Mary McAleese foresaw Limerick's decline into criminality 25 years ago
A quarter of a century's neglect, underlined by the government's failure to act on the RAPID reports of 2001, has devastated Moyross and Southill in Limerick.
By Malachy Browne
A quarter of a century ago, in 1982, the then leading current affairs television programme, ‘Today Tonight' undertook a report from Limerick highlighting problems of social exclusion in the Southill estate of O'Malley Park. Mary McAleese was a panelist on the programme. During the programme she said: “There is a serious area of deprivation here, a cycle of poverty and deprivation which is leading people, descending people, down into the criminal milieu. What I'm afraid of in an area like Southill is that we have an army of alienated children waiting for the call”.
She could hardly have been more prescient. In the 25 years since that report, that cycle of poverty and deprivation have indeed “descended” people into the criminal milieu and that army of alienated children heard the call to crime and violence.
The persistent dereliction of areas of Limerick, with that cycle of poverty, deprivation and criminality, has arisen directly from the political neglect of these areas and an enduring absence of political will to address the issues that arise.
This is the implicit conclusion of the report commissioned by the government into crime, disorder and social exclusion in Limerick undertaken by the former Dublin City and County manager, John FitzGerald, a native of Limerick.
The report describes the same conditions of social exclusion that were presented not just in Today Tonight's report of 25 years ago but in the 2001 programme, Revitalising Areas by Planning, Investment and Development (RAPID), and it makes many of the same recommendations to address these problems as RAPID. The government's endorsement of Fitzgerald is an implicit admission of failure on its part to implement RAPID and to address those issues.
One of RAPID's key recommendations for Moyross - another abandoned area in Limerick that is now the focus of regeneration - was to address its isolation. Moyross is an estate of 1,000 houses with few amenities and businesses. It is segregated by high walls from neighbouring estates and the adjoining Limerick Institute of Technology. Isolation is considered one of the biggest barriers to economic investment which has directly impacted upon employment in the area.
RAPID proposed that a link-road be built from Moyross to a ring road meeting the N7. This, it said, would “lead to industrial and commercial development in the area (much as the M50 has for Ballymun)”. This was recommended in 2001. Neither the link road nor the ring-road had been built by 2007. The Fitzgerald report in 2007 again stressed that the Moyross link “should be ‘frontloaded' and progressed as a matter of urgency”. The estimated completion date is now 2011.
Inward investment to the area and has been negligible and the level of unemployment in Moyross reported by Fitzgerald is precisely the same as that reported by RAPID in 2001 – 21 per cent, five times that of the national average (4.3 per cent). In the 15-24 year old age bracket, employment is the primary source of income for a mere 22 per cent of males and 14 per cent of females. In Southill, John Fitzgerald reported that businesses situated in the adjoining Galvone Business Park have left in recent years due to the problems of crime in the area.
RAPID's educational objectives to address early-school leavers were also neglected, and the Fitzgerald report cites truancy as a problem among children of primary and secondary-school ages.
RAPID identified several problems with the upkeep and appearance of Moyross and Southill. Litter was one such problem which again features in the Fitzgerald report. While litter had been removed from Moyross in recent months, extensive dumping was observed by Village in Southill. According to Maurice Quinlevan, a Sinn Fein representative in Limerick, illegal dumping within Southill is a direct consequence of the bin charge introduced by Limerick City Council in September 2000 which failed to reform to address the particular needs of these communities.
But the most devastating impact of sustained neglect in these areas is the violence that has resulted from family/gang feuds that have festered over the past decade. Residents, often elderly, are intimidated into leaving their homes. Others who engage with the gardaí have also been similarly intimidated. At the time of writing, Village was told of several families from Southill and Moyross who are being housed in hotels as a result of sustained intimidation.
Vacated homes are vandalised, boarded up or burned out. This has resulted in the departure from these estates of many families and the marginalisation of a majority of law-abiding citizens who remain. Feuding in Moyross came to a head in 2006 when two streets in close proximity were the venues for a sustained and intense period of open violence between feuding families. (See Moyross Diary below).
The final indictment of the government's ambivalence to the worsening problems of Moyross is that it was only in the aftermath of a petrol-bomb attack in September 2006 in which two children were severely burned that a serious intervention was made. It was following the height of this violent period, in November 2006, that the government asked John Fitzgerald in to investigate the issues of social exclusion, crime, and disorder in Moyross and Limerick's other abandoned areas.