A TIPPING point may have been reached in the public’s perception of just how committed the Government is to providing a better quality of life, free of intimidation and criminal activity, for residents in deprived areas of Limerick city. After five years of redevelopment activity at a cost of more than €100 million,
not a single new house has been built in the most disadvantaged areas. People are losing hope. Worse than that, Steve Collins and his family who gave evidence against a notorious Limerick gang have been forced to leave the State under a Garda relocation programme.
Redevelopment is a difficult business when the communities involved have been neglected for decades. It was only when residents of Moyross, Southill, St Mary’s Park and Ballinacurra Weston were being intimidated and burned out of their homes that the authorities took notice. By that stage, drug gangs were deeply embedded in the estates; turf wars frequently led to shootings and unemployment and antisocial behaviour was widespread. Launched in 2007, the redevelopment programme was linked to intensive policing and provision of additional community and social services. One hundred extra gardaí helped to jail gang members and reduce antisocial activity.
There has been a sustained reduction in serious crime levels, which is testament to the Garda and Courts Service, backed by supporting legislation. Equally, there has been a significant transformation of the physical infrastructure of Limerick, notably in the city centre and along the banks of the river Shannon. But five years on, more than 600 derelict or burnt-out houses have been demolished and up to 1,000 residents have been displaced. Community facilities were built but promised jobs and new opportunities never materialised.
Mayor of Limerick Jim Long described the forced departure of the Collins family under a Garda relocation programme as “a sad day for Irish democracy”. That is putting it mildly. The family were forced to live their lives under 24-hour Garda protection because of ongoing threats from members of a drugs gang who were involved in the shooting of Mr Collins’s adopted son, Ryan Lee, in 2004 and the murder of his son, Roy, in 2009. Nobody can fault their courage. The Government was correct to facilitate the move. In spite of that, their departure represents a rebuff for the forces of law and order and provides a stark warning that construction activity and social investment are urgently required to support local morale.