Arts Politics

Limerick City of Culture — The Fiasco — Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You

You couldn’t make it up.

Limerick is awarded the first National City of Culture gig and before you know it, they’re at each other’s throats, with the artistic director Karl Wallace resigning, followed in smart order by the recently-appointed CEO, Patricia Ryan, though for two very different reasons.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the City of Culture board, Pat Cox, reveals a degree of political ineptitude no-one suspected him of having, as he dismisses the views of the  500 artists who condemned his board’s handling of the entire project, describes the loss of his artistic director as a bump in the road and speculates that maybe the entire disaster might be a blessing in disguise.  He goes on to reassure the nation that he and his board are firmly focussed on keeping people entertained, thus displaying a thorough lack of insight into precisely what constitutes culture.

Cox compounded his ham-fisted PR management of the implosion by trying to suggest that Karl Wallace was at fault and that some vague HR performance evaluation was at the heart  of the whole problem, rather than the notion that perhaps the artistic team had been emasculated by bureaucracy.

Time will tell which side of that story is correct, but in all the furore, something has been overlooked.  It’s true that Patricia Ryan has no professional expertise in running an arts and culture event, and it’s true that she was never subjected to any sort of formal selection procedure.  It’s true that she was parachuted in on top of Karl Wallace and his team, and it’s true that friction arose right from the start, for reasons that are not clear yet. Understandably, concerns arose and there was considerable public disquiet, but yet, the arrival of Patricia Ryan changed nothing about the regime that Karl Wallace had to work under.  Prior to her appointment, he was reporting up through the normal City Council structures, which also lack an arts or culture background.

What actually happened was that Patricia Ryan – who had no arts credentials – came in and replaced other staff who also had no arts credentials. but who perhaps enjoyed the social status associated with the job, as anyone would.  There’s nothing like job satisfaction to keep people motivated.

I had the impression from reading newspaper reports that the city manager, Conn Murray, is furious at the way his former artistic director went public on this story, but is there more to it than that?  Is he pointing the finger in the wrong direction?

Who’s to say that some staff member, outraged at what he or she saw as unfair treatment of colleagues, didn’t begin a slow drip-feed of information to the media, precipitating a process that ultimately led to the loss of the artistic director, the resignation of the controversial CEO and perhaps the loss of further familiar names and faces as the PR train wreck continues in slow motion?

After all, where else, other than Limerick City Council files, would the confidential details of Patricia Ryan’s appointment have come from?

We should never forget that ancient and still-useful question: Cui Bono?  Who benefits?  And who has the key to the drawer?

Going beyond all this nonsense though, there lie deeper questions and they have to do with, among other things, patronage — a concept that Niccolò Macchiavelli would have understood intimately, as would Henry II.

Limerick city of culture 2014 fiasco

Macchiavelli, despite his dreadful popular reputation, was no more than a realist, advising rulers on what was the best and most expedient way to exercise power, based on his own historical observations of successful princes and those less so.  He made no effort to judge the morality of his advice, since ethics and power have no common ground, and he therefore offered this splendid piece of guidance:

men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot

Henry II, in his apocryphal entreaty, will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest? leaned towards such ruthlessness, and yet, when his nobles hacked Thomas Becket to pieces, the king was racked with guilt and remorse, though he displayed no such feelings when he slaughtered his way to power throughout these islands, as any proper feudal lord needed to do.

Hacking and slaughtering to one side, since we live in a kinder age, or so we like to reassure ourselves, the principle remains.  If we don’t utterly neutralise our enemies, now and forever, they will return to do us damage, and every demi-prince should understand this, including city managers who, to every intent and purpose, fit that description. After all, city and county managers report and are responsible only to their liege-lord, the Minister of the Environment, though they are obliged by law to maintain a pretence of respect for the unlettered buffoons elected to the local council.  Such pretence used to involve sending the ignorant clods on overseas fact-finding missions, but in these straitened days involves pretending to listen to them for short periods.

If Lord Conn, on his ascension to the Seat of Limerick, had ruthlessly extirpated his enemies, he would not now be facing this political disaster  – a debacle that might well threaten his own position by the Castle if allowed to fester too long.

I always thought Pat Cox was an intelligent fellow.  He was a fairly decent presenter on RTE in the old days and he did well in Europe, gaining a reputation as a smooth operator, even if in the end he did turn out to be a PD.  Perhaps, though, Pat was too long in the wasteland.  It could be that he spent so long over there on the mainland, as we vassals like to call it, and it could be that he forgot one significant thing, which is this:

We might all be a bunch of lumpen clods to his newly-opened Patrician eyes, and maybe not all of us speak mellifluous French as he does, and perhaps some of us here and there aren’t on first-name terms with Jacques Delors, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean we’re a bunch of fucking idiots.

