The Irish Independent - Saturday, January 12, 2008

Suburb revamp is Irish-style ethnic cleansing, says priest

By Barry Duggan

A priest has accused a city council of Irish-style ethnic cleansing in its attempts to regenerate one of the country's most rundown suburbs.

Fr Joe Young, who served in Southill in Limerick for 25 years, said the local authority was displacing whole generations away from their home neighbourhood as part of plans to clean up socially deprived areas in the city.

"Instead of being protected in their homes as promised, people are fleeing intimidation and anarchy," he said.

Fr Young, along with Limerick city southside community activist, Cathal McCarthy, said Limerick City Council has spent millions "facilitating this exodus, acquiring peoples' homes for as little as €20,000 in exchange for rented accommodation elsewhere in the city.

"We view this policy as exploiting the criminal and anti-social behaviour that exists to pave the way for developers, by clearing the land of as many people as possible -- ethnic cleansing, Irish style. Most of these people are law-abiding and elderly, and had finished paying their mortgages," Fr Young said.

Limerick Regeneration Agencies are overseeing the redevelopment of the Southill, Moyross, St Mary's Park and Ballinacurra-Weston areas of Limerick as recommended by the Fitzgerald report which was published last year.

In 2007, Limerick City Council purchased more than 150 houses across the city to ease the pressure on their housing list.


Mr McCarthy, who ran as an unsuccessful independent candidate in last year's general elections in the Limerick East constituency, said families who have taken the council offer should be contacted by the Regeneration Agencies and offered a house in the newly regenerated areas.

"If they used to be homeowners then they should return as homeowners. If they do not wish to return, then a house in the regenerated area should be sold on their behalf so that they can purchase the house they now have to rent," Mr McCarthy said.

Speaking of his former parishioners in Southill, Fr Young said he was receiving numerous calls from the area regarding ongoing lawlessness.

"The success or failure of regeneration hinges primarily on implementing the Fitzgerald report recommendations on community policing," Fr Young continued.

"New garda stations are years away and what is needed now is a highly visible garda presence at all times in these estates in order to restore confidence and stability in the communities. Indeed, such a presence is also needed in, and recommended for, our other troubled estates," Fr Young said.

"The problems endured by these estates are not exclusive to Limerick. Fortunately, the Fitzgerald report gives Limerick a unique opportunity to revolutionise community policing that could be implemented in other troubled estates and areas across the country. This is an opportunity that must not be squandered," Fr Young said.