EARLIER THIS year, President McAleese visited Limerick to launch a major community development and physical refurbishment programme for the most deprived areas of the city. It was identified, correctly, as the most ambitious social project undertaken by the State. And it promised to transform the prospects of thousands of families whose lives have been blighted by high levels of unemployment, poor quality education and health services and depredation caused by drug-dealing gangs.
Intimidation, anti-social behaviour and internecine warfare were all part of the toxic mix. Now, it appears the Government may delay necessary expenditure. This must not happen. People in these estates simply cannot wait until Government finances improve.
It is not just about building new houses, although in the current economic climate that would make good sense. It is about the level and quality of services available and the provision of community-based facilities. Most importantly, it is about ensuring that law and order prevails within these communities. Family-based gangs that have made the districts virtual "no-go" areas for years should receive no quarter from the authorities. Funding for a continuing high level of Garda activity and for extra personnel must be provided in order to reassure and support law-abiding citizens and to draw a line under the legacy of the "bad old days".
A masterplan for regeneration of the designated areas was presented to Limerick City Council yesterday by the chief executive of the project, Brendan Kenny. He made the point that while funding was not immediately required for the demolition and reconstruction of an estimated 3,000 homes and the provision of new town centres, it was essential that other aspects of the plan be implemented in order to tackle an unacceptable level of lawlessness. Major capital funding will not be needed until next year. In the meantime, however, official commitment and support for the 10-year project is vital.
Here is an opportunity for the Government to show its commitment to community values, social progress and basic fairness. Ever since the Budget, it has been castigated for favouring the rich over the poor and for concentrating cutbacks on the least well off. It can show now not just that it cares, but that it is flexible and focused enough to provide funding for the necessary educational, psychological, special needs and health services that can give the young people in these communities a positive start in life. Above all, families should be entitled to feel safe and secure in their homes.
The Irish Times