Plans to breathe new life into deprived areas of Limerick will need to avoid the mistakes of previous regeneration attempts, writes Carl O'Brien , Social Affairs Correspondent
Above a shop in one of the sprawling local authority housing estates near Moyross in Limerick city is a faded 1940s plaque which proudly boasts its history as one of the first public housing schemes in the State.
There is no sign of such civic pride today. The local authority housing estates in Moyross and Southill are among the most deprived in the State. Unemployment rates are five times the national average. School drop-out rates are alarmingly high, while drug and alcohol abuse have destroyed large numbers of families.
But the area is most notorious for criminal elements in some parts of the estates, which earned a reputation - however unfairly - as a place synonymous with violence, fear and intimidation.
The ambitious regeneration plans to be published later this month by a recently established Government agency will seek to undo decades of neglect by transforming areas such as Moyross and Southill into desirable areas to live. It is one of the largest urban renewal projects in Europe, involving the demolition of thousands of homes and the construction of two new town centres, while it hopes to attract private investment in housing, hotels and shops.
However, regeneration plans have come and gone before. For example, millions were spent in the early 1990s rebuilding and renaming Glenagross Park, an estate in Moyross, where almost a third of houses were boarded up and there was 80 per cent unemployment.
Today, just over a decade later, many houses there are again boarded up or burned-out.
What makes this latest plan different, say those involved in drafting it, is that it is not just about rebuilding houses. It also involves some bold and controversial proposals aimed at tacking social problems.
Chief among these is that those seeking to get a local authority house should be required to have Garda clearance, or a "certificate of eligibility". This is aimed at stopping criminals buying up property in the area, as has been happening in a number of the estates in recent years.
The report also questions whether it is right for individuals who neglect their children or who are involved in anti-social behaviour to receive welfare benefits.
The proposals are certain to spark a debate over whether the moves go too far, or if they are just dumping social problems on to other areas of the city.
Whatever about how the debate will unfold, the involvement of senior officials from Government departments and local authorities in signing off on the proposals already gives them an authoritative foundation.
For those who are vulnerable and in need of support, such as lone parents, people with disabilities or ex-prisoners, it proposes intensive one-to-one support in areas such as parenting skills, training or education.
Another sign that this regeneration plan may be different from previous ones is the genuine involvement of local people.
Many of the recommendations were suggested or approved by locals as part of a lengthy consultation process over the course of the last year.
The next crucial phase in the regeneration effort will be whether the Government will provide the necessary resources to breathe life into these ambitious plans.
Undoing decades of neglect will take a sustained investment far beyond providing resources for physical infrastructure.
It will involve trying to co-ordinate responses to social and education problems, changing the way State agencies liaise with the local community, and ultimately breaking the cycle of disadvantage.
• Up to 2,500 houses should be demolished and families provided with new houses in the area.
• Only families with "eligibility certificates", or Garda clearance, should be allocated local authority housing
• A new tenant purchase scheme should be introduced to make it more affordable for families to buy their local authority houses.
• Two new town centres in Moyross and Southill, with facilities such as shops and hotels, are urged. Private investment could lead to about 4,000 private homes.
• Two major Garda stations should be built in Moyross and Southill with 100 new gardaí.
• Each area should have a good social mix, with no more than 20 per cent social housing in each area.