16 Jul 2009
Many thanks to a friend who found this article in a German newspaper about  life in Limerick and went to the trouble of translating it into English for us. There's nothing in it you don't already know, but its still quite chilling to read an outsider's view of the society we've created for ourselves. Details after the jump.

Here's the German original http://www.faz.net/s/RubDDBDABB9457A437BAA85A49C26FB23A0/Doc~E92581DBACB9946F7AFAF3EE3C69AC58A~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html

A city in survival mode
Jochan Stahnke

4th May 2009 In Limerick, conditions similar to those in the third world continue to dominate- at least that was the opinion of representatives from the petitions board of the European Parliament, who recently greeted a delegate of businesspeople and local politicians from the West-Ireland city in Brussels.

In Limerick there is by far the lowest priced heroine in north Europe, two warring, weapon-armed gangs and one of the highest murder rates in the European Union. The city of 90,000 residents is also economically disadvantaged. For instance, the closure of the biggest employer in the region, computer manufacturer Dell, at the end of the year will mean the loss of thousands of workstations.

“It is bad at present”

Limerick’s Mayor John Gilligan, with his well-fed face and red cheeks, doesn’t look as if the matter has caused him sleepless nights. In June of last year Gilligan was elected; he is favoured because he does not belong to any party. Here in west Ireland he was born, here he has worked for eighteen years as city councillor. From the balcony outside his office Gilligan has a beautiful view of the Shannon, Ireland’s longest river; on the left-hand side lays the ruins of King John’s castle, on the right a glimpse of Ireland’s meadows. Around the corner, a restaurant advertises its menu as a “Recession buster”. “It is bad at present”, says Gilligan. “And there’s also one thing I absolutely don’t want to sugar-coat, that it will get worse.” In comparison with last year the number of unemployed in Limerick has risen 70 per cent. Now, the official rate of unemployment stands at 12 per cent. Before the end of the year, Gilligan expects a rate of 25 per cent.

Cats, dogs and ponies at every corner

Estates such as Moyross now already constitute over 50 per cent. Above all, the conditions there were what motivated the scolding from Brussels. It cannot continue like this, ranted a Romanian representative. He is not totally out of place in saying so: At the street-corner entering St. Mary’s park stands a burnt-out car in front of a row of houses, all of which are boarded up.

Signposts with the inscription “For Rent”, often visible in the pretty centre of Limerick, are no longer being displayed. Young mothers stand on the streets in dirty tracksuits and smoke, quite a few of them overweight. Rubbish is stacked up in front of houses; in some places it is burnt, so that a sweet and sour smell hangs over the estate. Everywhere children play, cats stray, dogs bark, and ponies search for something edible- they are tied up anywhere possible here.

5,000 people have literally nothing

On the main street, five men have an evidently spontaneous trotting race, their horses are in wretched condition. The police, who within a half hour have come and gone four times, seem to take no exception to it. They have more important issues to prevent: A couple of weeks ago an 18-year-old boy was stabbed to death here. Frank O’Dea, the priest in Corpus Christi church in Moyross, buried him. “There are 5,000 people living here who have literally nothing.” says Father Frank. No café, no supermarket, no sunning studio, not even a pub is there here.

And since 2001, a murderous war has rioted in Moyross between two gangs which has already claimed the lives of many victims and earned Limerick the name “Stab city”. In Moyross, the Keane-Collopies govern, while in Balinacurra-Weston in south Limerick the Dundon-McCarthys rule. As weaponry the gangs own Kalashnikovs, Uzis and grenades. Over the rugged thousands of meters of Irish coastline the gangs bring in drugs; for the region around Galway, the Irish coastguard only have one ship at their disposal. Down along the Shannon, cocaine, heroine and weapons arrive into Limerick. “An ancient city well versed in the art of war” is the motto under Limerick’s crest, a motto which today has an eerie validity.