And therefore, when Pat patronises me with talk of bumps in the road, and blessings in disguise, and focussing on entertaining people, I can only think one thing.  You know what, Pat?  You disguise it well, but even after all these years schmoozing on the Brussels circuit and hush-puppying around the Berlaymont, when it comes right down to dust, you’re just another Limerick gobshite the same as me, so spare me the bullshit, because it doesn’t wash over here where you were born, where you grew up and where we see through that sort of nonsense.

Actually, Pat, I have a suggestion.  Why don’t you have the good grace to quit, just like Patricia Ryan did and just like Karl Wallace did?  If you’re going to reset the clock, include yourself in the plan.

Let’s restart this thing and let’s have it run by people who know what they’re doing, instead of professional flak-catchers.

Let’s have hard talk instead of handy old guff and let’s do the job right, as we know Limerick people in all their immense and diverse talent can without the help of politicians, Powerpoint wafflers, bean counters and spin-merchants.

42 replies on “Limerick City of Culture — The Fiasco — Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You”

Limerick, should get its criminal low life culture sorted first., the local prison has been condemned” An examination of the prison by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, has raised a number of serious issues about the facility, including concerns about overcrowding and poor conditions and long past it use, and a new one badly needed, better to use the budget on this, but Ireland, God Bless, loves..pretentious nonsense that benefits the very few..and entertained the money class..

I still don’t understand what’s going on. Do Cox and Murray simply not like Wallace? Are they unhappy with his work, or with the acts he has selected or something? Is it just personalities, or conflicts over the project direction? Fighting over public treasury patronage?

Or is this just a conflict between the executive classes in charge and the artists they are (mis)managing?

Is that the same Patricia Ryan, who was an “adviser” to Mary Harney? Also PD, obviously, before they folded. :(

I’m guessing you haven’t had the chance to read the papers, watch the TV or read this website for the last two months. Am I right?

All city of culture programs are designed as a rebrand and repositioning exercise. To build on and promote a cities positive attributes and at the same time limit the negative. Limerick city of culture LTD. is a brand.
But like the recently resigned CEO, Limerick did not qualify through competition. The government felt you needed rebranding without question. Limerick accepted.
Limerick was awarded this designation. Maybe if the other cities exercised the relational bullying methods limerick undertook in the last few days to avenge the marginalised limerick would have to step down.
Limerick check yourself. Also, Karl Wallace is as much to blame as anyone. He left you to the lions and you want to reinstate him?
I can’t believe I fell in love with this city?

You’re probably right Bock, insofar as the Artistic Brigade and the Political / Administrative/ Management will never see eye to eye. But Artistic Directors know this and must work with the system. But quitters are dodgy – and just as I will never forgive Roy Keane, it’s bad to quit at a crucial time and his actions show little regard for Limerick.

from what I hear Karl Wallace had programmes in place that were either denied or put in jeoprady by Ryan, Cox and others

Once this happened his job became redundant as he had already put significant planning in to these projects

What was the point of him wasting his time and tax payers money putting up with this bull shit?

Something puzzles me here do the Artistic Community in Limerick want Karl Wallace and his team reinstated,who certainly did not involve it in his event schedule, or do they want a new director appointed? If as everyone wants correct advertising, selection and interview procedure followed, we are looking at maybe 2 months before each vacant position is filled. Remember the city of culture ends in December. What happens to the events schedule published on the City of Culture website? What a mess..

Nobody in the artistic community wanted him gone in the first place. Responsibility lies with those who rendered his position untenable.

I’m really confused, according to today’s IT the Minister, Jimmy Deenihan expressed regret that the figure allotted to Limerick City of Culture was not announced prior to the Budget ??

He went on to state ” A figure of 6 million was given to Board members as an indication ”

Pat Cox stated ” We need to put together the necessary resources to complete the negotiations with the Dept of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht to secure funds for City of Culture and to move forward on the legacy work of the programmers ”

Does that mean the 6 million indicated and from the public purse was not actually in place ? The timeline makes no sense to me, since when can efficiency be executed on the premise of ” Indication ”
Karl Wallace was appointed in March 2013
Minister Deenihan announced in July 2013, the National Initiiative and appointed Limerck.

With no strict guidelines of funding in place, working on whispers and indications, how did they come up with the allotment of payments, wages funding etc.

