As the news of the proposed new footbridge again stumbles into sight this week, it was genuinely despairing to the see the city officials describe it as a priority project. This project, good or bad, should not be a priority for Limerick. In fact, there is one project that crowns all other current priorities for Limerick, in my opinion, and that is building a motorway from Limerick to Cork and by extension, developing the Atlantic corridor from Cork to Galway. To quote from Benjamin Franklin, “we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” For most of Ireland’s independence the cities of Limerick, Cork and Galway have denied this simple truth, instead of working together as counterbalance to the Dublin we have fought amongst ourselves.
Limerick is the capital city of the Midwest region. The obvious follow on from that that statement is where or what is the midwest region? Administratively it covers Counties Clare and Limerick, and North Tipperary but outside of political administration, does the Midwest exist as an entity? Is it the same as the Shannon region? Where does the old Kingdom of Thomond fit in? What unifies people within the midwest? Clearly even within a small area we allow ourselves to be too divided to work together. Too often, minor disagreements between the three counties disguise the great benefit each area could derive from a successful Midwest.
Ideally the Midwest would be the middle component in the Atlantic corridor, linking the three cities of Cork, Limerick and Galway as natural counterbalance to the development of Dublin in the east of the country. Initiatives like the Wild Atlantic Way show that disparate areas can be drawn together under a coherent banner for the benefit of everyone involved. For various reasons, the Atlantic corridor has never really gained traction. This is obviously partially cultural, due to the perceived antipathy between the three cities, and indeed, the famously tribal nature of identities even within specific counties but a far greater issue has been the lack of leadership shown by successive Governments, local and national, in developing the basic infrastructure between the three cities. Until a motorway is fully developed between Galway and Cork (a distance of less than 200km) the corridor will always be a sound idea without any traction. Rather than demanding action on this issue, the city authorities are expending their time, energy and money of frivolities like the proposed new bridge. I appreciate the money involved wouldn’t even be a drop in the ocean of the funding needed for the motorway but this energy should be better spent lobbying for the development of the Atlantic corridor.
A key component of any successful industrial region is the underlying infrastructure. The fact that something as basic as a motorway has been built yet indicates the dis-interest successive Governments have had in the development of a counterbalance to the east of the country. To some degree this is understandable, the thinking has been that it was vital to promote Dublin above all others just to allow Ireland compete at any level. It has been a successful strategy but it is time to re-open a coherent debate into how Ireland develops.
The Midwest/Shannon/Thomond region could also be a designation for tourism within the above mentioned counties but there doesn’t appear to be much to actually designate what is and what isn’t the Shannon region. There doesn’t seem to be a unified approach to how the region should be developed. Instead of working together, each individual component appears to promote its own area exclusively. In a region of less than 400,000 people is there really a need for such internal division?
If we could instead position Limerick as an important node on the Atlantic corridor we should be able to attract investment by being a suitable alternative to the Dublin region. In the aftermath of the Brexit campaign, it’s telling that the regions who voted most ardently to leave are those who have been forgotten by successive British governments. People are disenfranchised and are looking for a position that “feels” right to them. The past 50 years of European Unity has also seen a massive concentration of population in a few distinct nodes of population, capital or large cities, while the regions are left to wither. The North of the UK is desperately in need of the so-called Northern Powerhouse to rival London but successive governments have neglected the idea. Likewise, Ireland is crying out for a counterbalance to Dublin but no one can agree on how that should come about. Rather than fighting amongst ourselves, Limerick, Cork and Galway should throw all our energies into developing the Atlantic corridor. This development doesn’t have to strip development of bad planning and unending urban centres but rather we can examine the three cities and agree a plan on how all three can benefit from being part of a more cohesive whole.
Time and time again it has been shown that we benefit most from working together. All of Ireland’s regions need to be focused into more than just political entities and greater cohesion needs to be developed for the benefit of everyone in their respective regions. Successive governments have left us to fight amongst ourselves, and like the disenfranchised regions of the UK, we have suffered for our lack of investment. We badly need leadership at a local level to demand better for the our regions but instead they pour their energies and ambition into low value projects like the new bridge. The bridge might be a valuable project in its own right, but it’s not a priority and it’s disconcerting that those in power think it is. Give these three cities the coherent investment to be a counterbalance to the east coast and all of Ireland will benefit, that should be where our interest lies.