“Let them have their grenades, we’ll get them all”

The gangs themselves, however, are not always well experienced. A month ago a gang leader shot him self in the head accidentally while he boasted his weapon at a party. Last year the Dundon-McCarthys shot a boy who had suffered panic attacks after having a murder order implemented for him and threatening to inform the police. In November, a well-known rugby player was murdered because he looked like a member of an enemy gang. “Let them have their grenades, we’ll get them all” says Mayor Gilligan as he lies his feet up on the desk in his office, where there is already a glass of wine. A hundred-strong armed police force has already been introduced as fortification since a few months ago. On Thursday of last week, 40 houses in Balinacurra-Weston were searched. Gilligan says he firmly believes in a positive future: “We have already survived famine, we will also endure this crisis.” In the lobby of the city hall there lies an open book of condolences- at the start of April, 35-year-old Roy Collins was murdered outside a pub in Balinacurra-Weston. The businessman, whose family owns the pub together with an adjacent shopping centre, had forbidden the Dundon-McCarthys to sell drugs on his ground.

Twice a day a car is burned

Marty Mannering is a fireman. His station is situated on Mulgrave Street, directly beside the prison. “Today I put out two burning cars, a completely normal day” says the 44-year-old family man. He and his colleagues don’t receive much support. The fire engine is strewn with dents and scratches, the result of countless stone attacks from angry or bored youths. Five years ago, Mannering was him self injured by a stone. For ten days thereupon he lay in hospital. For seventeen years, Mannering has lived in Limerick, nine of which were with the fire brigade. He and his colleagues are only deployed out to Moyross and Balinacurra-Weston as long as they are with a police escort. In doing so they get meanwhile less money than they were previously payed: on average, 7.5 per cent of the salary of an office worker in Ireland’s public service will be withheld as a so-called pension contribution, moreover, taxes have been raised, such as value added tax. Mannering says he receives only two thirds of his earlier salary. It is not expected that things will soon be better in Limerick. For the last two years it has been common knowledge here that Dell is building a factory double the size of the Limerick branch in the Polish region of Lodz, workers from Limerick were also involved in it. Poland is alluring, with its low corporate taxes, lower minimum wage and EU aid money- all factors which helped the initial “Celtic tiger” in Ireland, before wages, the cost of living and real estate rose dramatically. Dell has already given notice to its 1900 workers in Limerick. “And for each of these work stations, ten others hang on the ancillary firms”, says Mayor Gilligan.

Nobody pours out coffee in the labour exchange

His family, just as well, stand as a symbol of the crisis in the city, which has meanwhile also reached the middle-class: his son-in-law was employed by Dell but he was also let go. Gilligan’s daughter worked with Vodafone and she received her notice three weeks ago. “What should they do, they have a mortgage, two cars and two children”, says Gilligan. Neither of them have any prospects of new positions. Added to that is the fact that Limerick expects no new investors. Gilligan’s recipe against the crisis is as pragmatic as it is doubtful. “Now we go into survival mode.”

He leads those who have now lost their place in the labour exchange, among them many Poles. Tomasz Smietanka (30) worked with computer manufacturer Banta but is without work since January. However, he does not want to go back to Poland- the wages there are hardly any better than what he pockets here in unemployment benefits. Each person in Ireland who has lost their job less than a year ago is entitled to €800, which is the situation for Tomasz. Francis McMahon (59), on the other hand, lost his position as an aircraft technician three years ago already. Earlier, says McMahon, the people of the city would have queued up by Rooney, an estate agent, because everybody wanted to buy shares. There, the waiting customers were even poured coffee. Now, those same customers wait a hundred meters further north on Dominic street at the job centre. But nobody is offered coffee there.

Friday, July 24, 2009 2:35:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
My God that man has hit the nail on the head - Why are Irish journalists not producing articles like this - Our local and national representatives are a disgrace.
Danny Noonan
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 10:13:17 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Have to say I particularly liked Father O’Dea bemoaning the lack of “sunning studios” in Moyross!

I’m sure he has a few under-utilized confession boxes he could convert (xcuse the pun)…
P. Kindler
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