THE floods in Limerick have hit one of the city’s poorest, most vulnerable areas.
In terms of economic disadvantage, it couldn’t have hit a worst possible area, and yet it also couldn’t have hit a more resilient community, who rallied together like never before.
Known in the past for pockets of criminality and neglected by successive Governments, since the “unprecedented” floods on Saturday last, the people of King’s Island indeed showed that no man is an island.
Whether you call it the Island Field, St Mary’s or Old Limerick, the people in this northside estate are largely honest, decent and hard-working. They may not have much, but they would give what they have got.
Among them is Raymond O’Carroll, of Island View Terrace, who like many spoke passionately from the heart. They don’t want massive hand-outs from the State, he said, nor do they expect to get them. He just wants to get back what he lost - “a couch for a couch, or a cooker for a cooker”.
“We weren’t hit as bad as St Mary’s Park, but the water came down so fast it was bouncing off walls.
“We’re just looking for people to be reimbursed for what they have lost. We feel it’s a national tragedy, and we feel the Government are the only ones that can pull the finger out and help people out.
“People don’t want money at all, they just want to get back what they already put in to their houses. Some people don’t have insurance, or for those that do, the insurance companies will take every last resort before they pay out anything.
“At the end of the day, people just want to get back into their own homes - dry, comfortable, nice and warm - with what they originally had.
“They don’t want no cheques, no cash, just to be reimbursed for flooring, heating, washers, cookers – what’s all we’re looking for as resident.”
“In this day and age, it’s ironic that you can send a man to space but you can’t stop water from going in to your house. It’s diabolical.
“If this was a third-world country, people would be looking for us to put money into a box. Some sort of Government strategy should have been in place [for the floods]. If this was a war, we wouldn’t be prepared. We’re angry and we’re hurt.”
Just 48 hours after the floods, people were forced to dump practically all of their possessions - TVs, washers, dryers, children’s clothing and Christmas toys, were all thrown out into a skip.
Affecting some 2,000 residents across 300 homes, many don’t know when they can move back in to their homes, or when they’ll receive aid from the State. In another few days, this ‘story’ of real human suffering will drop even further down the news agenda – at least from the national press – as the focus on the floods has already switched to Cork.
Politicians too will move on to something more current, a bit more zeitgeist-y and headline-grabbing.
But the people of King’s Island shouldn’t be forgotten – they have been forgotten and neglected all too often before.
It took two full days before Minister Brian Hayes, of the Office of Public Works, and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan visited the area. By that time, tensions and feelings of neglect were heightened.
In a media scrum, one woman shouted above the crowd: “Are ye still charging for water? We can sell it to ye now instead of ye charging us.”
There was a brief laugh before the seriousness of the situation was again brought back into focus.
Seanie Quinlivan, a father of five from 6 St Ita’s Street, perhaps said it best of all. “Minister, there are people now, today and tonight and tomorrow who are going to have to live in those houses that are flooded, in the cold and the damp and everything else. How are they going to manage? What are they going to do?
“They’re going to perish with the cold. Can we have something done now? Something done today? So we can sleep in a warm house tonight. People are freezing with the cold. It’s still winter time. What are we going to do?”
Maria Keane, of Oliver Plunkett Street, said she has been “completely wiped out” of her home and doesn’t know when she and her three sons - aged 6, 13 and 21 - will be able to return. “Everything is destroyed – all the children’s clothing were downstairs. The Christmas toys are ruined. One of the kids has a laptop, but I might as well throw that into the river,” said Maria, who was rescued by hero of the hour Ger Hogan on his horse and cart.
“We can’t even sleep in there. The council told us this morning the rising damp will go up the stairs. The heating has been turned off because the box got damaged. It’s awful. Your whole livelihood gone in front of you”.
Asked what she’d like the Ministers to do, she said: “We just want to know what he can do for us and how quick can he get it done. All I want to do is get back in home.”
Standing at the corner of St Ita’s Street, Madeline Whelan, 54, Verdant Crescent, was overcome with emotion on Sunday morning, as she looked down towards an impassable stretch of water, towards Oliver Plunkett Street, where her relatives “lost everything they owned and worked all their lives for”.
“The water came up as far as my window, but in comparison to the rest of my family I’m very lucky. They’ve nothing left,” she said.
“There’s great credit due to the people who were rehoused through Regeneration - a lot of them came back to help us. It’s a great community, it always was. There are people down there that have been here since the houses were built, and now their homes are gone.”
Independent councillor and former Mayor John Gilligan, of nearby Lee Estate, said this is not just any case of flooding - but an area facing serious humanitarian issues. Some said this was a typical over-reactionary comment from a public representative. But humanitarian issues have existed all over the city for generations - and now they have been compounded by flooding - in a Regeneration area covering 200 acres.
Fianna Fail deputy Willie O’Dea said residents awoke to find themselves trapped in their own “Dante’s Inferno”. He could have equally been speaking of the Government response to a crisis now engulfing swathes of the entire country.