herald

Sunday 25 August 2019

'Our lives tormented by drug users shooting up'

A young woman injecting heroin into her arm
A young woman injecting heroin into her arm

The Merchants Quay centre will decide within days whether to appeal Dublin City Council's refusal of planning permission for an injection facility in its basement.

The drug and homeless service's plan to open such a centre has strong Government backing and Health Minister Simon Harris has expressed disappointment at the council's decision to refuse it.

Around 100 objections from local residents, businesses and a school were lodged to the council when the planning application was made.

Opponents of the plan defended their opposition to it, despite evidence of widespread drug use already in the area.

They were yesterday adamant that a controlled and contained injection facility will worsen, rather than improve, the issue of public injecting and the discarding of dangerous syringes.

Danger

This week, the Herald highlighted how city addicts continue to inject in laneways and public parks in the absence of a designated facility for them.

Used syringes and other equipment are widely discarded in places where they pose a danger to the public and the clean-up teams who have to collect and dispose of them.

Among those who initially objected to the facility were the owners of the popular O'Sheas Merchant bar on Bridge Street, close to Merchants Quay,

General manager Nick Kirwan said yesterday having such a facility would worsen the problem rather than resolve it.

"In the same way that you see people throwing away their rubbish on a beach even when there is a bin there, you will still have the needles discarded in public," he said.

Merchants Quay team leader Christine Leddy
Merchants Quay team leader Christine Leddy

"God love these people, they do have their own mental health issues, but at the end of the day, we're trying to run a business here.

"The current situation is not good, but there is no quick fix for it.

"I think the facility would encourage the use of narcotics and make things worse, not better."

The business's submission to the council said their "daily lives are tormented by drug users coming into our bar and restaurant to inject".

"Each day we have drug users locking themselves into and passing out in the toilets, drug users fully undressing themselves in front of customers and excreting on the floors," it said.

"Our staff spend an endless amount of time asking them to leave and cleaning up after them. Our staff fear cleaning toilets as they are afraid they will stand on a used needle.

Health Minister Simon Harris expressed support for the proposal
Health Minister Simon Harris expressed support for the proposal

"Our senior staff are spending more time each day helping members of An Garda Siochana use our cameras to download incidents."

In his submission to DCC objecting to the centre, Brian McDevitt, from the Thomas Street Pharmacy, said "dumping the problem on Dublin 8 is irresponsible and unacceptable".

"We have had three armed robberies in the last five years and I have no desire to see that rate increase," he said.

"The area is a tourist thoroughfare. Ireland's most popular tourist attraction (The Guinness Storehouse) is at the end of Thomas Street and we have had countless tourists comment on their experience with drug users."

Merchants Quay has said the medically supervised injection centre would give addicts a safe place to inject and minimise the risk of overdosing in a laneway out of view, and would minimise the number of syringes being discarded in public places.

Pushers

"People are objecting on the [basis] that an injection centre would attract drug users and drug pushers. But they are already here. They are the ones who are down laneways and in parks," said Christine Leddy, community engagement team leader at Merchants Quay.

Mr Harris and the minister of state with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, support a supervised injection facility.

"There's people dying in our city on the streets," said Ms Byrne.

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