The Irish Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

Limerick conditions 'a scandal'

by JAMIE SMYTH in Brussels

MEMBERS OF the European Parliament from other member states have compared living conditions in parts of Limerick to those experienced in the Third World and demanded a new EU investigation into illegal dumping activity.

A Moyross businessman told the hearing of a committee of MEPs how he counted over 50 spent bullet shells near his premises after gangland feuding.

The MEPs also accused Limerick City Council of misleading the European Commission by claiming it is providing an adequate waste collection service in all areas of the city.

“These conditions are reminiscent of the developing world yet it is taking place in a developed country in the EU,” said Romanian MEP Victor Bostinaru after listening to a presentation made to the European Parliament’s petitions committee by a local resident.

Cathal McCarthy, a resident of Westin Gardens in Limerick, told MEPs the estate suffers from illegal dumping and anti-social behaviour, and is plagued by gangs. One elderly resident is so scared he has boarded up his house and lives in darkness, he added.

“Limerick City Council’s claim that there is a waste collector with a small truck that could collect our domestic waste regularly is false,” said Mr McCarthy, who added that he felt the council is instituting a deliberate policy to try to get residents to agree to resettlement to allow large-scale regeneration.

He said the authorities had collected waste and brought pest control to remove rats last week, but this was only after they learned he was to appear at the committee. “I believe if you send a delegation to investigate the problems it would send a message that Europe matters and it cares,” Mr McCarthy told MEPs during his presentation.

Caroline Curley, Limerick City Council’s director of environment services, later told The Irish Times the council had not misled the EU and insisted a waste service was provided. “We are working hard to deal with social problems and waste issues . . . The reality is that some people there are just not interested in a clean environment,” she said.

Another member of the delegation, local businessman Thomas Daly who lives in the Moyross estate, said people were frightened for their lives: “I counted 58 spent shells outside my house with different gangs shooting at each other in pitched battles.” He added a Government promise to provide a designated Garda force to combat gang activity had not been fulfilled. Photographs shown to the committee during the presentation revealing boarded-up houses, illegal dumping and piles of refuse drew angry responses from MEPs.

“This is a scandal. It is untenable. It is clear that EU citizens have been left defenceless. We must hold the local authorities to account,” said Spanish MEP Willy Meyer Pleite.

Munster MEP Kathy Sinnott said illegal dumping was a weapon of war used by gangs who wanted decent people to move out of neighbourhoods to allow them take over.

She also said it was clear the commission had been duped by Limerick City Council, which had sent letters to the EU executive claiming it had solved the waste problem. Under EU law, the council is obliged to ensure waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health.

The European Court of Justice has already ruled against Ireland for failing to correctly implement the EU’s waste framework directive in 2005. Peter Wessman, director general of environment in the European Commission, told the petitions committee the information he had received from the Irish authorities suggested they were now in compliance. But after viewing the photographs, he said the commission would investigate the matter again.

The chair of the committee, Polish MEP Marcin Libicki, who visited deprived areas of Limerick in June 2007, said the photographs showed “the terrible state of the place”. He said the committee would send a letter to Limerick City Council and the Government explaining it was requesting the commission to undertake a new investigation into the conditions in parts of Limerick.

He said the committee would table a resolution for voting at the plenary session of the parliament requesting the commission to take legal action against Ireland for failing to comply with EU laws on waste collection.