For readers outside this town, let me explain what the Opera Centre is.
It’s a city block in Limerick which was bought by a developer who wanted to build some shops. He came up with the name because a famous opera singer called Catherine Hayes was born in one of the houses. The deal fell through, and the thing was never constructed, with the result that the site fell into dereliction and became an appalling eyesore.
Before going any further with this, let me just point something out . I detest the title Opera Centre to describe what was going to be a shopping mall. I think it’s crass, and in every way representative of the sort of people who drove our disastrous property boom. Shallow, under-educated and insensitive.
The cream of the country, in other words: rich and thick.
The fact that a famous opera singer happened to be born in one of the houses on the site is not a sufficient reason to call a supermarket the Opera Centre. If Edmund Hillary had been born there, would they call it the Mountaineering Centre? Of course not. If George Best was born there, would they call it the Football Centre? Don’t be ridiculous.
But the fact that Catherine Hayes was born in the street was enough to persuade these ignoramuses to call it the Opera Centre. In their limited, money-driven world, the name lent the whole thing a bit of class, even though they probably wouldn’t know what an opera is if you beat them over the head with a Valkyrie.
Because the title passed into popular use, I have to use it as shorthand for the moment but with any luck, it will soon disappear into oblivion.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to the real story. Limerick City Council recently purchased the site and is now trying to come up with a plan for what to do with it. This is something that needs to be done in consultation with the citizens of Limerick, and not just a few officials or, even worse, the city councillors, one or two of whom can barely write their names, even when sober.
No. This needs to happen in the light of day, and not when some red-faced councillor is shouting down the legitimate concerns of those who elected him. This is our democracy, not your democracy, as one of them famously bellowed. Sadly, with a few exceptions, we are not represented by men and women of prodigious intellect. Worse — in some cases, we are represented by people who are barely able to read and write. That’s democracy in Ireland, both local and national.
Transition Limerick is a group of people who have come together to find ways of helping our community to grow more resilient to the challenges we face now and in the future. They’re holding a public meeting on Monday 19th December at 8pm at the Raggletaggle Consortium (on the corner of Sarsfield and Henry Street) and they want your views. If you live in Limerick and you think you have something to contribute, why not call in ? Make your views known. Be part of the city’s rejuvenation.
Too many decisions in Ireland are made in back rooms with political conniving. This time, a light will be shone on the decisions that affect all of us. Go along and be part of that process. Some of these councillors could barely manage to scratch an X on a rock with a sharpened stone. Don’t leave it in their hands. Many of them haven’t yet evolved opposable thumbs.
This initiative isn’t aimed at anyone gaining a political advantage or a slippery wad of cash. This initiative has nothing to do with clientelism and ward-heeling. No indeed. This initiative is about improving our city by legitimate means, based on the views of our people.
In that sense it’s utterly revolutionary. Instead of asking some semi-literate councillor what he thinks, the movement aims to express the views of citizens up front. Here’s what we think. Never mind what that fool of a councillor says. That’s truly subversive. Imagine citizens having a say in their own affairs!
The site is a great opportunity to give Limerick a new heart and that needs to be done with imagination — not something our councillors are noted for. Our mayor, you might not be aware, recently attended a public function in Spain to honour writer Kate O Brien, whose house is now utterly derelict in Limerick. We need vision, and we won’t find it among these people, as one glance at their CVs will tell you. We have to look to ourselves. We need spaces that enhance our lives, not dreary municipal plazas and soulless shopping malls.
Make yourself heard.