The Dundon legacy
Limerick breathed a sigh of relief this week with the sentencing of John Dundon. But a decade of shootings and intimidation – and chronic social problems – have left the city scarred
John Dundon, who was jailed for life by the Special Criminal Court on Tuesday for the murder of Shane Geoghegan.
Mattie Collins at his home on Clarina Avenue in Ballinacurra Weston.
Shane Geoghegan (28), who was shot dead in a case of mistaken identity as he walked home on November 9th, 2008.
It’s a wet Thursday afternoon and Mattie Collins is standing at the doorway of his home on Clarina Avenue. It’s no more than 30 metres from Hyde Road, which for the past decade has been the stronghold of the Dundon-McCarthy gang and the nerve-centre for much of Limerick’s organised crime.
A decade of shootings, arson attacks and intimidation has left deep scars here in Ballinacurra Weston. Once proud homes now sit dead-eyed, with boarded up windows, peeling paintwork or collapsed roofs. Their owners either sold their properties – typically worth less than a luxury car – to the council or applied to be rehoused. Others simply fled. Dozens of homes have been demolished. Only overgrown grass and the ghostly remains of tarmac driveways and boundary walls remain.
“You have good people here. They’ve been trapped by circumstances,” says Collins. “Decent people. They ran for their lives.
“I remember it was seen as a kind of posh area when we moved in during the 1960s . . . beautiful families, lovely homes.”
In better days, 75 houses lined his avenue. People poured their hearts and souls into making their homes and gardens beautiful, he says. In recent years, 36 homes have been demolished on the surrounding streets. Nine are boarded-up.
Fear has stalked these streets for years, the kind of gnawing terror that makes people keep their heads down, their mouths shut and their eyes closed. But today there is a sense of relief.
Dundon joins his three brothers – Wayne, Dessie and Ger – in prison. His conviction comes after a period of sustained success by the Garda in placing high-profile gang members behind bars. In all, 30 criminals involved in Limerick’s drug wars are in prison, while twice that number have served time in recent years.
The city is now a much safer place. Six years ago, more than 100 shootings were recorded in a 12-month period. Last year, there were fewer than 10. Organised criminal activity on the ground has also dropped dramatically.
Tougher antigangland laws, a shift in policing tactics and better resources have all played a part in turning the tide against a rise in criminality, which for a time seemed to be out of control.
The fact that the Dundon gang appears to have cracked from within is hugely significant. The shells of burnt-out or abandoned houses are testament to the power of criminal gangs. But the evidence of April Collins, a former partner of Ger Dundon, along with her sister and her sister’s partner – a first cousin of the Dundons – has broken that spell.
Public representatives say it is a sign that people are willing to stand up and give evidence. Time will tell. No one is celebrating just yet. True recovery for the city’s most deprived communities will require sustained work.
It will hinge on fully regenerating neglected areas and offering meaningful opportunities for people who have had little reason for hope. It is the kind of work that could take generations to complete. In the meantime, public spending cuts and thwarted ambition loom large on the horizon for a new generation.
But, for now, there are reasons to feel relieved, says Collins. The fear that convulsed neighbours such as his in Ballinacurra Weston has eased. “It’s been happening for a couple of years now. The city is getting back on its feet. Things are better. The fear around here has been alleviated. It’ll be nice to see the city in a better light, now.”
The decline of Limerick’s most deprived communities isn’t explained just by the sad and inevitable legacy of history. There is a sense of neglectful, or indeed deliberate, public policies by local and national government that squandered opportunities.
These pockets of the city have some of the highest concentrations of social housing anywhere in the State. They have the highest level of deprivation. The extent of neglect was a shock for people such as John Fitzgerald, the former Dublin city manager, when he toured the areas in 2007.
“I knew the problems were serious, but it was probably worse than anything I had seen,” says Fitzgerald, who is originally from Limerick. “People were living a short distance from the city centre, but it was extraordinary how fearful and threatened they felt. It had tortured a lot of people. Most had paid their taxes, done their duty to society and had retired to a place that was in deep trouble.”
The Fitzgerald report led to the establishment of Limerick Regeneration and the unveiling of an ambitious plan to transform the sprawling local-authority housing estates of Moyross, Southill and other parts of the city.