A BASEMENT fire in a city centre premises last week was a stark warning of the plight of people experiencing homelessness in Limerick.
That’s according to Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan, who was commenting on an incident that saw Gardaí and four units of Limerick Fire and Rescue attend the scene of a fire at Glentworth Street last Friday afternoon.
Witnesses reported seeing thick black smoke coming from the basement area of one building, raising concerns about the welfare of homeless people sleeping rough in basement tunnels.
Speaking to the Limerick Post, Deputy Quinlivan said that record high homeless figures across the State are impacting on the ability of emergency accommodation providers to provide safe spaces for those with nowhere else to turn.
“I have raised my concerns with the Minister for Housing for a long time. He simply doesn’t get the scale of the problems,” he claimed.
“The night of the fire was bitterly cold and it is understandable that those without shelter would seek heat. Thankfully, the outcome was not as tragic as it could have been. But it is not acceptable for anybody to sleeping on the streets of our city when one considers the number of vacant buildings in this city that could be utilised for housing.”
Local businesses on Glentworth Street also raised concerns about the welfare of homeless people sleeping rough in the underground basement area.
Solicitor Michelle Hayes, whose office is located on Glentworth Street, told the Limerick Post that the fire started in an underground tunnel where homeless people had been sleeping.
“Fortunately, nobody was injured. The Gardaí were aware of this for some time and many people had reported it,” Ms Hayes claimed.
With freezing temperatures all last week, Ms Hayes expressed her shock that people had to sleep under the roadway for protection from the elements.
“We are relieved that nobody was injured and that there was no fatality. However, a similar incident in any of the underground tunnels in Limerick could have a much worse outcome.”
Ms Hayes has called on the Government, the HSE, and Limerick City and County Council to take immediate action to “house the most vulnerable in our society”.
“A full investigation of the tunnels under the streets of Limerick and an audit of the number of people forced to live in these substandard conditions in the underground tunnels should be conducted so that they are documented and given necessary facilities as a matter of fundamental human rights.
“It is not the first time that the plight of the homeless in Limerick City has been highlighted. A few years ago, a homeless woman died while sleeping rough in a basement in Catherine Street.”
The Limerick Post contacted Limerick City and County Council on the issue but there was no response at the time of going to print.