No more cash for banks – Fund Limerick regeneration

Speaking about regeneration in his Sunday Independent column in December of last year, Willie O’Dea spoke of how many working class families in Limerick had left behind established communities in the inner city “for the promise of good housing in a good environment. That promise was betrayed.” Just two months later, O’Dea was speaking in the national media repeating this betrayal by announcing the abandonment of the Limerick regeneration plan.

When the regeneration project was first announced in 2008, it spoke of demolishing 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, into new town centres with shops and amenities for local people and would have made the regeneration of Limerick the biggest regeneration project ever undertaken in the State.

While over 300 houses have been demolished, none have been built in their place. 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 a citywide unemployment rate in 2002 of 14% and unemployment in the estates slated for regeneration 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% 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 have served as an invaluable stimulus at a time of economic devastation for the city. Limerick has already lost an estimated €1 billion in spending power from the closure of the Dell 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 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 those who profited from the boom.

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 €3 billion to publicly fund the entire regeneration project.

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