As kids many of us enjoyed the freedom of cycling to school. Unfortunately, in recent decades there has been a total collapse in the number of children who cycle. Roads have become more dangerous and parents now drive their children to school more than ever. Of course, the more that children are driven to school, the more cars are on the road and the more dangerous it is for those who would like to cycle. It’s a self-perpetuating vicious cycle (no pun intended!).
The 25 years, from 1986 to 2011, saw an 87 per cent decrease in the numbers cycling to secondary school. That’s an incredible indictment of our society. Vast sums of money have been committed to road building in those decades, but much of this has encouraged driving while at the same time discouraging cycling and walking by making it unsafe and inconvenient. This means greater expense for parents, more stressful lives and poor health for their children, and many more adverse outcomes. The new cycle lanes on Shannon Bridge and Condell Road are a small but critical step in reversing this trend. In the coming years we must build an entire, coherent network of safe walking cycling infrastructure and we must make hard and sometimes unpopular choices in order to provide it.
If you agree with this, please share this post widely and consider writing to your councillors to ensure that these cycle lanes are retained.
Green Party TD Brian Leddin has announced funding for the design of new greenways in Limerick and Clare.
A sum of €140,000 has been allocated for a design of a greenway from Limerick to Scarriff, which will start from the existing greenway to UL, crossing the River Shannon over the Black Bridge and following the old Errina canal to O’Briensbridge and onwards to Scariff in East Clare.
Further funding of €150,000 has been allocated to develop route options for a continuation of the Great Southern Greenway towards Limerick City, linking Rathkeale, Adare and Patrickswell.
Brian Leddin welcomed the news saying “I’ve been working closely with Minister Eamon Ryan on delivering this funding which will enhance the tourism potential of the Mid-West. This important design work will involve working with communities and landowners to deliver green infrastructure for our rural areas. We want to develop many more Greenways in the Midwest.”
Green Party Councillor Sean Hartigan added “The Limerick to Scariff greenway passes through some areas of outstanding natural beauty, and has the potential to open the Lower Shannon up to more visitors in a sustainable way”.
Sasa Novak, Green Party Councillor concluded “investing in sustainable transport infrastructure is good for public health, and good for families. With this announcement we are one step closer to completing a continuous greenway from East Clare, through Limerick all the way to Kerry. We want Limerick to be the centre of a comprehensive network of greenways which will boost tourism and also be highly valued leisure amenities for people living in Limerick and Clare”.
Ceann Comhairle, it is our duty as parliamentarians to not only keep our citizens safe during the immediate crisis, but to ensure that we plan for the future. The Irish people have never lost faith in their future, and that of Ireland. It is at our toughest times that we must hold on to and safeguard this faith in our future. We, as a Nation, have endured hardships and we have prevailed as we will do so again. It is with this faith I address this House.
The framework for recovery already exists in Ireland. We already have the resilience that will be required. What we need from the State, and what as TD’s we must ask of the State, is to support our communities. We must place faith in our communities and remember “Ní neart go cur le chéile” – that there is no strength without unity. We are in this together. It is the duty of this House to ensure that the recovery, when it comes, brings about prosperity for every corner of Ireland.
With leadership, foresight and honest application of hard effort this Dáil can guide Ireland through these dark days. With a unity of purpose and trust in the highest principles of public office, those of duty and service, we can achieve a balanced recovery for our Nation. I firmly believe that this recovery can take root through following Green principles. The Green Party’s policies are integral to achieving a fair and prosperous society for all. In Thomas Kinsella’s translation of the Táin, Nes asks “what is the present hour lucky for?” What can we say when we are asked the same question now? How can we answer except to say we used this challenge as an opportunity to show our abilities, our determination and our self belief? The front line heroes have responded magnificently to this crisis and we must trust in ourselves to carry this effort forward to recovery.
