Like many of you, I have been following the Limerick City of Culture debacle with a mixture of anger and amusement. Recent commentary has noted the lack of true appreciation of what the arts can do and the low level of trust between those in control and the people who create.

The picture in the heritage sector is depressingly similar. Since the 1990s heritage has been seen as a way of regenerating cities and towns through the country. This may take the form of an area based focus or by using a historic building as a totem around which a district may develop. From the outset, the obvious thing to do in both situations is to centrally involve a team of experienced, innovative, heritage professionals. However, just because something is obvious doesn’t mean it will be done.

What usually happens is that key decision makers in both the private and public sectors do their best to minimise the use of heritage professionals. There is a perception that archaeologists and conservation architects will only get in the way, slow things down and not allow them to do what they want!

In Ireland, most schemes in both the private and public sectors originate from the top down. Consultation is something you do after the plans have been made. One consequence of this is that the key decision makers often have a sense of emotional ownership. Put simply, it gets personal. Obviously, this situation does not lend itself well to compromise. Compounding all this is a general lack of knowledge by those in control about what heritage, used innovatively, can actually do.

The consequence of all this is conflict with locals, heritage professionals and national legislation. In this scenario, the archaeology and historic buildings being utilised move from being perceived as an asset to a threat. In the opinions of some decision makers certain heritage assets not seen as being core to the vision are seen as problems to be managed. Ultimately, opportunities are missed and initiatives suffer. Nowhere in Ireland is there a project like the Rocks YHA in Sydney. Located above one of the most important archaeological sites in Australia, this large four storey hostel has managed to reanimate an area of the city by fully utilising the potential that the underlying archaeology provided.

Without doubt, there are people in Ireland’s public and private sectors who truly value the contribution heritage professionals can make. However, within a development culture that is slow to change, they are a minority. Because of this, the prospect of places like the Rocks YHA being built around the country is sadly not great.

Liam Mannix is a heritage consultant with experience of working across the private and public sectors in Ireland, Australia and Papua New Guinea. He project managed the educational programme of the Irish Walled Towns Network which won the EU prize for cultural heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2013. @maxmannix


Amid the carnage of yesterday’s budget Brian Lenihan suggested that among the key priorities for government investment in 2010 would be housing and urban regeneration.  Given Fianna Fáil’s recovery measures so far exemplified by NAMA, it is probably that the rationale for this statement is more in keeping with attempts to save the property industry than it is geared towards dealing with issues of poverty and disadvantage.

Currently the largest such project on the cards is that of Limerick Regeneration (  The flagship initiative to regenerate a number of estates in Limerick characterised by acute social problems which was launched in 2008, has (apart from some demolition work) been relatively low-profile in media and political circles for the last year.  The project, in keeping with the state’s policies for regeneration over the last decade, was to be rolled out through a public-private partnership model.  As such, it has always been dependent on the construction and sale of a significant proportion of additional private housing units to fund the replacement of social housing along with a series of environmentally and socially oriented projects. In one of the estates, Moyross, for example an even 50/50 split between 970 replacement social housing units and 970 additional private units was envisioned.  Even during the boom PPP regeneration strategies have frequently led to the sidelining of the interests of existing communities in favour of catering to the interests of private profits for developers.  John Bissett’s work on regeneration in St. Michael’s estate, for example, suggests that residents’ priorities were consistently marginalised as the PPP sought to build private apartments on the site.  With this in mind, it raises serious questions about the future of Limerick Regeneration in the context of the property crash: firstly, whether this private sector funding would be forthcoming at all, and secondly whether it would be desirably if it did, given what must now be an even more conservative property investment climate?  Are all socially oriented goals now going to be dropped in order to retain the bottom line priority of NAMA to re-inflate the property bubble?

Last Sunday Limerick TD and Minister for Defence Willie O’ Dea published a commentary piece in the Sunday Independent on the future of the project.  In a spiel typical of FF, O’ Dea made an optimistic and confident pose while offering very little in terms of actual policy commitments.  Apart from listing some of the history of the estates and reiterating the major focus of the original plans, O’ Dea spends much of the piece talking the positive impacts it has already had on in terms of community building and the external image of the areas.  He suggests:

“The regeneration project is far from over, but already one can sense the growth of community spirit and pride in Moyross. Where once my weekly clinic was filled with people seeking out of Moyross, I am now getting queries from couples and families looking to move into the area. They see that the situation in Moyross has not just stabilised, but the community spirit that usually takes decades to develop is already coming to the fore”

While these improvements to community wellbeing are obviously positive they  should be seen only as early indications of success in what must be a long-term and complex set of processes, investments and policy actions necessary to deal with existing social problems in these areas cultivated by years of neglect.  They should not be seen as an end in themselves.  Like Brian Lenihan’s glib comments yesterday that the country had “turned the corner” while no evidence suggests that it has, this rhetoric promises change without providing anything in the line of reform.

Cian O’ Callaghan

Given inward migration and social change in Ireland over the past twenty years it is a useful exercise to determine the extent to which Ireland’s population is socially and spatially segregated.  Reported here are the results presented at the Social Sciences and Public Policy conference held in Galway, Dec 1-2.  Segregation has been calculated using a straightforward aspatial index of dissimilarity that computes the relative size of population of two groups in an area using the demographic data reported in the 2006 census.  In this case, 22 groups were compared with a reference group – so Polish nationals to Irish nationals, Travelling community to white Irish community, lone parent families to nuclear families, etc.  The data were calculated for the Enumerator Area scale, which have an average population of 968, for the cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford.

In the table, red represents a very high degree of segregation through to green which is a relatively low degree of segregation.  What the results show is that the greatest degree of segregation is experienced by the Travelling community, followed by people in local authority housing, followed by non-nationals and ethnic minorities.  There is relatively little segregation around social class or status.

There is a clear difference between the four cities, with Limerick having the highest levels of segregation followed by Cork, Waterford and Galway.

The data are in the process of being computed on a time series basis between 1991 and 2006 at the Electoral District scale, and mapped for the four cities at Enumerator Area scale using location quotients and posts about those will follow at some point.

Des McCafferty