Sunday, November 16, 2008

It Gets More Like England Every Day

There's certainly a hefty tradition in Ulster of everyone knowing and no one saying who the guys with the guns are. Obviously exists south of the border too.

Even in song this city of 90,000 is divided. Contrast the proud anthem of Garryowen – “Our hearts so stout have brought us fame/ For soon ’tis known from whence we came. Where e’er we go they dread the name Of Garryowen in Glory” – with the “gangsta” rap of Ballinacurra Weston, Moyross, Southill and St Mary’s Park of the Island Field, where grey streets are punctuated with boarded-up houses and burnt or rusting debris lies scattered across the greens, picked at by roaming horses.

The soundtrack and the style here is alien to Limerick’s rugby culture – a sport introduced to the city in the 19th century by the British Army garrison.

Graffiti lauds Bullitz, a local rap star whose song Da Graveyard tells the story of another Limerick. “It’s sad but true / Limerick life can be cruel . . . God knows down here the next time someone dies / there’ll be retaliation / I can’t get a job with this Limerick life / I’m feeling like I’m trapped and I can’t survive / There’s people round here they don’t even care when you’re messing with death / you know what to expect / the war will continue until you’re put to rest.”

In one visit by The Times this week, hours after Mr Collins’s home was searched as part of the Shane Geoghegan murder inquiry involving 30 raids in Limerick, Cork and Dublin, police examined waste ground and scorched, gaping houses for drugs and weapons. One officer said: “If we find anything we don’t touch it until we’ve called in armed support. If we tried to leave with the stuff they’d just take it off us.”

The officer didn’t look up from his task but it was clear that he was referring to Jimmy and his friends, armed with baleful stares and hockey sticks standing a dozen yards away.

And, just as in the UK, the whole thing's state-subsidised - not to mention the factor of the derisory sentencing which recycles killers back to their estates inside a few years.

The problem is that there seems to be a conveyor belt of criminals from the sprawling, neglected estates of Limerick so that every time they take one gang member off the streets another takes his place. And it is back to these estates that the debate always returns.

About 41 per cent of all housing in Limerick city is local authority. This is the highest in the country by far and almost twice as high as Dublin, with 21 per cent. The unemployment rate in the city, according to the 2006 census, was the highest in the Republic at 14.6 per cent. The estates are among the biggest in Ireland, with more than 1,000 dwellings in many of them. It is a planner's dream gone badly wrong.

Some of these estates are wastelands. Rubbish has been tipped everywhere. Houses - in some parts rows of houses - are burnt out and boarded up.

Some would point to the boarded up houses as proof that people are being relocated ahead of the planned regeneration project. But these estates have been in a similar condition since at least 2003, when this reporter began making his by now regular trips to Limerick.

The law seems a little short of friends in that part of the world :

Two Limerick-related trials produced two of the most egregious examples in recent years of memories failing in an Irish court room.

Liam Keane (19) was at the centre of both. In January, he testified under oath about a knife attack on him in Limerick city centre last year, and confirmed a garda statement in which he said: "Kieran Ryan stabbed me in the back." But when asked if he could identify the man in the dock, Kieran Ryan, he said: "No."

Judge Carroll Moran then said he was left with "no alternative" but to direct the jury to find Ryan not guilty. Later that week, Ryan was abducted only to turn up safely a week later.

In a reverse scenario last week, Liam Keane was freed at Dublin's Central Criminal Court after six witnesses denied making statements implicating him in the stabbing to death of Eric Leamy (19). Detectives admitted that none of the witnesses was intimidated.

Officers attributed the attitude of the six witnesses to a "culture" prevalent among some people in Limerick. The bizarre events surrounding the Keane trial embodied the spirit of justice Limerick-style: a system which might or might not involve a trip to court, and where witnesses reserve their right to withdraw sworn statements.

"It's part of the culture in Limerick," according to Anthony Galvin, author of a forthcoming book Family Feud: Gangland Limerick Exposed.

At least 15 garda criminal investigations in Limerick have failed in recent years because of statements being withdrawn, said Galvin.

"The withdrawing of the statements during the last peace pact has contributed to the culture of non-cooperation with the gardai." John Creamer (30) is a case in point.Two years ago, he was shot in the head, neck, chest, arm, leg and an inch away from his heart by a 16-year- old armed with an Uzi submachine gun. Creamer survived,but was unable to identify his assailant.

The almost indigenous inability of witnesses to identify gangland gunmen in Limerick was best illustrated in the case of the late Eddie Ryan, an armed robber, drug dealer and occasional hitman.

In 2000, Ryan, armed with a handgun, walked up to his former associate Christy Keane and pulled the trigger.

Unfortunately for Ryan, the gun jammed, and a week later Chr isty's brother K ieran Keane is believed to have shot him dead in the Moose Bar in Limerick. Christy - serving ten years in Portlaoise prison - had been unable to identify Ryan to the team investigating the first gun attack.There is no suggestion that Christy had any knowledge of Ryan's death.

"There is this code of silence in Limerick, sometimes it's a principled stance by the witness. Secondly, there has been some intimidation. I would not say it's a factor in the case of Liam Keane," Galvin said.

Those who agree to testify face an uncertain fate. Keane's father, Christy, was cleared of murder nine years ago after one of the main trial witnesses was murdered. Michael McCarthy was gunned down on New Year's Eve, 1993, months ahead of the trial arising from the murder of his brother Pa McCarthy.

Hmm. They're taking the mick. Like the British state, the Irish state has long given up on being what I call 'the nutter of last resort' - i.e. the person you really don't want to cross.

1 comment:

Dammitall! said...

It's the bit at the bottom of the Times cutting that makes it seem worse, if such a thing is possible.

“This started with fists more than 20 years ago, it moved on to stabbings and went from there to executions, people getting killed not because they’d done anything but just to get at the families. I can’t see it ever ending.

“I took part in peace talks only weeks ago, I shook hands with the men who tried to kill me. But that’s over. Only the funeral parlours will do well out of this for years to come.”