SO, it seems the greatly trumpeted and entirely justified Limerick Regeneration Project is to go the way of decentralisation and the ambitious but sidelined national spatial strategy from 2002.
Spatial strategy was described as “a coherent national planning framework for the next 20 years”. That would “achieve a better balance of social, economic and physical development across Ireland, supported by more effective planning”. So much for that.
Decentralisation was next. It was one of Charlie McCreevy’s more eccentric – and impossibly expensive – fantasies. His one-man-and-his-ego folly did not survive even the timorous scrutiny a mother might use to quiz a spoilt child. It was one of those plans that sounded great and promised wonderful things until you tried to make it work. It was as if the architect used metric measurements but everyone else was stuck on imperial inches and yards. It just did not add up.
So much for that plan too.
The weekend announcement from Defence Minister and Limerick deputy Willie O’Dea that the Government will not be able to deliver the €1.7 billion it promised less than two years ago – October, 2008 – for the rejuvenation of areas of Limerick cannot be a surprise but it is nonetheless very disappointing.
It came less than a month after O’Dea promised that he was going to the Department of the Environment “to kick some ass” over the project. If this gombeenism wasn’t so pathetic it would be laughable.
The communities involved will rightly feel that they have been let down, once again, by official Ireland. It will add to the alienation and sense of injustice that have fuelled so many of the social problems that made this regeneration project so very necessary. Soaring unemployment will probably acerbate those problems.
Today’s economic circumstances made the announcement inevitable but the project was established at least a decade too late. The social difficulties and localised crime rates – the murders and the violence that gang wars bring – that inspired it have been apparent for decades. Had it been established in, say, 1998 rather than months ago it might have realised most of its objectives by now.
So much for the if-I-have-it-I’ll-spend-it bluster.
The plan proposed the construction of more than 7,000 homes before 2018.
The project was to be financed by public investment of €1.6 billion with €1.4bn from the private sector. As Jimmy Woulfe reports today, the actuality is rather different. The report card reads: over 400 houses demolished but not one foundation for a new home is in place.
There was a huge social imperative in this project and it had the potential to be life-changing for so many people trapped in an environment that had come to limit their possibilities and lives.
Some funding remains in place but just a fraction of what was promised.
Let us hope that this can be used imaginatively to help those who want to change their lives for the better. It is, however, tragic, that a scheme that had the capacity to do so much good is so curtailed.
Once again the weakest pay the price for the excesses and greed of the rich.
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