The recent announcement by Willie O’Dea that there was no public money available for the regeneration of the most disadvantaged areas of Limerick city was quickly knocked off the national and local front pages by the dramatic fall from grace of Limerick’s most senior TD.
The local political establishment have taken O’Dea’s demotion badly, with the city’s Fine Gael mayor exposing how interconnected the two main capitalist parties really are when he publicly lamented that O’Dea would be “a huge loss to Limerick.”
Nothing could be further the truth and in fact O’Dea’s resignation is of little consequence when contrasted with the discarding of the regeneration project by the Fianna Fáil/Green government. Speaking about regeneration in his Sunday Independent column in December of last year O’Dea spoke of how many working class families had left behind established communities in the inner city “for the promise of good housing in a good environment, that promise was betrayed”.
The actions of this current government are a case of history repeating itself as tragedy.
When the regeneration project was first announced in 2008 it was projected that it would cost €3.07 billion over ten years, of which €1.67 billion would have come from public funds and a further €1.4 billion would have been raised from private investors. This would have made the regeneration of Limerick the biggest regeneration project ever undertaken in the State.
The plan, as set out then, spoke of the demolishing of some 3,000 houses in the affected estates and the rebuilding of 2,500 of them. The plan would have transformed Southill and Moyross from gigantic cul-de-sacs cut off from the rest of the city – Moyross, an estate with over a thousand houses, has only one entrance – into new town centres with shops and amenities for local people.
In the last year over 300 houses have been demolished but none have been built in their place. This year was supposed to see the major construction commence but now there is no money for this. Instead of being the means of ending decades of marginalisation and exclusion, for many people, regeneration has been little more than a giant wrecking ball.
The practical effects of this are disastrous. Even during the boom Limerick was a relative employment black spot with an unemployment rate in 2002 of 8 per cent and 18 per cent for those living in social housing in the city. However, when those who are unable to work through retirement or illness or had simply given up on finding a job are included, the unemployment rate of local authority tenants in Limerick was a staggering 53 per cent – five times the national average.
With the onset of recession the city is suffering even more. The numbers on the Live Register have gone up by 85 per cent since the regeneration plan was launched and, today, two out of every three men under the age of 25 are out of work.
Regeneration had been projected to create up to 7,000 jobs in the affected communities, 3,000 direct jobs annually during construction and 4,000 permanent jobs after its completion. This would be a vital boost for young people in these estates if they are to escape the twin scourges of crime and poverty that have plagued a generation.
It would also serve as an invaluable stimulus at a time of unprecedented economic decline for the city. Limerick has already lost an estimated €1 billion in spending power from the closure of the Dell assembly plant in Raheen. The city centre bears the scars of the jobs massacre as scores of boarded up storefronts and abandoned developments dominate the inner city.
In the same breath that he was announcing that there was no public money to proceed with regeneration, Willie O’Dea spoke of developer buddies of his – “solid guys” – who had “a couple of hundred million euro” to hand and were willing to spend it to kick start the regeneration project. The idea being muted by Brendan Kenny, chief executive of the regeneration authorities in Limerick, is the introduction of tax breaks for big developers and allowing private investors build social housing which would then be leased back to the State.
Handing over the futures of entire swathes of Limerick city to profiteering developers and speculators is totally unacceptable. It is these very “solid guys” who are responsible for the unprecedented economic collapse. However, the fact that these characters are seemingly swishing about with hundreds of millions in spare change shows the immense wealth that still remains in Irish society for the few who profited from the boom.
On the other hand, for many of the more deprived working class communities the Celtic Tiger might as well have been another country. The huge levels of inequality were only heightened during this period as many – lacking much, if any, formal education – were unable to make it on to the first rung of the jobs ladder. In some areas of the city 70 per cent of residents have not completed their Leaving Cert. This is a scandalous injustice that must be righted.
This government cannot be allowed to abandon these communities again. These working class people did not benefit from the boom and the right wing establishment are clear in saying that this will not change now that the economy has crashed. In fact, now that the bust has come they expect ordinary working class people to pay again.
A high proportion of those who live in the affected communities worked as construction workers during the building boom. For about €300 million per year – money that would be made back by taking people out of the social welfare net and encouraging consumer spending – the State would be able to get these workers back into employment and end Limerick’s economic death spiral.
Working people should reject the capitalists’ logic that a few must profit before regeneration can commence – it is the dictatorship of the market that is responsible for the current situation. The Socialist Party demands that the State acts now to stop any sell out to private developers and moves to secure the entire €3 billion to publicly fund the regeneration project – about the same amount of money that was set aside by the government for professional fees when establishing NAMA!