News

Dec 20, 2016

Fr Pat Hogan


Fr Pat Hogan spoke recently at the Regeneration Implementation gathering:

 

In mid-year 2006, I arrived to live in O’Malley Park and to work in the Southill Parish and area.  As we speak of Regeneration today, it is important to remember what life was like in a Regeneration area and all Regeneration areas.

I was a resident, and still am, but I was not like other residents.  I could drive out of the area – I could leave.  I hadn’t bought a house there, reared a family there – built a home there. Thousands had invested everything they had there and enjoyed life there, until it all began to go horribly wrong.

During the first year, we had the murder of four men, none of whom were ever in trouble with the law, one had some driving difficulties.  What shocked me in those first years were the amount of anniversaries of young men murdered.  But in my first year there were four and there was quite some more to follow.  But thankfully, there hasn’t been one for some years.

The second nerve-wrecking challenge was the burning of people’s homes, especially in Keyes Park.  Imagine someone driving a car through your garden wall and setting it on fire.  There was a craziness and a madness in it.  It didn’t matter whether you were on a walking frame or in a child’s cot.  There was no sparing of anyone.  It hurt to watch the elderly - the retired driven from their homes.  Homes that they loved, and that were so packed with memories.  What hit me most was our powerlessness and powerlessness of the state.

I was amazed at how quickly I got used to the sound of gun-fire, even how casual I became.  I had a visitor at around 11p.m. while making the tea, some shooting was heard, and my visitor immediately dived behind the couch.

In speaking to members of other communities, they would use the word anarchy:

  • Having to take the children from school years because of the sound of shooting.
  • Checking the streets to know was it safe for children to go home from school.
  • Families sleeping on the landing afraid that their windows would be shot in.
  • Imagine nine inch cavity block coming through your sitting room window.

 

2006 was also the year that children were burnt in a car.  Children paid an enormous price, and still do, because of the violence and the dysfunction.  Being involved in the school, we were acutely aware that we had no idea of what was going on in very many children’s’ lives.

  • What they were seeing / watching
  • What was being done to them
  • What were they being used for when it came to crime
  • A child has no language but its behaviour and there was lots said through their behaviour.

 

Stuart Shankar, a Canadian Government Educational Psychologist visited a number of times, and spent some time in the local school.  He was asked for a comparison, where had he seen children as damaged before?  A day later he answered that question – the only place where had seen children as damaged was in the Gaza strip.  The Children Services Committee commissioned a study on “How are our Children”.  It was carried out by Eileen Humphries and it tells a very grim tale.

I am sorry for reminding ourselves of the dark past, but I think it is important to do so for those who are new are those too quick to judge and find fault.  But they are the headlines of yesterday.  They are not todays and certainly should be tomorrows.

When the Regeneration effort was launched in 2007, their first success was that they listened to people.  The word that I would have heard people use is that they were “abandoned”, nothing ever worked for them.  But by listening and taking people seriously, residents began to find a voice again.  During those early days of Regeneration, the fear among people was palpable.  Being seen going to a meeting or being heard saying something could mean a free nine inch cavity block through your front window.

For me, living with so much murder, gunfire, the burning of people and the suffering of children, it was deeply depressing and upsetting to hear Limerick Citizens under-mine Regeneration even before it started.  If it hadn’t started where would we be now?

In the ten years of Regeneration, we knew that it was seriously hit by the economic situation that developed in Ireland and throughout the world.  But it survived.

It also survived the coming together of the City County Councils, which was an enormous task.

The Regeneration team brought a new way of working.  They listened to the local people they were no longer “these people”.  They took their view seriously.

The best approach was multi-agency – all the problems that arise, piece is owned by all the main agencies – The Council, The H.S.E. / Tulsa, The Gardaí, the DES.

In fact, there is no way forward unless we build a platform where all State Agencies play their honest part.  That working together should be in a very recognisable form, where community issues and problems can be brought and swiftly dealt with.

