RESIDENTS in the 20-unit Waterfront apartment complex in Portarlington are at their wits’ end following a dawn raid by the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) yesterday (Monday) morning.
The complex is managed by STEER, a voluntary housing agency.
It had been lying idle for a number of years until the agency took it over. It now houses 20 people, who were taken from Laois County Council’s house waiting list.
Shortly after moving in before Christmas, some of the residents had to move out and be accommodated in hotels because of a fire-alarm problem in the complex.
Residents have been complaining about anti-social activities in the apartments since moving in. In the first two months, they witnessed three raids by gardaí. The latest took place yesterday morning, when up to 15 members of the EMU − some carrying machine guns − stormed an apartment in the complex. It is understood that they moved in following an alleged armed robbery on a local off-licence over the weekend.
Gardaí said that with a suspected weapon involved in any reported robbery, it is standard procedure to call in the EMU when apprehending an alleged culprit. It is understood that gardaí arrested one man following the raid. He is due before the courts in relation to the alleged robbery.
Residents also said that since moving in, there have been break-ins to three of the apartments and that the door of the elevator had been “kicked in”.
Local councillor Aidan Mullins said: “I received a number of complaints about excessive noise and intimidation of residents. I am aware of three break-ins and of a car that was stolen from outside it, which is believed to have been involved in a robbery of a filling station.”
Cllr Mullins said that he had conveyed the residents’ concerns with the liaison officer of STEER on numerous occasions.
He said that he has been informed by the housing agency that it is in the process of employing someone to manage the apartment complex and have an office set-up in the local community centre to deal with issues.
However, cllr Mullins was highly critical of the manner in which some tenants were vetted before being offered tenancies in the apartments.
He said: “I understand the gardaí, Laois County Council and STEER had vetted the residents before they moved in. But my question is: what do they look for when vetting tenants? What procedures do they go through and what do they look for when a person is being assessed before being offered a tenancy?”
He also said he is aware that the housing agency has strict policy guidelines in relation to anti-social activities for its tenants.
“What will STEER do now if they find that one or two of their tenants have broken the guidelines? I’d have no problem calling for them to be evicted if they have been found to have broken the rules,” said cllr Mullins.
Replying, STEER’s chief executive officer Gerard Finnegan said he was aware of the issues in the apartment block and that the agency “will be dealing” with them.
He pointed out that all tenants over the age of 18 were garda-vetted before being offered tenancies but their family members under that age were not.
He said that Laois County Council supplied the 20 nominated tenants, who are now housed in the apartments.
He also said that nationally, STEER has 198 housing units and more than 90 in Laois and “on occasion, we’ve had to terminate tenancies”.
“We have to look after all the tenants there; there are some causing concern for us. I don’t have a problem saying this, but if anyone is found to be engaged in anti-social activities, we will terminate their tenancies with a seven-day notice to quit,” said Mr Finnegan.
He stated he wanted to reassure the tenants that “the issue will be dealt with”.
Mr Finnegan concluded by saying that a lease agreement has been signed for a premises in Portarlington and he was hoping that a STEER tenant-support worker would be employed within the next few weeks.