No resolution in sight to Limerick Youth Centre row

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

Cllr Tom Shortt near the site where Limerick Youth Service are bidding to build. Picture Michael Cowhey.
IN A week where councillors postponed a key vote on whether to build a contentious youth service on the northside, Cllr Tom Shortt has confirmed that gardai received a complaint from residents over his taking photographs in the area.

IN A week where councillors postponed a key vote on whether to build a contentious youth service on the northside, Cllr Tom Shortt has confirmed that gardai received a complaint from residents over his taking photographs in the area.

But he says he made a counter-complaint to the gardai over the initial report.

In a statement, northside resident, and member of the committee John Hickey said Cllr Shortt drove into Ballynanty on Monday, June 4, 2012, and took photographs of children playing.

When asked on this issue this week on Limerick’s Live95FM, Cllr Shortt confirmed this, saying he was taking pictures for a presentation he was doing for the Labour party.

“When you’re taking photographs, children naturally come up and say ‘Will you take a photograph of us?’. It was seized on by certain people. The group met, and they seized on this as an opportunity to possibly discredit me,” he said, “It is very hard to make a presentation on any issue without a photograph. This is a pretty innocent preoccupation.”

More than 100 people were at City Hall this week for the key vote on whether the Limerick Youth Centre (LYS) can build a multi-level youth centre in Ballynanty.

Around 40 residents from Ballynanty joined supporters of the scheme from the youth service at the City Hall summit.

The community is split on whether the centre should be built, with many locals fearing a loss of green space, a devaluation in their home value, and an increase in anti-social behaviour.

Although the project has cleared the various planning hurdles, it is the role of councillors to accept or reject the plan as it is on public land.

But on Monday, the decision was put on hold with councillors seeking a compromise on the matter.

It is understood that next week, all 17 members will meet behind closed doors to discuss alternative sites.

But the boss of the youth service has insisted Ballynanty is their only option.

Early on in the meeting - where it was standing room only - Mayor Kathleen Leddin said the decision was to be deferred for a month “to allow all councillors to be better informed.” The motion, seconded by Cllr Gerry McLoughlin, drew a round of applause from the opposition committee.

However, it was a representative of LYS, Frank Daly, who hailed the deferral as a “moral victory”, while Cllr Tom Shortt said he believes his colleagues got “stage fright”.

Fine Gael’s party whip, Cllr Jim Long said: “We were very conscious of dividing the community long term. We had to make a conscious decision to postpone this, and seek an alternative or a compromise.”

Asked if this meant that LYS would be encouraged to look at other sites, he said: “I think that would be a fair comment”.

Anne-Marie Stacke, chairperson of the opposition committee welcomed this, saying: “This is exactly what we want: a compromise. I know this community will get 100% behind the LYS to find an alternative site better for everybody.”

However, LYS director Catherine Kelly said this is not a possibility.

In a move which is likely to heighten tensions, she said: “Moving it outside the Ballynanty area won’t be possible, because the funding would not travel, and the Limerick Youth Service would not be able to afford to continue running such a building.”

Ms Stacke criticised the youth service for “using kids as pawns in a political debate.”

She said the children “had no reason to be” in the chamber come vote-time. The vote will go ahead on Tuesday, October 29.