Mayoral candidates clash over role of Land Development Agency in Limerick

Ten politicians contesting June 7th election voice strong differences of opinion on transport solutions for the city and county

There were strong differences of opinion between candidates for the new position of executive Mayor of Limerick and a proposed Northern Distributor Road for the city during a two-and-a-half hour hustings on Tuesday.

Several candidates at the event, held at the Technical University of the Shannon, argued strongly for the need for the road to ease congestion and to improve access to the suburb of Moyross, the University of Limerick as well as the city’s industrial zone at Plassey.

They included Fine Gael councillor, Daniel Butler who said that international companies and the city’s big educational institutions were calling for them.

However, other candidates, including Green Party TD Brian Leddin, said the road was unnecessary and that developing Limerick’s rail networks and public transport infrastructure was a better way of reducing congestion.


“I have yet to see a case for the Northern Distribution Road that costs €500 to €600 million,” he argued. “It will lead to our city sprawling in a non compact way and car-dependent development.”

Labour candidate Conor Sheehan said the road project was “dead “as it was not in the National Development Plan and could not be revived. “We do not live in the International People’s Fiefdom of Limerick,” he said.

Fianna Fáil candidate, Dee Ryan, said she supported phase one and two of the road but said the was not in favour of the road being developed on the Care side of the city as it would lead to ancillary development that would take people away from the city centre.

In all, 10 of the 15 candidates for the position took part in the event, which was convened by political editor of The Irish Times, Pat Leahy.

Elections for the position will take place on June 7th, along with the local and European Elections. The new mayor, who will hold the position for five years, will have executive powers and will control a €700 million annual budget. The may will have responsibility for strategic planning, housing, road transport, road safety and the environment.

The debate was divided into two segments, with five candidates in each.

Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan said he would have liked the mayor have wider powers and hoped a new Government would devolve more powers. He said that he wanted to be a ‘minister for limerick’ if elected.

Like other candidates, he said that while health did not come within the remit of the mayor, it would be remiss of him as mayor not to highlight the problems associated with University Hospital Limerick.

Another of the front runners, independent candidate John Moran, focused in on his ability to get projects delivered. He told the audience that as a former secretary general of the Department of Finance and at senior levels in the private sector, he had delivered. He said he wanted to set out a vision for a more liveable Limerick.

There was general agreement among all the candidates that upwards of 2,500 houses were needed for the city, but there were differences of opinion on how that could be achieved. Some backed the Land Development Agency but others criticised delays in project getting off the ground.

The Social Democrats candidate, Cllr Elisa O’Donovan castigated the agency for not being transparent and for breaking promises.

Independent candidate Helen O’Donnell said she would establish and “accelerator unit” in the local authority to speed up progress on housing, and to end dereliction and vacancy throughout the south.

Another independent candidate, Laura Keys, said that the mayor needed to engage with community groups and move away from a top-down approach. Like most other candidates, she said that parts of the city centre had become run down and needed renewing. “We need an end to urban sprawl. We need to do what they do in Madrid. They created a forest ring around the city to allow compact development,” she said.

Mr Moran, a former chair of the LDA, said there were acres and acres of land in Limerick which could be used immediately. Modular housing could be supplied on the land straight away “in the thousands”, he suggested. “Modular housing which could be introduced in a matter of year or two could be used to provide as a temporary solution for four or five years to bring down rent in Limerick.”

Another independent candidate, Frankie Daly, said his approach to tackling Limerick’s challenges would not be to dictate but to work as apart of a team, to facilitate development. “We are the capital of the midwest and we are not getting the same resources as other places,” he said.

Mr Quinlivan did not express support for the LDA continuing with its role in terms of delivering on housing in Limerick. “The Government has run out of ideas as it was 13 years in office and is stale,” he argued. “There’s lot of land that is owned by the LDA. If I’m elected, the first thing I will do is sit down with Government to ask that land to be released to the local authority.”

In terms of the city centre, Mr Sheehan said he would set up a taskforce for rough sleeping, similar to what has been done in Manchester. “I would fund part of it from my salary. Crack cocaine is rife in Limerick. There is aggressive begging,” he said.

On transport, Mr Leddin said that a railway linking Limerick to Shannon Airport could be delivered within five years at a cost of €200 million. He said it would be a “game changer’ for the region. He also said that the extensive rail network could be developed to allow commuter trains to Adare.

Ms Ryan said that every community in Limerick city and county should have access to a good quality playground.

Mr Butler said there was a need for 2,500 social houses and the mayor’s role would be to ensure delivery on key sites.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times