There was also a proposal of a recognisable inter-department group at Government level and this would be a group of people who would know the regeneration agencies and issues.  These would be “go-to” people.  Regeneration is not just a Department of the Environment responsibility.  It is also the responsibility of Justice, Finance, Education and Health.  A recognisable group comprising of people from all there would make for so much progress and resolution of difficulties.

Regeneration was never a council matter, but a joined up approach by all the main State Agencies.

Crime is down, murder is rare, the communities are safer, some building has been done, more is under way, and the repair of houses is underway, the services for children have improved – there is greater communication between Council and people.

Today we gather to hear the progress of the Implementation Plans over the past 2 – 2 ½ years and there is good news and it is important to celebrate good news.

In celebrating progress, we will find the energy to achieve even more. It is important to celebrate progress, what has been achieved.

The challenges that lay ahead in my view are as follows:

  1. The population of the Regeneration areas need to be restored.  They should never have been moved in the first place.  Why buy out thousands of people when less than a hundred are causing all the trouble in all the areas.  These communities need their population back in order to regain health and function correctly.  People want to go back to where they came from.

 

  1. Services for children need to grow and deepen. Every child in the country should be treated equally, and all be measured by the same standard when it comes to assessing need.

In 2000, half the prison population in Limerick Prison came from the four regeneration areas, at today’s costs that is between 15 and 20 million.  Spending correctly on children, is the most cost-effective measure you can take.  Our schools are excellent but should be used much more effectively in reaching to children and their families 24/7.

 

  1. Those who ply the drug trade should also be a main focus of attention.  They do enormous damage to individual people’s lives and to community.  Through their violence and outright abuse of power, they send the vulnerable that they have used to prison, silence whole communities through extortion and intimidation.

In my early days in Southill using a phone in public, even answering a call, was a dangerous thing to do.  Those who operate a trade in drugs can and do hide behind communities yielding enormous perverse power.  They will always have to be under scrutiny.

 

  1. In all honesty, we need to ask ourselves “How do we plan things?”  Ken Whittaker, who celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday was a great believer in planning.  We build Ballinacurra Weston, we planned ourselves into trouble.  We build Southill, we planned ourselves into trouble.  Moyross, Mount Kennett were all planned.  Moyross, Southill, St. Mary’s Park were planned as “locked in” communities.  One road in and one road out.  A disaster.

Not only do we take time to plan building correctly, but we plan management of communities, estates correctly.  Effective and swift management means peace and harmony and disturbers of the peace realise there is no place for them.

At the moment it is good to see the economy of the city lifting - that takes planning and great effort.  It is great to see the city rise and be alive.  But we want that for all the city, for every corner and everyone.  In the past, we have built walls, mental and physical, creating a divided city.  That too is changing.  Connectivity, inclusion these are our aims and we need to create genuine employment in all corners.

 

  1. Finally, we should surrender the blame game and come to understand why there is poverty in our city.  Poverty arises easily when our judgements are wrong when we exclude people in communities. In understanding it we can tailor educational services to the needs of those who are struggling or who have lost hope.  Education and Employment is the key to so much, it confers on people a new dignity and the prospect of a brighter future.

 

 

Over the past years, I have worked with excellent people in all State Agencies. (I have also worked with a few who didn’t get it) – The excellent people in the Council offices, Gardaí, Health Services are our way into the future.  I can sense a new thirst to build a better City and a zeal to incorporate the Regeneration areas that they may play their full part in a thriving community city.

 

I would like to pay tribute to all the residents of the Regeneration areas over the past number of years.  They are truly resilient and despite all the war-like turmoil, have remained good humoured.

I have seen them reach into their hearts and produce deeds of the greatest generosity.

Many of them came from the poorer inner lanes of central Limerick – they had their own unique character, extremely generous, loved music, had a strong connection with the army and quick to tell you the truth.

They were and are a great people.