A FAMILY who were forced to abandon their home due to gang threats and intimidation are taking a test case that could spark a plethora of multi-million lawsuits against the State, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Eugene and Eileen Conway, who formerly lived at Clarina Avenue, Ballinacurra-Weston, Limerick, with their four children, fled from their home last December.
They are taking a civil case against Limerick City Council, who took over the work of the city's regeneration agencies, and the Environment Minister, who oversaw its implementation.
Following a spate of gangland violence, gun crime and anti-social behaviour in four suburban areas of Limerick, the Fianna Fail-led government established the city's regeneration agencies to tackle the problem in 2007.
Numerous families left the estates of Moyross, Southill, St Mary's Park and Ballinacurra-Weston as the State set about demolishing homes and properties where there were few supports and services.
In the Conways' neighbourhood of Ballinacurra-Weston, the local authority tenants transferred from houses around them leaving many neighbouring homes vacant and boarded up. The home alongside the Conways at Clarina Avenue was vandalised, suffered flood damage and the property was set alight. It became a haven for gangs. Fires were ignited in neighbouring houses and the Conways' home was attacked.
They contacted the regeneration agencies for assistance in 2010 and lodged numerous complaints.
The Sunday Independent understands that various public representatives, including Limerick Fianna Fail TD Willie O'Dea, have offered to assist them and give representation to the local authority.
Gardai were regularly called into the area to deal with problems at the Conway home. As the intimidation and threats around their home escalated, the family requested a transfer to another area and were informed they would be paid for their home by the regeneration agencies. The going rate at the time for such properties was in the region of €30,000.
On December 15 last year, a local man attempted to break into a car belonging to a family member. The car was vandalised and later that night, Eugene Conway's life was threatened at his home.
Gardai were again alerted and the family fled their home that night under the cover of darkness and were given protection by the gardai. The family home was subsequently boarded up but has been ransacked and vandalised since.
The Conways have been subjected to constant threats and gang intimidation since abandoning their home. Their children have been called "rats" on their way to school.
Last week, a man from Ballinacurra-Weston pleaded guilty before Limerick Circuit Criminal Court to a threat to kill, assault, criminal damage and other offences in relation to the events last December. His sentencing has been adjourned.
The Conways now live elsewhere in rented accommodation. Earlier this year, they took their case through Limerick Community Law and Mediation Centre and the Voluntary Assistance Scheme of the Bar Council of Ireland to the High Court.
The Conways claim that Limerick City Council has been negligent in dealing with 25 plus individual complaints and failed to take steps to control and expel certain persons living in the local authority areas close to their home. They also claim that their constitutional rights have not been upheld.
In a hearing before the High Court on Friday, Brian Kennedy SC, representing the Conways, told Mr Justice John Hedigan it was a case of great "urgency." He explained it as a husband and wife "effectively being excluded" from their home because of "anti-social behaviour".
Mr Kennedy said that the parents of four children still had to pay a mortgage on the property, even though they were no longer living there and that the Conways were given no decent alternative housing.
It is likely that the case will be heard early next year.
The Department of the Environment said they "do not comment on matters that are before the courts, or likely to be before the courts".
A spokesman for Limerick City Council said they do not comment on cases which are at hearing.
Should the Conways succeed in their claims against the city council and minister, it is likely that the State will face a plethora of similar claims in the near future.
More than €100m has been spent on the regeneration process to date and more than 1,000 homes have been demolished, with many families moving away from the troubled estates.