While the State has many avenues through which it can support its communities, I want to raise the issue of balanced regional development. This regional development can unlock the strength of Ireland’s communities and ensure a fair recovery for our cities, towns and villages, a recovery that reaches all parts of our island. We have a duty to learn from our mistakes and apply new technologies, practices and knowledge. We need to enable people to work from every corner of Ireland to make sure every corner of Ireland can work.
As we seek to rebuild our economy we can do it in a more balanced, and indeed beneficial, way. Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Galway have immense potential, both in their own right and as leaders of their respective regions. We have a duty to ensure that each city has the infrastructure to be best poised to move from this devastating moment towards a bright future. One size, of course, does not fit all. Thankfully, our country is home to talented, knowledgeable experts, many of them young and well travelled, who can unravel the diverse requirements of each city and region. The gifted generalists must learn to work with these highly educated, bright, multi-disciplinary professionals – urbanists, transport planners, architects, and designers. We must employ them at the great rebuilding task that is before us.
What then, is the necessary infrastructure of the next recovery? What are our strengths that we can build on and what opportunities can we take advantage of. Now is a good time to take stock and think about the future.
The public and private sectors have shown during this crisis that remote working can work. In many respects, among the unknown heroes of this period are the IT professionals who worked tirelessly to ensure whole industries could move from offices to homes. They have kept people working and we owe them our gratitude. Can we learn from this experience? Can we make it possible for more people to work remotely from all parts of Ireland in the future? I am hopeful that we have learned a new way of working that we can use to cut down on long commutes and allow more people to work from rural communities.
In addition, where we need to expand our public service in the coming years, we should do this in a cost efficient way, not necessarily basing new public servants in Dublin, but also making sure that offices are in cities that can benefit from economies of scale. Decentralisation is something that was politicised in the past but it can work well if we focus efforts on our regional cities.
We are seeing so many inefficiencies in our capital due to the costs of office space, housing, and transport. We want to see Dublin thrive as an international city, but to do that we need to make regional cities more attractive, in order to ease the pressure on Dublin. One of the reasons I entered politics is that so many of my peers in Limerick saw no future for themselves in the city, and ended up moving away to Dublin or further afield. I think we can do more to keep talent in our regions. We can develop regional cities that complement Dublin, that allows Dublin to become a more affordable city, that removes the traffic that is choking our capital’s historic core, that gives the city and her citizens the space to breathe. We have seen how other European countries have recognised that regional cities can be significant drivers of national economic growth, and can exist and prosper on the European and global stage. We should have a similar ambition for Ireland.
I want to talk about our towns and villages. Rural Ireland has been let down by poor planning practices. Once bustling towns and villages have been undermined, and gutted, through haphazard, ill thought out policies. A viable and resilient rural economy cannot exist unless towns and villages are attractive to live and work in. We can make sure our towns and villages are compact, walkable, vibrant and thriving once again. This can only happen if we, the State, provides the necessary infrastructure, whether it is broadband, shared workspaces, or ambitious public realm projects that embrace the natural and historic characteristics of our towns.
Our economy depends on efficient transportation, to help people to access education and work. High quality and reliable public transport in rural areas will connect our communities and bolster our rural economy. I want to acknowledge the success of Local Link but we need to significantly expand it. We can, and must, increase speeds on our intercity rail network to ensure our regions are connected well. Cycling and walking must be a mainstay of transport policy so we can benefit from clean air, better health and safer streets. I don’t want my generation to be the last that experienced the joy of cycling to school.
Ceann Comhairle, our capacity for investment will be limited as we emerge from the crisis, but it is fundamentally important that we are able to meet our needs without compromising our children’s abilities to meet theirs. This applies to our economy as much as it does to our environment. So many of the false divisions in our society, between private and public, urban and rural, young and old, mean little as we all seek to work together. We face many challenging decisions in this House in the months to come.
Whatever shape the recovery takes, it must be felt by all and in all parts of our country. Our economy must serve our communities and not that our communities only exist to serve the economy. We can end long commutes if we lead the way with community strengthening infrastructure like public transport. If we can revitalise communities where people have the time and energy to know their neighbours, the time to coach their children’s sports teams, we will have succeeded in leading a community focused recovery.
