Priest leading the fight against drug dealers still has hope for Moyross

Community plagued by criminality while ‘rich’ stand idly by, says parish priest

Fr Tony O’Riordan, PP, Corpus Christi Church, Moyross, Limerick. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22

Fr Tony O’Riordan, PP, Corpus Christi Church, Moyross, Limerick. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22

 

Last Sunday, from the altar of Corpus Christi church in Moyross, parish priest Fr Tony O’Riordan condemned the drug dealers who have plagued the Limerick community for decades.

They would, he said, go “to hell” for the misery that they have inflicted. On Sunday, he will return to the altar in the same church. This time, he will castigate politicians and others for standing aside while that community has bled.

“Sunday’s gospel is going to be about the rich man in his magnificent palace, and poor old Lazarus outside the rich man’s wall. The rich man is condemned to hell again, but the rich man this week is not the drug dealer – he is the wealthy and powerful in Irish society who stand by and do nothing,” explained the Cork-born priest.

“The rich man didn’t do anything to Lazarus, and he wasn’t the cause of Lazarus’s pain, but he didn’t respond to his pain. All it takes for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing. That’s my message to the Taoiseach and to this fragile Government.”

Driving around Moyross, Fr O’Riordan remembers pledges made after former taoiseach Bertie Ahern commissioned former Dublin City manager John Fitzgerald in 2007 to breathe life into a deprived community.

Three billion euro was promised to transform the estate, but it was later cut to €300 million. Some projects have been funded, but the ghosts left by disastrous planning decisions in the 1970s and 1980s continue to haunt the place.

Boarded-up homes

Houses have been demolished and new ones have appeared, yes, but rows of boarded-up homes and broken windows remain to blight the community.

“None of the pen-pushers, and people who have jobs because of the impoverished who live in this estate, and the millions that are being pumped into their salaries . . . they can go home to different lives. They just do not get the smell of reality here, the crushing side of life here.”

Last Sunday’s sermon has gone down well with parishioners. In it, Fr O’Riordan said criminals threaten, intimidate and extort daily: “There are drug dealers here who just don’t have an ounce of humanity in them. They’ll take the children’s lunch money and the kids will go hungry.” Families and victims “are looking for a way out, and they see no way out”, he goes on.

“It would be sinful if the myth that Limerick is sorted or that we have regenerated Limerick gains currency. It really would be sinful. We have not succeeded in regenerating Limerick. There has been some progress but we are so far off the end line,” he says. “Regeneration is a response of central government, and we’ve had three governments in place since. I think central government have walked away.”

The Garda Síochána’s pursuit of Limerick’s gangland criminals has meant that murders are a thing of the past, for now. Understandably, Limerick’s chief superintendent David Sheehan is proud of the victories won. “I came here at the very worst of it. From my perspective, the transition that has happened in those six years has been enormous.” Moyross drug dealer “Fat John” McCarthy, who sold heroin from his house, was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012, partly with the help of information from the community.

Caught

Last July, brothers Kieran and Brian Collopy were jailed for eight years after they were caught in the act of preparing heroin for sale. The Criminal Assets Bureau has seized houses from the Collopys and the Keanes. “These are operations that Tony O’Riordan may not have heard about,” he added.

Last month, 14 houses were searched in Moyross and drugs seized. “There is a fabulous community spirit and ethos in Moyross. We have stood by the community. I’m not saying it’s perfect, and I never will say it’s perfect, but it’s a lot better today than when I came.”

However, the ingredients of crisis are still there. The HSE has funded treatment services, but a new tidal wave of drug use shows little sign of abating. Meanwhile, the region has no detox beds.

In a novel approach, one independent group, Novas, has been running a home-detox programme, helped by GPs. Within its first six months, Novas received more requests for help than have happened in Dublin, “in fact for what there was in the entire country”, says Novas’s Julie McKenna.

Since 2009, the use of prescribed painkillers, known as benzodiazepines, or Xanax and Valium, has risen sharply in and around Limerick. “A lot of people would use benzos with other substances – be it alcohol or weed,” she said.

Limerick has a unique problem because drugs have been embedded for so long. “I’ve worked with it across families, mothers, fathers, aunts, nephews etc,” says McKenna.

Driving out of the estate, Fr O’Riordan holds onto hope for Moyross, even if he has little faith in the State. “Even in the midst of the mess that it is, I see a resilience of people here, and an ability to be there for each other, to rally each other, and still be proud of their area.”