Northern Ireland

Limerick leaves violent past behind and looks to future

Thomond Park, Limerick
Image caption Limerick has a newly refurbished stadium at Thomond Park

As preparations for negotiations on the UK leaving the EU continue, cities across Europe are seeing if there are any Brexit gains for them.

Among them is Limerick in the Republic of Ireland, not so long ago known to many as stab city because of its violent reputation.

Standing by the River Shannon looking up towards the medieval St John's Castle as it catches the early morning winter sunshine, Limerick is looking quite beautiful.

The new, architecturally-acclaimed Thomond Park stadium, the home of Munster rugby, dominates the Moyross housing estate that was once in the news for all the wrong reasons - gangland crime.

Limerick, according to Conn Murray, the chief executive of the city and county council, has put its past behind it and is ready for new challenges.

'Quality of life'

"We are an attractive location in order to do business," he said.

"We are accessible in so many ways. We are a good location for quality of life. The issues of the past have been dealt with. We have the lowest crime rates in the country at this point in time.

Image caption Conn Murray, the chief executive of the city and county council, said the city was an "attractive location"

"There will always be crime in a growing city but those issues have been dealt with and managed exceptionally well by gardai (Irish police) at local level."

In 2009, at the height of the economic crash, a computer company moved some of its Limerick jobs abroad.

It's estimated that the knock-on effect meant 5,000 people were made unemployed.

Something had to be done.

Image caption Denis Brosnan said US companies had started to come back to the city but there was a shortage of office space

What emerged was the company, Limerick 2030, chaired by Denis Brosnan, the former chief executive of the agricultural enterprise, the Kerry Group.

"Companies, particularly US ones, had started to come back to Limerick to start up but they didn't have office space," he said.

"So, our biggest recommendation was 'Let's advise the local authority to buy the strategic sites and if no one else builds on them let's build on them ourselves'."

And that's exactly what's happening all over Limerick - cheap office space getting ready for the market.

Selling points

As the regional manager for the IDA, it's Niall O'Callaghan job to attract foreign companies to Limerick.

The nearby Shannon airport, local talent, cheap property and an understanding local government are, he said, just some of its selling points.

"We have already over 120 international companies located here. Fifty per cent of the world's leased aircraft is managed from Limerick," he said.

"Uber have a centre of excellence in the city centre which is global leading for them. Johnson and Johnson have the world's largest plant for manufacturing contact lenses in the city."

Image caption Catherine Duffy said Limerick was a very commutable city and region with high-end jobs

Another enterprise that has moved to Limerick is the Chigago-based Northern Trust financial company.

It specialises in asset servicing for institutions and private clients.

In 2007, it had 19 staff. Today it has nearly 900, mainly local people.

Many are graduates from the local university in well-paid jobs, according to Catherine Duffy, its general manager.

"Limerick is a very commutable city and region with high-end jobs, good calibre staff," she said.

Target

"It's very affordable to live, work and play here. It's a very good region and we've proven all that."

Limerick 2030 has given itself the target of attracting 12,000 new jobs by the end of 2030 and it is already two thirds of the way there.

Image caption The city sits on the River Shannon

Denis Brosnan believes Brexit will help attract even more foreign businesses wanting access to the single market.

"[There are] 27 countries with 300m people - the obvious place to access them [is] from an English-speaking country," he said. "Not just because of the language but also because of the law. And obviously Britain and Ireland have the same legal system."

Whether those hopes are justified, is as yet, a bit like Brexit, unknowable.

But one thing is clear.

Limerick is already a city transformed and looking towards a future that it hopes will be bright after a dark and violent past.

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