As we build a new society we must ensure that care is extended to all, that as a community we can say we look out for and after one another. I have faith that together we can revitalise a community based, considerate and loving Ireland.
If I may finish by thanking the people of Limerick for their mandate, for their support. As the rallying of Patrick Sarsfield’s Wild Geese when they fought on overseas battlefields for Ireland went: “Cuimhnigh Ar Luimnigh”. I will be here to ensure Limerick is remembered, I will place myself at the disposal of all Limerick people to represent their interests and issues to the best of my ability. Go raibh maith agaibh.
It’s been a tough few weeks for everyone as we’ve all had to deal with everything changing. It is inspiring how seriously people in Limerick, as well as throughout Ireland, have taken the task of protecting our frontline workers. Social media is inevitably full of focus on the few transgressors, but in my experience the vast majority of people are following advice, staying at home, and not venturing out beyond 2km except for essential duties. Last night the Taoiseach confirmed that the lockdown will continue to May 5th. It may be extended further, depending on how successful the efforts to slow the spread of the virus are.
When you ask people what the best thing about Limerick City, is, often people will talk about our beautiful Shannon River. I know it well from many years of rowing with St. Michael’s and its ever-changing waters provide a peaceful focal point for the city. For many who live close to the city centre, it’s a place where they can stretch their legs close to home, and have some contact with nature. In these trying weeks we are seeing that now more than ever.
I’m worried, however, that there isn’t enough space given over to people so that they can follow the two-metre social distancing guidelines. South of the river there are two lanes of traffic and a boardwalk: the two lanes of traffic are supposed to be ‘shared space’ but in reality this is a space for vehicles.
I’ve been talking about this with my Green Party colleagues on Limerick City and County Council, Seán Hartigan and Saša Novak Uí Conchúir. We’ve come up with a temporary solution that we think can provide a bit more space for people.
The idea is to take one lane of traffic from O’Callaghan Strand, the Shannon Bridge, and the south quays, and give them over to people. Access by car would not be affected – everyone could still drive to places on the quays. But critically it would give an unbroken wide path from Sarsfield Bridge, over the Shannon Bridge, along the quays and back under Sarsfield Bridge to Arthur’s Quay park. An unbroken path for families to enjoy a bit of open space. There is no reason why we would not allow cyclists to enjoy this space too, as long as priority was given to pedestrians.
This should just be the start: there are many areas of the city where we could take away traffic lanes and give them to people to enable them to practice social distancing. Sarsfield Bridge and Clancy Strand are the obvious choices – but this might need a bit more planning because a bus route would have to be diverted.
All that we’d need are traffic cones and some signs diverting cars. It doesn’t seem like much to ask to keep everyone safe.
I’ve written to Pat Daly, Chief Executive of Limerick City and County Council, and sent the press release below to the local papers:
Close traffic lanes on the river quays to help social distancing – Greens
The Green Party in Limerick has called for traffic lanes to be closed along the River and on the Shannon Bridge to help people to conform to social distancing.
“We are calling for one lane to be closed to traffic on the Shannon Bridge, on O’Callaghan Strand and on Bishops Quay and Howley’s Quay from the Shannon Bridge roundabout to Arthur’s Quay Park”, stated Limerick City TD Brian Leddin. “At the moment it is too difficult for people to go out for a walk while maintaining a two metre distance from each other. This simple measure would help people who want to go out for exercise”.
Limerick City North councillor Saša Novak Uí Chonchúir noted “Many people who live within two kilometres of the river do not have a back garden, and for many in the city the walking of the three bridges is an institution. This practical measure would allow families to go out for a walk in safety”. The Mayorstone resident continued: “Limerick people have been very good at following the government guidelines to stay within two kilometres of their home, and we need to support that by providing safe areas to walk for people living in the city”.
