Limerick's vacant, council-owned properties are being used as bases for drug dealing and mass illegal raves leaving nearby residents scared and angry.
As of the end of March, there were 297 vacant properties across Limerick City and county, according to the local authority. Of those, 54 are classed as derelict. They are mostly scattered across the city’s economically deprived areas and are becoming magnets for crime.
In Clarina Ave in the Ballinacurra-Weston region, a vacant house was set alight following a party last Saturday. More than 100 youths had gathered at the property, said Aontú activist Sarah Beasley.
A Garda spokesperson confirmed that gardaí, along with the fire service, were called to the scene of the blaze, though no arrests were made.
Residents in the affected areas are afraid to be identified for fear of reprisals. One resident said vacant houses have become such a problem during lockdown that locals will “cross the road to stay out of their shadow”.
“Everything goes on in there — from holding horses to selling drugs out the door,” said another resident.
“I know people who will walk all the way around and go up Lord Edward St, rather than walk two minutes up past that street because they are too afraid.”
Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick City, Willie O’Dea, said there is “a terrible problem” in Limerick.
“We have a severe housing shortage, but vacant council properties are being used as a base for antisocial behaviour,” said Mr O’Dea.
“It’s depriving [homeless] families who are stuck in hotels.”
In St Mary’s Park, eight of the 12 vacant houses due for demolition have been razed, said a Limerick City and County Council spokesperson.
It comes after Limerick City Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan called for action from both the gardaí and the council.
However, residents say the problem of empty properties being used to sell, store, and use drugs has “just moved from one house to another”.
“The drug ‘shops’ just move,” said a resident.
“If the council own the property, they have a duty of care to maintain it,” said Mr Quinlivan. “We need to look after residents who are living nearby. A lot of these are older people, and it’s unacceptable.
A council spokesperson said that 60 properties are earmarked for demolition. However, this programme has been curtailed due to the impact of Covid-19.
“When a council-owned house becomes vacant, Limerick City and County Council ensures that it cannot be occupied until refurbishment works are carried out,” said the spokesperson. “If illegal activities do take place, the gardaí are informed.”