LOCAL authorities across the country should follow Limerick City and County Council’s lead in taking ownership of vacant buildings used by criminals to store and sell drugs, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien told the Limerick Post.
Suspected drug dens have been acquired by Limerick Council, supported by An Garda Síochána, since last March and demolished or refurbished into social and affordable homes.
Limerick City and County Hall is acquiring the properties by compulsory purchase order and using legislation aimed at reducing numbers of vacant commercial and residential dwellings.
Under ‘Operation Copog’, Limerick Gardaí have been intercepting the wholesale distribution of drugs and activities of organised crime gangs in the city.
It comes as Limerick Fine Gael Minister of State, Kieran O’Donnell, announced that Limerick City and County Council would receive €9million – the second highest allocation of funds outside of Dublin – to activate vacant properties and derelict sites.
Gardaí have managed to close down properties that were being used as a “supermarket” for crack cocaine – a drug that has surged in availability in Limerick in recent years. However other drugs dens have opened and “business is brisk”, sources said.
Levels of addiction to heroin and benzodiazepines have also grown rapidly across the city and county.
A dedicated crack cocaine support service run by the Ana Liffey Project in conjunction with An Garda Síochána was to allow Gardaí make “health referrals” for people in addiction as part of a new holistic approach to policing the drugs epidemic.
Minister O’Brien told the Limerick Post, while on a visit to launch 247 new social homes throughout the city on Monday, that it was a “good idea” that Limerick Council was turning drug dens into social homes, and that other local authorities should implement similar strategies to tackle the housing crisis.
“I believe it is a good idea, all of our local authorities, depending on the lay of the land in their own area, have a certain discretion to move forward with schemes and we (the Department of Housing) support them financially to do that,” said Minister O’Brien.
“Limerick City and County Council do a really good job on the Regeneration side; all of our local authorities, by the way, who are now tackling vacancy, are doing very well.”
“We are seeing old homes being brought back into use, old commercial buildings being converted and brought back into use for housing.”
“I have launched the vacancy grants scheme myself for up to €70,000 that people can get now, if they buy a vacant or derelict home to offset the cost of it and we have had nearly 3,000 applications across the country in just over a number of months.”
“Certainly, where property has (become available) be that through the courts making determinations in relation to criminal activity, I think it is good that those homes are put back into use for our own local authorities and I commend Limerick City and County Council for doing so.”
Ana Liffey provided around 9,000 sterile crack pipes in the Limerick, Clare, and north Tipperary region between 2020 and 2022 – nearly twice the amount in Dublin – to try to prevent cross-transmission of viruses and infections abdomen crack users in the Mid West.
13 vacant houses in one estate in Limerick City, which sources said were being used to store drugs, were demolished by Limerick City and County Council.
Limerick Sinn Fein TD, Maurice Quinlivan, who is also a director of the Mid West Drugs and Alcohol Taskforce, recently described the landscape as “dire” and called for further financial aid from government to fund increased drugs support services.