Green Party Councillor Seán Hartigan concluded “This proposal would maintain vehicle access to all businesses along the quays and to residents on O’Callaghan Strand. It’s a simple short-term measure to make lives easier for people. With traffic volumes as low as they are there will be little disruption”. Noting the need for giving space to pedestrians throughout the city, the Castleconnell resident continued: “In the medium term we’d like to see an arrangement for Sarsfield Bridge, Clancy Strand and other areas of the city, but this would involve changing bus routes. For the moment, let’s push on with a practical solution, which can be implemented quickly with traffic cones and a minimum of signage”
After a very difficult week I’m on the train back to Limerick and have time to write an update on what has been going on in the government formation talks and the Covid-19 crisis. I’ve been in Dublin mostly since the election. Initially this was to take part in the exploratory talks with other parties. That went on for two weeks and was a fruitful exchange of policies and ideas. I was primarily involved in discussions about energy, transport and reform of local government. But also on housing, planning, retrofitting, regenerating rural Ireland and development of Limerick and the other regional cities. By the end of last week, as this phase came to an end, we still had an open mind about what might come next. Our over-arching ask for entering government was that a programme would be put together so that Ireland would reduce its carbon emissions by 7% each year up to 2030. This is the level of action that the EU and UN have said is required to keep within the bounds of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature levels to between 1.5 and 2.0 degree celsius over the pre-industrial average. We said to all the parties that this would not be easy, but there were many ways in which it could be done. It was going to take time and a lot of research to figure out what exactly was the right way to go about achieving this reduction. For most of us in the Green Party – being new to national politics – this was an intense period, but we felt we were well able to deal with our counterparts across the political divide. All parties seemed to agree that if further talks did take place it would be Easter by the time there could be an agreement.
This week would likely have seen an escalation of talks, but on Monday doctors and epidemiologists began to get in touch expressing deep concern about how the Covid-19 crisis was being handled. What we learned was alarming. I had heard enough that I felt the schools and universities should have been closed on Tuesday, and that an almost complete lockdown of our country would be required in order to save many lives. By Wednesday it became clear that meaningful programme for government negotiations would have to be suspended. There was no way we could have gone into detailed discussions about long term issues, which we feel are very important, while people were being infected, families suffering and our hospitals overwhelmed. Following a somewhat solemn parliamentary party meeting, where all members spoke their minds, we agreed to call for the immediate suspension of talks and for the parties to work together and devote all their energies to dealing with the imminent crisis. I was surprised when I learned that the Taoiseach flew to the United States later on Wednesday. If it was clear to us what was happening, how was it not clear to the Taoiseach? We called for a National Government to quickly be put in place to handle the crisis. The devastation that is facing our society is so great that only a unified approach is appropriate. The media fixated on the idea of national government rather than our reasons for calling for it. Were we excluding ourselves from talks? Would we still speak with Fianna Fáil? Perhaps they didn’t quite get it either.
Leinster House was very quiet today. Myself and Thomas stayed to continue ironing out the detail of what would be required if we do find ourselves in talks for programme for government next week. Although Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil eventually agreed to suspend talks yesterday, Fianna Fáil are now saying they want them to resume next week. It is difficult to understand this decision. By the end of next week there will certainly be hundreds of positive cases of Covid-19. Many people, especially lower paid workers in the service industry, will be laid off with no income stream. Our hospitals and our public services will be straining under the burden of the crisis. How can negotiations take place in this environment? We have a moral duty to protect our most vulnerable and our society, and hastily advancing programme for government negotiations and changing cabinet roles is certainly not the way to do it.
I’m arriving back, on an almost empty train, to a Limerick that no doubt looks the same as the city I left on Tuesday morning last. But life here will change in the coming weeks. We may see friends and loved ones stricken with the virus. Many people will lose their jobs. Businesses will be brought to the brink, and beyond. And when the virus does pass through, it will take time and hard work to get ourselves back to where we were. For now, let’s look after each other, heed the advice of public health officials, and support those who are on the front line and those who are being impacted by the crisis. If I can help please do get in touch.
