It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly the national media became part of the problem in Limerick but it’s fair to say that the majority of its residents feel the disproportionate reporting of the negative aspects of the city throughout the years has added considerably to the challenges they face.
At the beginning of the last night’s Breaking Crime programme Donal MacIntyre stood in front of the King John’s Castle and declared that Limerick is “calm” due to the inactivity of many of its gangland criminals who are now behind bars.
On the contrary, the place is actually buzzing, vibrant and optimistic off the back of the fantastic 2014 City of Culture and a confidence has returned to the city that hasn’t been there for years.
Interspersed between footage of horses roaming the fields of Weston, Southill and Moyross, security cameras keeping check and funeral corteges, MacIntyre told us that the “threat” posed by gangland Limerick still looms.
While problems still evidently linger, the people of the city are hardly cowering behind their sofas waiting for all hell to break loose.
The legacy of Love/Hate is that crime is sexy now and Breaking Crime is tapping into that market just as Limerick is at its safest.
It’s unhelpful to the city’s image and is an unbalanced depiction of a place that has admirably pulled itself up by the bootstraps in a time of economic and social upheaval. There were no recorded murders in Limerick in 2014, a huge step forward.
Misinformation perpetuated by sensationalist headlines and stories about the city are nothing new, though, as I know from personal experience.
In 2006 while travelling in America, I found myself at Ground Zero in New York City. I was chatting to some Americans who were paying their respects to the people who died there. Upon hearing my accent a young Dublin couple approached me and asked me where I was from. I was happy to hear some Irish voices and told them I was from Limerick. “Ah, Stab City,” said the man.
I was embarrassed, but I’m not sure whether it was more for me or for this man who had swallowed whole the tabloid version of the city.
This is not the reaction you get from all Irish people but there is a cohort who believe what they read and hear from the media and I’ve been in many similar positions where I find myself explaining that Limerick is a safe place to visit or live, despite media reports.
Breaking Crime’s main focus was on petty crime and drugs in disadvantaged areas. There is no doubt that it is an aspect of life in parts of the city but what wasn’t investigated is to why it prevails.
The tabloid approach of the programme was misleading and the only approaches MacIntyre could offer to tackling the problems were horse programmes and sports participation.
These are, of course, helpful if done right and with the correct supports but their impact is limited. The need for investment in community development and social and economic programmes in these areas is vital in tackling drug crime and anti-social behaviour - even more so than aesthetic based regeneration that knocks houses and builds more modern dwellings for residents who continue to be held back by their address.
The more you stigmatise Moyross, Southill and other working class areas in Limerick, the harder you make it for the people that come from there to gain employment, educational and social opportunities.
There was no mention in Breaking Crime of the thousands of people who live in these areas peacefully and are not drug addicts or involved in crime.
To his credit, MacIntyre said he felt safe and welcome in the city and he makes a valid point when he says that now is the time to prevent potential criminality festering.
Limerick resident and journalist Fintan Walsh feels that the programme was justified and should not be viewed as representative of all aspects of the city.
“We may have no murders, but we do have serious anti-social behaviour in all parts of the city and county. If you walk into the District Court, you will see a multitude of youths, of all ages, being charged and convicted of very serious crimes,” says Fintan.
“But that is NOT to say that when you walk into the District Court, that this is Limerick. It is not. It is crime in Limerick, and that is exactly what the documentary was about, though fragmented and single-visioned,” he adds.
The stories of the criminals MacIntyre interviewed were, indeed, very real but it was one side of the story in a city that has long been deprived of having its voice heard on the national stage.
A crime focused programme or not, it was yet another showing of the city by a national broadcaster that once again failed to mention anything other than the negative aspects of life for its people. Some balance would have been nice.
Breaking Crime is just another hurdle for Limerick to overcome as it attempts to re-shape its image and achieve some context on how life there really is.
#LimerickandProud is now trending on Twitter.