Living on estates of fear
Gangs of violent teenagers moved from notorious estates earmarked for regeneration are forcing law-abiding families to flee their homes, an Irish Independent investigation by Barry Duggan reveals
Residents of estates in Limerick are being subjected to a terrifying campaign of intimidation by juvenile criminals as young as nine years old.
Most of the baby-faced criminals are not yet connected to feuding gangs in the city.
In some cases, the youngsters have moved into areas of Limerick after leaving notorious estates earmarked for the city's regeneration scheme.
But they are now forcing elderly residents to leave their own neighbourhoods amid fears for their safety.
With the majority of Limerick's most senior criminals behind bars or awaiting trial, the problems previously encountered in gang strongholds have shifted to other areas.
Limerick City Council, one of the country's biggest local authorities, has evicted or taken back almost 70 homes from disruptive tenants over the last four years.
Our investigation also reveals:
- The council has received almost 1,000 complaints in relation to anti-social behaviour from their own tenants since 2006.
- Some 1,133 people have been interviewed by the four tenancy enforcement officers employed by the council.
- A total of 2,079 letters were issued to tenants warning them of their future conduct, along with 107 verbal warnings.
- For the most serious cases, 88 written warnings were issued while 37 notices to people to quit their homes were sent.
"This ceases the tenancy of a lease. Basically it has the legal effect of terminating a tenancy," a Limerick City Council spokesman said.
Twelve orders of repossession have come before the courts. Another 58 tenants voluntarily surrendered their homes after numerous complaints were made against them. A total of 69 homes have been taken back.
In the most extreme circumstances, four exclusion orders were made against individuals, prohibiting them from entering certain parts of the city following evidence given by gardai and city council officials in court.
Southill, St Mary's Park, Moyross and Ballinacurra-Weston come under the remit of the city's regeneration agencies and are earmarked for a major overhaul.
But the problems of gang intimidation and anti-social behaviour has moved to other pockets of the city.
This year alone, five families have fled the small estate of Fairview Crescent in Garryowen. Residents there claim that more than 15 families have fled because of ongoing threats and intimidation.
Last Monday, just hours after the social issues and violence in Fairview Crescent was discussed at a meeting of Limerick City Council's Social and Housing Policy Committee, another home in the estate was targeted and vandalised.
The following day, a woman who lived in Ballynanty for more than 20 years fled her house after threats were made against her by local criminals.
The local authority hopes to successfully evict a problem family from their southside home through the local district court in the near future.
Complaints from tenants of Limerick City Council of ongoing anti-social behaviour flow in constantly to City Hall.
The Limerick regeneration scheme has been greeted with both optimism and scepticism by the city's residents, businesses and political leaders.
The government-funded agency recently received a massive boost, with €350m committed to the redesign of the designated areas over the next 15 years.
The project's chief executive Brendan Kenny said 400 properties had been demolished in the four suburban areas in a bid to stop anti-social problems.
Another 150 are awaiting demolition and continually pose problems as they serve as secluded spots for gangs of youths and drug-dealing.
Mr Kenny has consistently maintained that the regeneration agencies were not moving people to other areas of Limerick or neighbouring Clare or Tipperary. He pointed out that if people moved home of their own accord, they couldn't be stopped.
But that has done little to ease the apprehensions of residents in the leafy suburbs of Castletroy, Raheen and Dooradoyle.
Residents' groups claim the problem is widespread across all of the city's estates.
"They seem to be pushing the undesirables out, that nobody wants and nobody has control over," chairman of the Russell Court Residents' Association in Ballykeeffe, Mike Cussen, told the Irish Independent.
"There are anti-social problems everywhere now and the virus has spread. They will stick anyone in on top of you. No one is taking control of the situation," he added.
At least one family in Limerick is to take legal action against the local authority for breach of their duties.
In the meantime, scores of abandoned homes offer blunt evidence of the continuing problems across Limerick.