Members of the Green Party have voted to nominate Saša Novak Uí Chonchúir as the replacement for Brian Leddin TD on Limerick City and County Council. Saša Novak Uí Chonchúir lives in Mayorstone with her husband Eoin and children Liam and Fionn. She holds a degree in Political Science and a Masters in Human Resource Management.
The new TD noted “I’m delighted that Saša will be the new Green Party councillor for Limerick City North. She is active in the Mayorstone Community and has been involved in many community activities including the Mayorstone Residents Association and Shelbourne Junior Park Run. Limerick City North will have an excellent new Councillor.”
Ms Novak Uí Chonchúir noted “I’m delighted to accept the nomination of my fellow Green Party members to replace Limerick’s first Green Councillor as we celebrate his promotion to the Dáil. I will be focusing on working as hard as I can for the voters of Limerick City North.“
A special meeting of Limerick City and County Council will take place this Friday to appoint councillors to replace Brian Leddin TD and Richard O’Donoghue TD. The appointment of Saša concludes a historic twelve months for the Green Party in Limerick, which saw successful Council, Dáil and European elections for the branch.
With the launch of the Green Party manifesto, one item got considerable media coverage: “Exploring the phasing out of homework in primary schools”. Although the party manifesto does not commit to banishing homework, simply asking for an exploration of the idea, it got a lot of attention. The evidence for and against homework in educational research is mixed: the best summary from the research I’ve read seems to say that although there is a correlation between whether homework is completed and educational outcomes, this correlation is quite weak for primary school age children, especially in younger classes. A primary school in Rathfarnham which trialled a ‘no homework’ programme for all classes except sixth has received positive feedback.
There is evidence from other countries too: Finland is renowned as having one of the best primary education systems in the world, yet according to the OECD, students in Finland have the least amount of outside work and homework than any other student in the world.
The important issue is not necessarily about whether we should do away with homework, but the need to follow evidence-based policy in all areas of government. The Citizens Assembly model has worked successfully in Ireland for policy areas which needs a consideration of a wide range of research perspectives. The Green Party has proposed a Citizens Assembly for education to re-evaluate the outcomes of education and the necessity for structural changes at all levels in our education system.
While there are some longer-term changes that are needed to our education system, there are also actions that we can take relatively quickly: reducing pupil-to-teacher ratios at first and second level with a particular focus on DEIS schools, funding third level and further education, funding Special Needs Assistants, and ensuring that students’ ethnicity and religion (or non-religion) are not barriers to their enrolment and participation in school, to name but a few.
As we seek to strengthen our rural towns and villages, we need to better provision them with public transport to give people an alternative to accessing employment, education and public services without needing to use the private car.
If you take the rural areas of the Limerick City constituency: Murroe has only two buses a day, Caherconlish has three, Newport has five, Montpelier has two. Many villages have a skeleton Saturday service and no Sunday service. This has an impact on rural isolation, especially for elderly and younger people who cannot drive.
There have been many studies on public transport in rural areas, and while there will be a continued role for ‘on demand’ and semi-timetabled public transport services to help people without a car to attend appointments and go on shopping trips, I would like to see expansion of rural bus services to at least six services a day, two of which should facilitate commuting in or out of towns and villages (businesses will be more encouraged to locate in rural areas if staff can easily commute into those areas, people commuting into Limerick City need an alternative). We need to make sure that these services connect into an integrated network in the city, so people can conveniently access bus and rail services to take them elsewhere.
An example of this is the recently launched Local Link service from Thurles railway station to Limerick via Newport, UL and Castletroy. This service operates three times a day under contract from the National Transport Authority. We need to expand these services significantly to cover all towns and villages and provide a real alternative to the private car.
Together with a policy of encouraging compact growth in our villages, this will allow our rural areas to grow, thrive, and become more sustainable.