Conn Murray, when defending the appointment of Patricia Ryan, stated ” The pay package for Patricia Ryan will be in accordance with public pay sector and the Haddington Road agreement ” at the same time P. Ryan admitted she had little experience in the Art’s but saw this as no hinderance to being an effective CEO.

The debacle is gone way beyond a cliche, it’s pure unadulterated Fr. Ted, just without the humour.

Great summary of events.

To go back to the drawing board, the first mistake was made in giving Limerick the gift of 6 million without any tendering process. I guess this bloated bread and circuses ‘festival of culture’ was to reward to the lumpen proletariat for their loyalty in electing Noonan, Deenihan, et al. And to ensure votes after the next election.

Then the unaccountable and unsackable Conn Murray who already has skin in the game by giving his friends well paid jobs without any regard to equality of opportunity for the taxpyayer, who pays for these jobs, was tasked with getting the gravy train rolling.

So was it he who put the board together?

Why was veteran gravy train rider Cox recruited as Chair?

Why is McHenry (cant remember first name), who Shane Ross includes in his book ‘The Untouchables’ who also sits on Nama on the board?

Why has Bill Whelan one of the few on the board with any artistic experience silent?

Why has Karl Wallace and his two resigning colleagues disappeared from the can of maggots they opened in tendering their resignations. Is there to be a deal with, say, Irish Daily Mail, for their side of the story?

Still many questions, but one thing is for sure. The upturned stone has revealed the maggoty rotten heart of the Irish psyche, and that includes ALL OF US. After all, if these bottom feeders get away with this because we let them. We are responsible for not only electing them, but then for allowing them to employ friends, family, the dog and his rubber bone to jobs that we taxpayers bankroll.

I thank the people of Limerick for opening this can of worms, which shows in all its glory what Irish ‘culture’ really is. It is a culture where the disabled are punished but the likes of Cox and McHenry continue to destroy Ireland with our money!

But they must keep up the pressure, the wagons are being circled to protect these scavengers. Pat Kenny who today, betrayed his own Patrician elitism, characterised Ryan as having been toppled by ‘mob rule’, shoring up Cox’s claims of abuse from those attending the meeting last week.

My own prediction is that like all the scandals and skullduggery such as CRC, top ups etc etc. this circus will have moved on next week to another scandal, and Conn Murray and his friends can turn their attentions back to continuing their fleecing of the taxpayer.

Meanwhile the people of Limerick get to watch Riverdance for the millionth time, (nice one Bill), and the Moyross residents are asked to not tell the truth about THEIR Limerick.

The appointment involved a transfer from one government agency to another. I’ve already gone through this on several other threads.

One job was a re assignment, the other involved a job with a limited company. I see parallels with Ryan’s appointment.

Well said Bock. Pat Kenny’s reference to mob rule, just goes to show how out of touch with reality he is. It must be remembered that the citizens of limerick took a stand against cronyism and nepotism at the meeting last Friday and thankfully have achieved some level of success. Now that’s a culture I am proud of and a citizenry I am very happy to live among. Take note the rest of Ireland. We will have a wonderful city of culture in 2014.

What happened Friday night was a triumph for democracy in this country, the citizen went eyeball to eyeball with city hall.. and city hall blinked., the so called elites and their public service jobsworths were shown up for what they really are, third rate incompetents who could not even aspire to mediocre

I think it’s a mistake to focus on personalities because it will detract from the admirable message sent from the people of Limerick, since, at least 2008 when this Country fell foul of gross cronyism, kleptocracy and downright corruption , no clearer message was voiced for the intolerance of same than by the people of Limerick at that meeting.

The people involved, the City Manager, Pat Cox et al need to be held accountable, they are now predictably manipulating a the self same mind set in the media. The right and accurate questions need to be put to them with no room for stonewalling and in a public forum also Pat Kenny should be bombarded with objections for his analysis of ” mob rule ” that was complete ignorance and very poor journalistic expression for a man of his experience, he should be asked to apologise to the people of Limerick who he insulted.

Bock, in answer to your query (comment 13) I hope the term ‘Brigade’ wasn’t offensive to anyone – I certainly did not intend to use it in a derogatory way and would equally apply the term to the Political / Administrative / Managerial (Brigade). The point I was making was about how easily some people quit at a vital time to cause maximum disruption, just like Roy Keane did in Saipan. An Artistic Director of a major event should be aware of the natural conflicts and balances between the various interests. Quitting because one doesn’t get their way seems irresponsible.

John Ryan, I never heard him say that he was quitting because he didn’t get his way, Is that the reason Karl Wallace gave when he resigned?

Do you mind if I ask what “unlettered” means, I think I could hazard a guess but I’m curious of your meaning.

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