Wednesday 29 March 2017

Kenny finally makes journey to 'neglected' inner city

Message to Taoiseach and six ministers is simple - this area needs politicians who understand and will act now

Taoiseach Enda Kenny greets local woman Kathleen Pickett as he arrives for a meeting at St Laurence O’Toole National School on Seville Place in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Taoiseach Enda Kenny greets local woman Kathleen Pickett as he arrives for a meeting at St Laurence O’Toole National School on Seville Place in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Exactly three weeks to the day after Gareth Hutch was executed by ruthless thugs, the people of Dublin's north inner city were finally paid the visit they had heard so much about.

Just before 8pm, Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrived at Seville Place, which is nestled in an area that has dealt with its fair share of tragedies and crimes over the years.

Mr Kenny didn't travel alone. He was joined by six of his ministers, including Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and TDs from the locality Paschal Donohoe and Finian McGrath.

Seven senior members of the Government in all - the same as the number of victims of the bloody Kinahan-Hutch feud that poses such a serious threat to the security of the State.

They were there to listen, we were told, and to ask what needs to be done for an area that, Mr Donohoe admitted, has suffered from decades of under-investment.

Such was the significance of the meeting, Mr Kenny made sure that for days on end nobody knew when exactly it would take place.

Christy Burke speaks to the media after leaving the meeting. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Christy Burke speaks to the media after leaving the meeting. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Read more: Enda Kenny holds two hour meeting with community leaders in north Dublin over gangland violence

That of course is the right approach. The right thing to do when dealing with a community battered and bruised and feeling vulnerable is to meet representatives in private and away from the media glare. But after Mr Kenny summoned a team of ministers and officials to the Sycamore room of Government Buildings on Monday night to discuss the plan of action, it became clear that the prospect of discretion had disappeared.

As Mr Kenny and his Government colleagues arrived at St Laurence O'Toole's School, an audience had gathered outside.

A group of young boys stared innocently while the country's most senior politicians slipped inside to discuss the shocking events of May 24, when Gareth Hutch became the feud's seventh victim. Of course, these local schoolchildren shouldn't have to worry about what happened three weeks ago, in a carpark located a stone's throw away, where a young father was murdered in cold blood.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Pascal Donohoe answer questions from reporters. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Pascal Donohoe answer questions from reporters. Photo: Caroline Quinn

These children shouldn't be forced to walk past murder scenes on their way home from school. They shouldn't have to know about the ongoing war between the Kinahan and Hutch factions - a war nobody in this area wants to talk about.

But the tragedy is that these children do know. They do worry. They are scared.

They know their community is living under a shadow of doubt and fear.

On his way into the meeting, Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted he wanted to speak to people who had a "real interest in safety and streets". He was approached by well known Independent councillor Christy Burke, who told Mr Kenny to follow the lead of Irish soccer player Wes Hoolahan and boxing star Kellie Harrington, two north inner city locals.

"I said to the Taoiseach, 'Do what Wes did, do what Kellie did, and please deliver. If you had seven people executed outside of Government Buildings, there would be an entirely different response,'" he added.

Mr Donohoe, a TD for Dublin Central, denied the Government was merely responding to the seven brutal killings. But he admitted this area had seen "decades of neglect".

"We recognise the damage that has been caused by the years of harm our country has gone through and we have to respond to that. We've been very, very clear on the need to [be] responding to the challenges - and the opportunities are here."

Local councillor Nial Ring was one of many public representatives who attended the event last night. He described the visit by seven ministers as a "circus".

"It may have first looked like a PR stunt. Now it looks like a circus. This is about the community, not PR for the magnificent seven flying in to save us," he said.

But inside the school building, the presence of seven ministers failed to intimidate the community leaders. For well over an hour, Mr Kenny did not speak at all as he listened closely to those who know the area best. Instead, the Taoiseach simply took notes.

Mr Kenny and those present heard about one woman who is 82 and has lived in the north inner city all her life - but is now afraid to come out of her home.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Kenny said he found many of those present "inspirational". He vowed to ensure, working with gardaí, that people can walk the streets "without fear of their lives being taken away."

Representatives from the education and drug treatment areas all demanded an action plan by the summer recess.

Their message, communicated well into the night, was simple. What's needed now is politicians who don't just listen, but who understand and act with a sense of urgency.

Irish Independent

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