Brutal murders of two innocent men a watershed for troubled city
LIMERICK is truly a tale of two cities and those who live there know it only two well.
I worked in Limerick for more than a decade – first with the Limerick Leader and then as Mid-West Correspondent for the Irish Independent, Herald, Sunday Independent and independent.ie.
All from the city and county are proud of their native place and will defend it proudly against any attacks – be they verbal, economic or political.
However, the destruction and violence orchestrated from the late 1990s until recent years was caused by natives to Limerick who blighted their communities. A family feud ignited in 2000 with the murder of Eddie Ryan in the Moose Bar and the repercussions are still being felt. Since then, more than 23 people – all men – have been killed by the criminal gangs in Limerick and the surrounding areas.
Initially the violence was confined to four neighbourhoods – St Mary's Park, Southill, Moyross and Ballinacurra-Weston. Residents here had to put up with drive-by shootings, intimidation, petrol bomb attacks and violence on a regular basis. The Fianna Fail led government paid them lip service but no intervention took place as the feuding worsened throughout the noughties. During this time, Munster rugby became the focal point and spirit of Limerick as the province's players chased their Holy Grail – the Heineken Cup.
Losses in finals in 2000 and 2002 only reinforced the determination and thirst for success and more than 60,000 supporters – mostly from Limerick – travelled en masse to Cardiff to see their side finally capture their just reward in 2006. The abiding memory of the game is a packed O'Connell Street in Limerick being broadcast live onto the big screen in the Millennium stadium in Wales. Munster players, out on their feet and gasping for breath, looked up in astonishment as Limerick defiantly roared their heroes on. The city partied for days in the aftermath – but dark clouds were on the horizon.
A petrol bomb attack on two innocent children in Moyross in September 2006 finally led then Justice Minister Michael McDowell to intervene and set up the city's regeneration agencies. However, the violence continued and extra garda personnel had to be poured into the Henry Street, Roxboro and Mayorstone garda stations to supplement their under resourced colleagues.
Come 2007, Limerick recorded a record 102 shooting incidents – a third of the total figure for the State that year. It was a regular occurrence on those bleak days to be woken by a phone call relaying the latest shooting incident or pipe bomb attack.
All the time economic depression worsened, the regeneration budget shrank and multi-nationals like Dell computers began eyeing exit options as unemployment and social conditions in the deprived areas worsened.
In truth it took the murders of two innocent men for the government to finally take notice – Shane Geoghegan in 2008 and Roy Collins the following year. Both died at the hands of the Dundon gang.
Grieving dad, Steve Collins, led more than 5,000 protesters – all clad in Munster red – through the city as Limerick demanded action to smash the gangs.
New legislation was introduced and garda priority was to take down the Dundons. 'Operation Redwing' proved decisive as eight gang members were arrested in 2010 and convicted as part of an extortion plot. In the meantime, shooting figures have since fallen remarkably to single digit figures for entire 12 month periods.
Twelve members or associates of the McCarthy-Dundon gang are serving life sentences for murder. They have been responsible for or been involved in the violent deaths of 10 people since 2002. Their names are well known: Sean Poland, Brian Fitzgerald, Kieran Keane, Michael Campbell McNamara, Richard 'Happy' Kelly, Noel Campion, Mark Moloney, Shane Geoghegan, Roy Collins and outside of Limerick, an innocent mother – Baiba Saulite.
Gardai in Limerick are now on top of the city's criminal feuding and well known faces have been imprisoned for life. Good riddance – nobody wants to remember them.
The last few years have been peaceful, and life on Shannonside – as anyone who lives there will tell you – is good. In fact, it is great.
The focus of all is now on the county's hurlers and what Anthony Foley can do with Munster rugby next season. Long may that continue.