Limerick City of Culture had major problems with funds and lead-in time

Enthusiasm for the project was not met with logistics

Limerick: Lead-in time of 18 months far too short to organise a year-long festival. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

Limerick: Lead-in time of 18 months far too short to organise a year-long festival. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22


When a group steering the reorganisation of Limerick met Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan in April 2012, they came armed with a big idea.

The delegation, led by former Kerry Group chief executive Denis Brosnan, proposed that Limerick be made the first Irish City of Culture in 2014. Deenihan was obviously impressed. On the margins of the proposal document is a handwritten request asking an official to draw up a memorandum for Cabinet so that it could be formally approved by Government. That approval came in June 2012. But there were flaws with the process, not all of which were obvious.

No budget
While the notion of a city of culture is well-established in Europe and Britain (Cork was EU city of culture in 2005), there had never been any official consideration given to it in an Irish context. So in preparing the aide memoire, officials had to essentially find a reason why the award had been made to Limerick and also make clear there would be no additional budget.

The impromptu nature of Deenihan’s decision would lead to some major issues. In the first instance, the lead-in time of only 18 months was far too short and did not give enough time to organise a year-long multidisciplinary, multilocation event across an entire city. In addition, there seemed to be wishful thinking about financing, not only from Government but from those promoting the festival.

The event was given Government approval in June 2012. In a memo written in late May, department assistant secretary Niall Ó Donnchú said the “Minister is clear that there may be no additional resources available for this.”

Chaos and infighting
When funding was finally approved it was far too late – in last October’s budget. Strict rules meant the festival was already almost two months under way before it could draw down any State funding. It contributed to the chaos and infighting that surrounded the festival in December and January this year.

“It’s like the ship is being built as it’s sailing. We just would not do it this way if we were starting over,” said a source close to the process, adding a longer lead-in and secured funding were prerequisites for any city of culture.

Mike Fitzpatrick, chief executive of the Limerick City of Culture, says the funding issues have been resolved and money is being drawn down and monitored properly. He said after the initial controversies, the City of Culture project “is moving really well now and [there is] a good sense of purpose about it. There is a great mixture of projects and there is a sense of excitement and vibrancy.”