Thursday 17 August 2017

City cries out for help five years after arson attack

Barry Duggan

IT is five years since a horrific arson attack on two young children led to a blueprint for the radical transformation of the country's most deprived neighbourhoods, yet the violence and intimidation continue.

The petrol-bombing of Gavin, 4, and Millie, 4, Murray in Limerick city in September 2006 was met with outrage and horror across the country and the Fianna Fail-PD-led government responded by setting up a specially designated government agency to tackle social and criminal problems across four areas of the city.

The plans for Limerick's regeneration agencies have been welcomed as the path for a better future, but change is slow and, for many residents, too late.

Southill parish priest Fr Pat Hogan intimately knows the problems of Limerick. He has seen many of his community on the southside of the city abandon an entire estate of homes at the hands of the city's criminal gangs and marauding youths.

Southill -- along with vast swathes of Moyross, St Mary's Park and Ballinacurra-Weston -- has been earmarked for a social, physical and economic overhaul costing just less than €1bn.

However, five years since the first steps were taken towards regeneration, the attacks, fire bombings and threats continue, resulting in terrified families fleeing their neighbourhoods.

Last month, another five families in a city suburb abandoned their homes. Fr Hogan does not want to reveal their identities or their address for fear of further attacks.

"These are middle-aged to elderly people -- married couples with families. They have fled. They were forced to flee their homes after years of mental torture. Those leaving bore all the signs of years of sleeplessness and shattered nerves. I won't say where they lived as it only empowers the guys that do that. They get a thrill out of driving people out of their homes.

"This thing has to be tackled head on. We cannot allow this happen to good people. The ones who have gone, they didn't want to go, but had no other option. But now you have other people living there wondering who is going to be next. They are saying: 'How much longer can we last before we have to lose our homes?'

"These are good houses with beautiful kitchens, lovely sitting rooms. People are very proud of them and they are sitting there asking: 'How long more before we are forced to go?'

"I hear the question being asked could the recent violence that happened in London and elsewhere in the UK happen here. We saw the damage done to families, communities and the individual lives destroyed. Could it happen here?

"The real answer is that it is happening here. It happens in Limerick city on a nightly basis. Countless decent citizens have fled their homes in this city in fear," Fr Hogan said.

"It is difficult to understand the depth of the pain that has been caused to those who fled, having spent decades putting their homes together. Some did not survive too long and died soon after -- such was the trauma of leaving.

"For many in Limerick, the disturbance witnessed in London is not news on the TV, but a daily reality here and now in their own lives. It is slowly and insidiously breaking down their health and driving them to despair.

"Sadly, many may lose their homes due to the current financial woes of the country, causing them real pain. But hundreds have been losing their homes right through the good times -- only the fact that they are from Southill or Moyross makes them different. They don't seem to have the same rights or protections."

With a new local authority set to govern Limerick from 2014, Fr Hogan believes greater accountability is required from those overseeing the new council.

"If an inquiry was to allow the people who have lost their homes to the city to tell their stories, it would make for very sad and shameful reading.

"What we need is a structure that engages with the public, a structure that provides leadership for all of Limerick to prosper in all aspects.

"We must also recognise that regeneration must be part of any local government. Our present regeneration team have experienced many obstacles since coming to Limerick, but they have stood in the kitchens and walked the streets and have felt the anger and the despair of the people. So regeneration must be an integral part of any form of government -- local or national," Fr Hogan said.

Sunday Independent

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