Beasley wants to clean up city’s ‘black stain’

Aontu DEM candidate Sarah Beasley is a strong voice for Limerick's homeless. Photo: Dave Gaynor

AONTÚ’S hopeful in the race to become Limerick’s first directly-elected mayor, Sarah Beasley, says she wants to pull Limerick City back from the brink of becoming the crack cocaine capital of Ireland.

Ms Beasley, who has been providing food, warm drinks, and clothes for rough sleepers and others experiencing homelessness in the city centre for the past four years, expressed huge concern over new trends she has witnessed in the homeless community.

The City North local election and mayoral candidate told me that her Thomas Street office is like a “microcosm of the many things that are blighting our city”.

Every day, Sarahs tell me, the Aontú office is inundated with people presenting with truly serious problems — people who feel abandoned, ignored, hopeless.

“I don’t understand how the rest of the mayoral candidates are talking about Gardaí and housing, because there is no spec for the mayor yet,” she says.

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“There’s €8 million, that’s all we know. And anyone who has to walk through the streets of Limerick will know we have a huge, huge housing and addiction crisis, and it is all down to severe crack cocaine.”

Limerick Post reported Alan Jacques interviews Aontu DEM hopeful Sarah Beasley. Photo: Dave Gaynor

Sarah says that people suffering from crack cocaine addiction “turn into different people on our streets. It is bad.”

“By one o’clock in the day, this whole street is full of addicts,” she tells me outside her Thomas Street base.

“They are so aggressive. They are hassling tourists. They are hassling people for money. The aggression is there because the need for the crack is there.

“I was actually canvassing up by King John’s Castle and a guy tried to take money from me. I just said ‘no’ and he grabbed a tourist by her arm and I had to go over and intervene. So that’s the look that tourists are getting of the city and around the castle because, that’s where there’s a big amount of drugs being sold. That’s the reality.”

Addiction centre ambitions

If elected mayor, Sarah says she wants to make sure there’s more beds and shelters for the homeless. She wants to see more drop-in centres in a bid to break the cycle of addiction.

She also believes that St Joseph’s Hospital should be utilised to provide beds for people suffering with addiction and a fully financed and supported step-down programme to ensure reintegration into society.

“We have no addiction centre, so my promise is an addiction centre in Limerick City where they stand a chance to clean themselves up and do a programme to get back into society,” she declares.

“At the moment, if we don’t fix this problem, we are heading to a place that is going to look like hell in this city.”

Sarah says she started her homeless outreach programme during the Covid lockdown period after being faced by a grim reality while walking her dog, seeing people being “excluded” from society going on around them and unable to access homeless hostels during the daytime during the height of the pandemic.

Mayoral candidate Sarah Beasley at the AONTÚ office in Thomas Street. Photo: Dave Gaynor

“I just thought that was inhumane so I started bringing in sandwiches and it just grew from there. Now we pitch outside Thomas Street. We did Debenhams until the street became unbearable to be on. We couldn’t even get the car down the street to get the foo,” she says.

“We do hot food, cold food, teas and coffee, hot chocolate. They (addicts) take 10 sugars in their drink because they need the sweetness over the heroin. I’d be joking saying ‘do you want 10 sugars’, and they go, ‘yeah’. Their bodies are craving the sugar. They will grab 10 sandwiches and just shove them into their mouth. They are becoming animalistic and that’s the crack.”

A black stain on the city

Sarah spent the first 18 years of her life in Leicestershire, noted by her East Midlands twang, but loves Limerick to her bones and believes it can be so much more than it is at present.

The Aontú campaigner hits out at the fact the city has so many begging for money on every corner. These people, she points out, are not living but only existing. She considers this a black stain on the city.

“You can get on a heroin-methadone programme but there’s no programme for crack. There’s at least 60 people in the city addicted to crack and on one given night there could be 40 sleeping rough. Some of them aren’t getting a bed at all because there isn’t enough beds.

“People are coming to Limerick from other counties to get the crack. They are selling themselves, as young as 18, but some of them only look 14,” she tell me.

“These are normal people. They are not monsters. They just need help. On the doorstep this is resonating with everybody. People do not want to come into town because they are scared of the homeless beggars. They are frightened of them because they just won’t leave someone alone.”

Sarah says she wants to be a mayor that stands up for Limerick, a mayor that uses the platform to demand better for all the people.

“People want change and Sinn Féin isn’t the change they want,” she claims.

“I was with Sinn Féin for years, I was Maurice’s (Quinlivan, fellow mayoral candidate and Sinn Féin TD) secretary. At the door at the moment, pensioners are annoyed because they cannot afford to live. They have worked all their lives and they are feeling the pinch with the cost of living crisis.”

Sarah describes the current housing issues as “the big one”, one that hits particularly close to home.

“My 22-year-old son living at home. He will never be able to get onto the property ladder. He has calculated and figured that he will be 58 before he can get a mortgage. That is tough.

“A lot of people opening the doors say that their children are living at home in their 30s. They can’t even afford to have a proper relationship at that stage of their life.”

Speaking on her party’s ambitions in the next election, Sarah believes that “people are open to Aontú. Peadar (Tóibín TD) was the only one to come out at the referendum and say no. It was mighty for us. They were all flip flopping, and Aontú aren’t flip flopping. We stick to our opinion, right or wrong.”