A REVISED plan for the regeneration of Limerick has gone to Government and will be considered by Ministers next week. Their decision on the investment programme is likely to shape public opinion, not just in Limerick, but in the broader community for years to come.
Since the economic downturn, the Government’s primary focus has been on rescuing banks and financial institutions. Now, it has an opportunity to rescue under-privileged families that have been on the receiving end of official neglect. The reaction of Ministers and their concern for ordinary people will be closely monitored.
Ministers will probably be advised that the money needed to give hope and a viable future to the communities of Moyross, Southill, St Mary’s Park and Ballinacurra Weston estates is desperately needed elsewhere. Of course it is. The inescapable reality is that the Government is strapped for cash.
In spite of that, the revised Limerick regeneration programme should be fully funded. Apart from providing vital local employment, the scheme can become the symbol for a newly rejuvenated Ireland that cares sufficiently about social cohesion to invest in the future of struggling families.
As a State, we have an appalling planning record. We can now begin to change that situation. A revival in economic growth is predicted for later this year. Hand-in-hand with that prospect should go the redevelopment of Limerick. Positive decisions taken next week will not immediately cost money. There will be a lead-in time. It is unlikely that any new homes can be completed this year, but it is vital that building contracts are entered into and new housing foundations laid in order to keep local negativity and frustration at bay. These families should not have to wait around for the return of economic prosperity. They should become part of the revival process.
Some progress has been made in addressing crime, vandalism and the refurbishment of estates. The appointment of additional gardaí during the past two years brought about the jailing of high-profile, family-based, drug dealers. Anti-social activity declined. State and voluntary agencies began to co-operate in tackling social, health and educational problems. A new youth centre was completed. More than 400 burnt-out or derelict houses were demolished.
But more needs to be done in building roads and community centres. These communities need to be reassured that the formal pledges given to end long- running official neglect will be kept.
In launching that programme, President McAleese spoke of bringing hope and a better quality of life to the most damaged communities in the State.
Make no mistake about it: the extent of official neglect towards these citizens should shame us all. The revised refurbishment and community development programme is now likely to take 15 rather than 10 years to complete. That is unfortunate. The most pressing need, however, is for the Government to provide immediate funding.