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.
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.