CITY councillors have agreed to allow the Limerick Youth Service to build a three-storey centre in the heart of Ballynanty.
A huge cheer echoed through the council chamber when members voted 11-5 in favour of a motion to dispose of the site for the youth centre, which has been made possible thanks to a sizeable donation from JP McManus.
It is a return to the spiritual home of the youth service: for its founder Sr Joan Bowles started work in Ballynanty.
Cllrs John Gilligan, Michael Hourigan, Jim Long, Kieran O’Hanlon and Maurice Quinlivan voted against the disposal, with the remainder - aside from the absent Pat Kennedy voting for it.
And Cllr Gilligan said it is time for the council to start “building bridges” with the northside community.
For their part,the Limerick Youth Service said it is “thrilled” with the outcome, which paves the way for a full centralisation of its service on the northside.
The new youth space will house the Ballynanty Garda Youth Diversion Project, the Ballynanty Youth Club, the Northside Youth and Family Intervention Project, and the Northside Youth Cafe.
The chamber began to fill around 90 minutes before the key vote was to take place, with a strong representation from local residents, users and staff of the youth service.
Prior to the main meeting, northside councillors met to decide to make a recommendation to the whole council.
Four out of the six councillors recommended the disposal of land to the service.
It was hoped other councillors would fall in line and back their recommendation.
However, when Mayor Kathleen Leddin told the meeting about this, it met huge resistance, in particular from Cllrs John Gilligan and Gerry McLoughlin.
During the meeting, Cllr Gilligan accused Cllr Tom Shortt - who has supported the youth service project from the start - of a “character assassination” of Ballynanty residents.
“Tom Shortt has been playing political football with this. Not once was he objective about it. I can accept different opinions, but people are not entitled to character assassination,” he said, “He has insulted people and spread confusion. We are being asked to make the wrong decision, and invited to do it on information which is totally wrong.”
He accused the Labour councillor of “speaking on behalf of the Limerick Youth Service”, and addressing its director Catherine Kelly in the gallery, said they should clarify whether this was the case.
Cllr Shortt did not address the meeting, other than to propose the motion be voted through unanimously.
Speaking to Live95FM after the meeting, Dan O’Gorman, chairman of the Limerick Youth Service development committee confirmed Cllr Shortt was acting on his own initiative.
In a statement, Ms Kelly added: “We now look forward to moving on with the development. Limerick Youth Service has been part of the lives of the people of St Munchin’s for decades, and looks forward to continuing this relationship for decades to come”. But Anne-Marie Stacke, Ballynanty Residents Opposition Committee said they will still try and block the extinguishment of the public rights of way to the site - also voted on by councillors. This could force the service into a redesign.