Clean up your auld back yard: Tackling Limerick’s dereliction issue

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

I HAD to go see a man about a dog up in Southill there last week and it was quite startling and saddening to see such high levels of dereliction in a city estate – a council estate at that – in this day and age.

To see columns of empty houses, with maybe one lowly home habited in each row in some parts, was as depressing as it was maddening – especially when you consider that families are at their wits end, crying out for a place to put down roots.

Is it just me or do we seem to have a bad case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ around these parts?

Yes, absolutely, new homes and developments are more than welcome. Let’s have more of that please, if you don’t mind. But why are our local authority not doing more to deal with dereliction in older estates where families have lived for generations?

How about putting up some of the coffers from the derelict properties that are now being compulsorily acquired back into council housing?

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It must be soul destroying for those that have to look out their windows at this negligence and be reminded every day how they have been abandoned by local government. That was certainly the grim impression it left on me at least.

A sleight of hand trick

The very notion of Regeneration seemed like a sleight of hand trick when faced with this sorry vista. Surely new life could be breathed back into these estates to help rebuild communities and give people homes? How is that not a win-win all round?

With all the boarded up houses up there, maybe it’s time that someone sent Limerick City and County Council (LCCC) some compulsory acquisition notices of their own. Give them a taste of their own medicine.

Across the city, in Southill, Ballinacurra Weston, Kennedy Park, Garryowen, St Mary’s Park – the list goes on – there are houses left idle, many of them left that way for years.

Instead of taking the finger out to put them back in council stock, some of these ghosts of former dwelling places are nothing more now than jungle gyms for antisocial behaviour and grazing horses.

I remember Independent councillor John Gilligan in his time reminding the council executive at meetings in City Hall that they only needed to walk out onto Merchant’s Quay and turn left to see buildings that were left forgotten for years.

In fairness to the local authority, there has been lots of positive change, especially in the area that Gilligan often referenced at Metropolitan meetings.

The local authority are not sitting idly by, I admit, and progress has been made. There does appear to be a clear vision for the future, whether rose-tinted or not. And while the wheels of bureaucracy move at a bovine pace and get swamped in red tape and objections, the council seem, at the very least, to be making attempts to address the issue.

But we are told the money is there, so why must everything now be done at the same witless pace as the O’Connell Street Revitalisation Project?

A carrot and stick approach

As far back as June 2017, LCCC warned that a more “forceful” approach would be taken when it comes to dereliction.

Fighting talk, indeed.

Property owners of vacant or derelict sites who do not engage with Limerick City and County Council in relation to schemes implemented as part of its Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, they cautioned, would instead have to engage with them under derelict site legislation.

In October 2021, four years later, the council announced plans to acquire 21 derelict properties across the city and county.

That’s 21 derelict properties.

Last week, to much fanfare, almost two years on from this first tranche of compulsory acquisitions, the council were again out blowing their trumpet and announcing plans to amass a further 23 derelict sites.

That’s a total of 44 properties in two and a half years. Once, and if, signed off on.

Yet, according to recent figures by local authority watchdog the National Oversight and Audit Commission, over 220 council homes were vacant in Limerick.

In January this year, Chief Executive of Limerick City and County Council Pat Daly told councillors that they were taking “a carrot and stick approach” to dereliction.

Perhaps they might be better off taking their big fluffy ears out of the burrow and start sorting out their own warren.

The neglect I witnessed during my visit to Southill was a slap in the face to the very notion of compulsory purchase orders when council estates throughout Limerick are so ruefully discarded.

Clean up your auld backyard!