Some Dublin city councillors are among those who don’t want to put a supervised drug-injecting centre at Merchants Quay.
They say there are already too many services for people who are homeless and people who are addicted to drugs concentrated in Dublin 8, and that the proposed location is beside a primary school.
“Could you imagine anyone in the affluent areas of Dublin allowing their children to go to school beside an injecting centre?” said Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh. “They wouldn’t even consider it.”
The Health Service Executive has chosen Merchants Quay Ireland as the preferred bidder to run a pilot project for supervised drug-injecting centres in the city.
At the moment, the main Merchants Quay building houses variety of services for people who are homeless and people who are addicted to drugs, including a needle-exchange service.
That building is within a few steps of a primary school, and St Audoen’s National School is seeking legal advice to try to stop the facility opening at that location.
“The expansion of this service to introduce a drug injection centre is a critical child protection concern,” says Eilish Meagher, principal of St Audoen’s.
Meagher says she has been complaining for years about issues that stem from the services at Merchants Quay. Those include public-order offences, drug dealing, assault, and intimidation not far from the the school, she says.
But Tony Duffin, CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, says that a supervised injection centre will save lives, assist more drug users to access treatment, and benefit the local community by cleaning up the streets.
“There is a public injecting problem in the area. When the injecting room opens up that will reduce,” says Duffin.
Merchants Quay is unable to comment on its bid for the injecting centre, due to a protocol that prevents the preferred bidder from commenting for 14 days after they are named, said a spokesperson.
Local councillors for the council’s south-east area say they back the introduction of supervised drug-injection centres, but that the Liberties can’t accommodate any more drug-related or homelessness-related services.
“Why Dublin 8 again?” said Ní Dhálaigh. “Enough is enough.”
Some local residents last year went to court to challenge the council’s decision to use Carman’s Hall on Francis Street as a homeless hostel.
In December, the high court ruled that the council needed to follow its procedures and check that the change of use of the building wouldn’t lead to an over-concentration of services.
Ní Dhálaigh said this court win was evidence that such services are already over-concentrated in the area.
Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan said she would like to see the injecting centre in Dublin 2, instead. It could be on Leeson Street or Harcourt Street, which are central, easily accessible and less residential than Merchants Quay, she said.
“You are not taking people far away from their beaten track, but you are spreading out services across the east side and the west side of the city,” says Moynihan.
Centralising drug-related and homelessness-related services in the most disadvantaged parts of the city is serving to perpetuate social disadvantage, she says.
“We can’t keep dividing the city on the basis that some areas are very, very cleansed and other areas have to take all of the issues,” she says. “Addiction is an issue for everybody in the city.”
Ní Dhálaigh says there is already a shortage of gardaí in Dublin South Central, so she is concerned about policing the facility as well.
Said Meagher, the school principal: “It is the responsibility of the government and the HSE to develop an integrated and well-managed response to our national drug problem without continuously over-saturating and further marginalising specific areas and communities.”
Merchants Quay Now
Moynihan and Ní Dhálaigh say they are also concerned that Merchants Quay Ireland has its hands full already with running its existing services.
“The community of Dublin 8 do not have confidence in the Merchants Quay Ireland project, because of the chaotic nature of the external management of their services,” says Ní Dhálaigh.
She helped St Audoen’s school put in additional security measures, including CCTV and gates, as a response to anti-social behaviour directly outside the school, much of which she says emanated from people using Merchants Quay. “It’s scary for the parents,” she says.
Residents find Merchants Quay’s management hard to contact when issues arise, Ní Dhálaigh says. She has found them slow to respond to her queries too, she says.
Merchants Quay Ireland couldn’t respond to issues relating to the injecting centre, but a spokesperson did answer queries about the management of its existing services.
“Merchants Quay Ireland recognises that the provision of Homeless and Drugs services can sometimes be intrusive for people living, and businesses operating, in the local area,” he says. “We are committed to building and maintaining positive relationships with neighbours.”
They work to prevent and resolve any issue related to the activities of the organisation or its service users whenever necessary, he says. “Merchants Quay Ireland has a grass-roots approach to community engagement.”
A community-engagement team is available between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday, and that team “is present and visible within the local area and available for call outs and phone queries”, and “actively engage with local residents, businesses, Gardaí and the local school”, he says.
Their contact details including a mobile number are available on the Merchants Quay Ireland website, he said.
Merchants Quay Ireland is also active in a task group set up by Dublin City Council, which is made up of local businesses, local residents, the Gardaí, the local school and others, and which aims to address concerns raised by local stakeholders, says the spokesperson.
In the Area
Martin Harte, CEO of the Temple Bar Company, which represents the business community and others in Temple Bar, says the current legislation creates a “grey area” in the law and will lead to an increase of dealing and anti-social behaviour in the neighbourhood.
While legislation only allows a drug user to be in possession of drugs within the supervised injecting facility, Harte says those who are caught in possession will be able to say that they were on the way to the facility.
In other parts of the world such as in Sydney in Australia, police have managed to deal with that potential issue, Duffin, of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, has said in the past.
Harte says that the legislation fails to define an amount allowable for “immediate personal consumption”. He says he is convinced that the supervised injecting facility will draw more drug users into the area, and that drug dealers will soon follow.
He doesn’t support injecting centres, but he says the approach taken by the Netherlands, which provides users with medical heroin, would be better than the model Ireland is going for, which allows them to inject street-bought heroin.
People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh said she supports supervised injection centres and the work of Merchants Quay Ireland, but that she also fears that the injection centre could increase the number of people dealing drugs in the area.
Duffin says he understands the fears of local residents, but from looking at research done in other cities, including in Sydney, he doesn’t think the injecting centre will attract additional drug users or drug dealers into the area.
It’s unlikely that clients of his service on Abbey Street will cross the river to go over to Merchants Quay to use the centre. The injecting centre will probably be for those who already use the needle-exchange there, he says.
Of course, there will have to be a policing plan too. “The guards are very proactive … [and] drugs services work closely with police services and that is how you manage the issues,” he says.
One of the ideas behind the supervised injection centres is that staff there will get to know drug users, and will help to link them in to rehabilitation services. “These services save people’s lives, they get people through to treatment,” says Duffin.
Harte says that staff in the injecting centres won’t be able to link people in to treatment options, because there are no beds available in treatment units.
The HSE didn’t respond to a query sent on 22 February about current waiting times are for treatment beds and detox beds, or whether the number of treatment beds will be increased as the injecting centres are rolled out.