living accommodation is close to non-existent. Much of the housing stock is in lamentable condition.
Where’s the incentive to be part of a new movement aimed at making Limerick a living city again? It’s a point made by former Limerick TD Tim O’Malley in one of the letters on this page. A pilot project aimed at regenerating the Georgian quarter was announced by Michael Noonan almost two years ago, with tax breaks offered. It was a nice idea, but there is scant evidence that it has made a meaningful difference. There was also talk of a demonstration block – of taking one neglected street and transforming buildings on it so that they offered potential city dwellers the conveniences of modern life – parking, a roof garden, proper living space and not the 500 square foot, Section 23 investment properties that are a blot on the landscape in prime locations such as Steamboat Quay. More recently, Mr Noonan announced funding for a new €6 million pedestrian bridge aimed at boosting tourism. All very well, but would the money not be better spent on making a serious attempt to accommodate the needs of local citizens who would like to breathe new life back into the city, and by extension make it a more attractive place for people to visit?
Those of us who love Limerick will always be impatient for transformative change, while acknowledging that good work has been done in recent years in the context of a long-term strategy. So let 2015 be the year when we see clear evidence that Limerick is returning to being a living city.