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Dalai Lama to visit city where fear has overwhelmed hope

THE Dalai Lama is to make a peace visit to Limerick, where people spoke last week of the sense of hopelessness in the city in the wake of the double murder of heroin addict Dessie Kelly and his girlfriend Breda Waters.

The Tibetan Buddhist leader and Nobel Peace laureate is visiting Ireland at the request of charities involved in helping children caught in conflict. Although his itinerary is yet to be announced, it is understood that he will appeal for peace during a visit to Limerick, where children are getting caught up in feuding and drugs-related violence.

People in the Southill area, where the double murder took place last week, spoke of the widespread fear and concern about children becoming embroiled in violence.

One spoke of a family associated with the two deaths where a boy of eight years was recently involved in a serious assault on an elderly neighbour and another 13-year-old boy was caught with a gun.

It will be the first time that the Dalai Lama has visited the Republic. He has been to Northern Ireland on a number of occasions as part of peace initiatives.

His forthcoming trip has been arranged through his friendship with Derryman Richard Moore, who runs the charity Children in Conflict, along with two other children's charities.

Mr Moore, who was blinded as a boy by a plastic bullet fired by a British soldier in Derry in 1972, is the author of a book on his life and forgiving the soldier who shot him.

The Dalai Lama has described Mr Moore as his hero. The Children in Conflict charity said details of the visit would be announced next month.

In the double murder last weekend, both victims were shot in the head at close range with a shotgun.

Ms Waters had recently separated from her partner and was the mother of two girls aged nine and four and a two-year-old son.

Kelly was also separated and was the father of three daughters. He is also the third brother in the Kelly family from Southill to die.

One brother was murdered and the other took his own life. He is survived by one brother and sister.

Two of Ms Waters' brothers also died young. Dessie Kelly was released from prison last year, having served a five-year term for the manslaughter of 17-year-old Tanya Nunan, who was knocked down and killed by a stolen car that was driven by Kelly.

Kelly had become addicted to heroin since his release from prison. At Christmas, Ms Waters was stopped by prison officers who suspected her of bringing drugs into Limerick Prison after a sniffer dog had detected drug traces on her clothing.

Fr Pat Hogan, the parish priest in Southill who conducted the funeral service for Dessie Kelly, said yesterday that the area had been free of murder for some time -- there had been three murders in Southill in 2007 when he first arrived in the parish.

He said that young people from the area were suffering from a form of "educational apartheid".

"People here ask, 'Who wants our kids? Nobody.' Everyone wants their kids to get on but what we see round here is kids who have no ambition, who feel they have no tomorrow, no horizon, no idea of getting a job and a future."

Gardai say a great deal of Southill's problems stem from one family, which has been involved in feuding and multiple attacks on people living in the area.

In recent years, many law-abiding people who had been living in Southill have been intimidated out of their homes, which have then been bought at massive discounts.

During his homily at the Kelly funeral, Fr Hogan said people had thought they were "getting away from the insane evil acts of violence but this has landed us back in the land of misery, reopening old wounds for so many of us who have suffered wounds that took so long to heal."

Fr Hogan also addressed the killer -- who is well known in the area, and said: "You need to hear that you have brought shame on yourselves and on your families.

"You have brought shame on your children. You have brought shame on everything that we call human. You have blighted all our names by your evil deed."

Fr Hogan, who has played a major role in working to end feuds in Limerick, has spoken often about the problems of residents, who he says are the finest people he has ever met but are beset by youths and children who have become caught up in violence and anti-social behaviour.

Speaking last year about the problems in Southill, Fr Hogan said: "We hear a lot of stories about young children aged eight to 12 causing a lot of trouble -- anti-social behaviour. That comes from not engaging in school or anything like that and families breaking down.

"It is very hard to do anything with a 12-year-old child who is causing trouble -- the law can't touch him.

"We have experience of mothers, and I have known them myself, who actually plead with the guards to lock up a child of 12, 13 or 14."

Fr Hogan said parents would tell gardai: "'I can't take him, I can't handle him, he is destroying the home, he is destroying the neighbourhood. He'll kill himself or he'll kill somebody else. Can you lock him up?' They (the gardai) say, 'We can't.' So there is a big problem at that age."

One local community activist who lives outside Southill said: "This was some start to the new year. Life is terribly cheap these days -- people say Limerick, it's like a 'two-for-a-pound shop' -- two lives for a pound."

Sunday Independent