After a decade of under investment in our public realm, Limerick City centre is in need of modernisation and rejuvenation. We are now being given the chance to build Limerick city as a truly sustainable city. We can harness this as a moment for considered long term planning in how we want our city to develop. We need to start planning for the city we want Limerick to be in 25, 50 and even 100 years from now. We can start today to build the infrastructure that will Limerick will need to be a sustainable city. The city needs an overhaul of public transport for people know they can rely on a service that is efficient and affordable, and can get them to all parts of the city without stress or delay.
A strong Limerick city is built on strong social ties and communities. We need to build a city that prioritises social connection, that allows Limerick people interact with each other in a pleasant and healthy city centre. The best social places work when you interact with your community without realising you are doing so, where it is natural to share a conversation or a joke with a neighbour without worrying about traffic or noise.
Before we can start such an overhaul of our city centre, we need to decide on where and how the city will grow for the next generation. The city should not repeat the mistakes of other cities across Europe, which were allowed to sprawl without thought for the consequences of such sprawl. People want to live in strong vibrant communities and we know that unthinking sprawl has been detrimental to communities across Europe. It is hard to know your neighbour when you do not have the time to spend getting to know them because you spend too long in traffic or because your local street is an unpleasant place to stroll around. When we talk about Limerick city, we mean a city all of us calls and considers home, in the best sense. We can learn from other cities on how Limerick can build on its already strong communities into an even better city to live in.
A well-planned city will encourage investment and jobs. It will help drive balanced economic growth. Limerick, and other major cities such as Cork, Waterford and Galway can then provide a counterbalance to Dublin, which is over-heating.
I recently called for Limerick city to adopt a “Tall Buildings Strategy” so Limerick can plan for future developments. We should embrace proper planning of our city to ensure that it is a pleasant place to live, work and visit. We should be ambitious in our plans. I do not see any reason why we cannot preserve the best parts of our heritage while modernising our city. I believe we have the ability and the capacity to rejuvenate Limerick without losing the remnants of medieval and Georgian Limerick. However, if we are to do so, we will need to plan to do so. We will need investment, we will need support from the Government. A vote for the Green Party is a vote not just for this generation who live in and love Limerick, but for those generations who will come after us. We want to be able to say we left them a legacy that we and they can be proud of.
I believe that transport is a force multiplier for society. Transport connects us, it helps us access employment opportunities and it connects communities. We need transport to access healthcare, to visit friends, to interview for a new job, to do anything outside our home.
I am passionate about developing our regional cities: with focus and effort we can make Galway, Cork, Waterford and especially Limerick engines for growth in our economy. Dublin and the Mid-East region is at breaking point, rents in the city are unaffordable for most, and families are enduring longer and longer car commutes in gridlock despite money being poured into the capital’s road network.
We need to make sure we don’t make the same mistake in the regions.
Growth in the regions needs quality efficient public transport. We need buses and trains that serve rural and urban communities, that reliably, efficiently and comfortably connect where people live to jobs and public services. If we do, we can set ourselves up to grow without the negative effects seen in Dublin. Better public transport will benefit all areas of society, especially people who cannot drive because of income, age or disability.
Active transport is the other part of the puzzle, many trips are under 5km and could be much more pleasant if good facilities were provided. Active travel is critically important from a public health perspective – studies show that having 20mins of exercise a day has a measurable impact on rates of cancer, diabetes, and other conditions. Many of us have happy memories walking or cycling to school but sadly that experience is not available to many young people today, because the roads simply aren’t safe or attractive, resulting in familiar gridlock at back-to-school time. Quality infrastructure where walkers and cyclists are protected from traffic are needed to get active travel levels up to European norms.
This is why I believe we need to allocate much of our transport budget to public and active transport. It will reverse the ‘more roads and more cars’ mistakes of the past. I believe Limerick and the other regional cities can compete for private investment against other cities in Europe, but only if we can develop a transport system that makes living here more attractive.
Of course transport services are only part of the picture. We need to make sure that the new housing we build is compact and accessible. Proper planning is needed so that we build homes where people can easily and efficiently get to where they want to go. This is not just for our cities: we need compact towns and villages in rural areas to make sure we can efficiently serve everyone with the transport services that they deserve.