Community policing fundamental to regeneration
In his 2007 report on social exclusion in Southill and Moyross in Limerick, John Fitzgerald is unequivocal in his recommendations on policing. He says that dealing with criminality as a matter of urgency is “fundamental to creating the conditions for other interventions (infrastructural, economic, educational and social) to be successful, and for restoring the confidence of local communities”. The pattern of murders in Limerick in 2007 indicates the seriousness of violent crime in these areas – five of the six murders occurred in the estates under Fitzgerald's remit.
Fitzgerald recommends that “at least” 100 additional garda are required in Limerick with specific responsibility for the areas identified and recommends that a Superintendent be appointed specifically to oversee the policing of the regeneration communities.
Instead of a Superintendent, two inspectors have been appointed to the communities under regeneration. A total of 75 additional garda have been moved to Limerick since March, however, 24 have either retired or been transferred from Limerick in that time. It has been suggested to Villlage that not all of the net 51 additional garda have specific remit as community gardai for the regeneration areas. One source told Village that seven recent transfers to the Roxboro station near Southill are assigned to traffic duties. Despite several attempts, Village was unable to speak directly to An Garda Síochána in Limerick to corroborate this information.
Moyross residents interviewed by Village say that while the garda presence has increased in recent months, the number of garda patrols is not enough, particularly given the size and cluster-like layout of the estate. Several residents said that police activity is insufficient at night and that the garda presence waxes and wanes in response to crime.
No gardaí were present on a day-time visit by Village to Southill, but as in Moyross, residents there noted an improvement in policing. But again, they say that there is not a “highly visible presence”. The Garda patrol only the main thoroughfares in the park, not the back streets where much of the criminality happens. Again, the presence of gardaí at night is insufficient for an estate that is described as a “no-go area”.
The only direct access to gardaí in Moyross at present is via a base within the estate for one hour per day, Monday to Friday, or at the Mayorstone garda station located outside the estate from 9am – 10pm. Residents of both Moyross and Southill say there should be a dedicated base, if not a garda station, within each community to prevent crime. Brendan Kenny told Village that present Garda numbers are not sufficient to man a base within these estates, but that he “will be looking in the master plan [for Moyross] to build a new garda station”. He said he will pressure An Garda Síochána to provide at least 100 additional garda and expects this number to be in place by the end of January.
There are additional elements to policing that residents want to be addressed. In the past, community gardaí who had knowledge of the area and the people living there were relocated upon promotion. Fr Joe Young, a former parish priest to Southill, said that a problem with policing of communities is that there is no structure of promotion within the Garda that allows community gardaí who have built up a bank of knowledge to remain posted in the area. Fr Young called for reform of the structure of promotino to allow the knowledge to remain in the area.
Mr Kenny pointed to additional problems that affect Garda resourcing such as the administrative duties that gardaí perform, their secondment to court services and police escorts that take up an estimated 25 per cent of police resources.
John Fitzgerald told Village that to date, the response to his report by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law reform and the Garda Commissioner is better than other regeneration projects he has been involved with. Brendan Kenny expressed satisfaction with the creation of a specialised Emergency Response Unit and the establishment of a local Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB). Kenny said that gardaí are presently compiling profiles of Limerick residents for CAB to act upon.
Failures of past initiatives
Brendan Kenny told Village that past initiatives to address social exclusion failed for several reasons. He said that “no action was taken” against anti-social behaviour, the people involved “have been getting away with it for years” and that a “more intensive approach” was required by all public services, not just An Garda. He described Southill as having descended to the “verge of anarchy”.
Brendan Kenny says that violent crime is carried out by a relatively small number of people and is part of a greater problem in the general environment. He said that “the people [of Southill and Moyross] had lost hope in the organs of state... the public services were frustrated... people's expectations were so low”.
Brendan Kenny said that there was a lack of integration between the statutory agencies in the provision of public services. Cathal McCarthy, a member of a resident's association in Weston Gardens requested under RAPID over two years ago that CCTV be installed to the area as a crime-prevention measure. Financing of the cameras were approved only in 2007 following the intervention of the Southside Regeneration Agency. The cameras were promised in September 2007 but have yet to be installed.
Brendan Kenny said that while the public services did some very good work, the standard systems they apply failed because the problems of social exclusion were so acute, “worse than any other part of the country” he said. Such is the degradation of these areas (which are proximous to the city) that Limerick is unique in that retail rents in the city centre are below the levels in outlying shopping centres.
Part of the problem too, Brendan Kenny said, is that there was no accountability, no leadership within the public services. Kenny said that a “radically different approach” was required.
Mr Kenny senses that there has been a change in mindset toward the regeneration projects in the last six months. Given the failures of the past, residents and the public services were sceptical at first, but now people within the various agencies are offering their assistance and are taking responsibility for their contributions. Project managers have been appointed to the four areas of intervention identified for Moyross and Southill - Education & Training; Children, Youth and Sport; Community Development and Safety; Research, Development, and Social Policy. A vision document is being prepared for the regeneration of Moyross and Southill which will be unveiled on 21 January 2008.
Concerns on housing in the regenerated estates
Residents in Southill are sceptical about the regeneration project. Those who spoke to Village could not envision how the regenerated estate would look. They have no commitments in writing from the Soutside Regeneration Agency (SRA) and feel that the answers to their questions have been “negative, a lot of ‘maybes'”.
Some residents who spoke to Village were concerned that home-owners will become tenants in the new arrangement. The elderly residents of Southill who now have no choice but to sell their homes in order to escape the area will become Local Authority tenants in their new homes. Should they wish to return to the area post-regeneration, there is uncertainty as to whether they will be home-owners or tenants. The 30,000 being offered for the homes they have owned for decades will not be enough to purchase a house in the new estate.
People in Moyross have more faith in the regeneration and have taken as given the verbal assurances that they have been given about being rehoused in the regenerated estates (see panel on Regerneration Promises). However, the overriding concern expressed by residents is who their neighbours will be in the newly regenerated estates - an indication of how troublesome the past has been.
Kenny said that it is not possible at this stage to give a detailed layout of who will reside where. He said that the regeneration agencies have engaged with the people who are responsible for violence and anti-social behaviour in the estates. They, like most other residents, have responded positively to regeneration and want the area to be improved. Kenny said that people will be given a fair opportunity to end anti-social behaviour and co-operate with the agencies. However, Kenny is adamant that anyone who “continues to be involved in crime or anti-social behaviour will not be a part of [the regenerated community]”.
The Vision Document
Mary McAleese returns to Southill and Moyross in January launch the Vision Documents prepared by the regeneration agencies after extensive consultation with residents. There is hope for Moyross. But she may be forgiven for harbouring sceptical thoughts about anything being done for Southill, 25 years after she herself saw was to happen.