Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Decision to be made on Manannán statue

It's been three weeks since the statue's theft and so far there's been no progress in recovering it or finding the culprits responsible -- not a huge surprise but disappointing nonetheless. After a huge response from all over the world, the local news were making some rather positive reports that the statue would more than likely be replaced in the last week or so, and it seemed that it was more a question of whether an exact replica should be commissioned or something bigger and better -- "two or three times the size."

The news was met pretty enthusiastically in most places, although local councillor Gerry Mullan took a more cautious view:
“I think it’s going to cost extra money to have a larger statue and I would fear it may be interpreted as an antagonistic gesture which may encourage further vandalism,” said Colr. Mullan. “Personally, I would be happy to see Mannanán back and replaced in his original form.”

I think this is a very valid concern and certainly something that needs to be considered. A larger statue could very well be seen as antagonistic, although given the extremes that the thieves went to in removing the statue in the first place, any kind of replacement could be interpreted as antagonistic.

For now it seems that any decision for moving forward is less than certain at the moment, but the prospect of a replacement are not completely hopeless. The proposals to replace the current remains of the statue with something bigger have been voted down, as has a proposal to reinstate an almost exact replica but this time with a full-sized boat. Instead:
In the end, it was agreed, in principle, Council would like to see the sculpture replaced as close to its original form as possible, hopefully costing no more than the original £10,000; that it would be funded by the public as much as possible and it would be reinforced as much as possible. It was agreed that Council officers investigate what is involved in setting up a public fund and bring the costs, and any other information after having spoken with sculptor Darren John Sutton, back to members at the final Limavady Council meeting in March.

A report from the BBC has suggested that the decision to replace the statue is more definitive than the Derry Journal has reported, but according to the Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea God Facebook page, this isn't correct. So as it stands at the moment, councillors will be looking into the potential costs of replacing the statue -- as close to the original as possible -- and will be investigating the logistics of setting up some kind of fundraiser. Any decision based on the outcome of either of these considerations isn't likely to happen until the next council meeting on March 10th, however, and there are no guarantees that any enquiries will follow through into being actioned.

After the news began reporting that there were proposals for a larger statue, there came some rather concerning reports from local papers, just before the meeting took place, where some of the councillors seemed to be less than enthused about replacing the statue:
TUV Colr. Boyd Douglas isn’t enthusiastic about replacing the statue in any shape or form. 
“I felt the original statue was paganistic and I felt it should never have been erected under those terms. We were told at the time the statue wasn’t costing Council much money,” said Colr. Douglas, who said if replaced using steel it may well become a target of metal thieves. “I can’t see any point in putting a statue on top of a mountain where there is no one around and where it is vulnerable from the start. To replace it would cost Council money and I wouldn’t be in favour of spending ratepayers’ money on this, so I’m not enthusiastic about replacing it.”

(At the meeting, Councillor Douglas suggested siting some sort of statue at the find spot of the Broighter Hoard as an alternative to replacing the statue at Gortmore Viewing Point, incidentally). But in the end it seems only one councillor voted against replacing it at all -- not the councillor quoted above -- and even then the objection came down to the fact that the statue may well be vulnerable to further theft in future, given its remote position, and as such it would be a waste of money.

So all in all, there seems to be good cause for tentative optimism here. I do think it's important that the statue should be replaced, even if it ends up costing a little more than the original in an effort to make sure it's harder to remove this time. Not replacing the statue gives the opinions and illegal actions of an extreme minority more weight than those who've spoken out in shock and support for the community of Limavady, and it would legitimate this theft and vandalism, and send a very wrong message to not just the people of Limavady, but to the many thousands of people around the world who've been following this story and have overwhelmingly expressed a desire to see the statue replaced.

Ultimately, however, replacing the statue is not a decision that any of us outside Limavady can make: It's up to the councillors and the people in the area who've lost a local landmark and beautiful piece of art. There's certainly the willingness to contribute financially to the replacement, from the good majority of people who've been commenting in the Facebook group, and some have already tried setting up pages on fundraising sites in anticipation of some kind of official word that that all hopes of finding the statue are dashed (to my knowledge, none of these have actually taken any money, though, and have since been removed). But as Mari Ward, who set the group up, has said, this is something that has to be decided by the council first, and I think it's something that should ideally be managed by them as well. They are, after all, best placed to put the funds to proper use and make sure the job gets done.

Getting the job done is going to take some time, though, and until the next meeting in March there's probably not going to much going on that's worthy of note -- not unless the statue is recovered or the thieves are caught. So the risk is that this is a story that will end up out of sight, out of mind. So far, it's been noted that the council have taken on board the outpouring of support from all over the world, and hopefully that will continue on both sides.

In the meantime, there's also growing concern that proposals for a wind farm nearby are going to have a hugely detrimental environmental and visual impact on the area, which is officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. While personally I'm all for renewable energy, I think it should be appropriately located and a wind farm seems incongruous with an area that's supposed to have protections in place to preserve the natural beauty of the area. You can find out more about the campaign here.