Friday 22 September 2017

Tourists run the daily gauntlet of capital's junkies and beggars

Half of Dublin's drug treatment centres are located in the capital's centre, attracting thousands of addicts who, along with large numbers of beggars, give the impression we are 'a city of junkies', writes Jim Cusack

THERE was a period about five years ago when the O'Connell Street area of Dublin city centre looked like part of a proper European capital city. The work on the Luas lines that had gone on for years was completed and the trees and landscaping carried out.

There were plans for a huge shopping mall leading back into the Arnotts-led 'Northern Quarter' which would take Dublin 1 into a whole new dimension in terms of attracting shoppers and visitors.

The tourists who came in record numbers and booked up nearly every available hotel room for the St Patrick's Day parade in 2006 saw a city centre in near pristine condition.

Last week in Abbey Street and all around O'Connell Street, visitors, shoppers and working people were mingling with beggars and groups of addicts scouring the city centre for drug deals.

The addicts arrive in large numbers from early morning, moving from place to place in search of drugs. Large numbers attend the methadone centre in Pearse Street. They are issued with clean needles and allowed back out on to the streets.

The heroin addict's routine is to meet up with a dealer mostly between 8am and 10am, then find an alley or a quiet spot to inject the drug. They then join those on methadone in a search for the tranquilliser tablets that stabilises them to the point where many take on the tell-tale zombified state known colloquially as "goofing".

Last Tuesday, lunchtime, a group of three young women in velour track suits and an emaciated young man in jeans and hoodie were making their way noisily up Talbot Street from the direction of Connolly Station. They were talking loudly, almost shouting to each other, and were clearly high. They attracted curious glances from tourists.

On Wednesday afternoon, an Italian couple with their three children looked distinctly uneasy as they asked directions to the "old town" (by which they meant Temple Bar) at the Bolton Street end of Capel Street, an area with concentrations of addicts, into which they had apparently strayed. The wife seemed genuinely relieved when given the straightforward directions.

Tom Coffey of the Dublin City Business Association claims the state of the centre of our capital city cannot be ruled out as a factor in the declining number of tourists. Figures are down significantly this year, 16 million compared with 20 million last year.

"There is," he says, "a very fundamental thing about tourism. It is an emotional product. When you are buying a product you can see and feel it but what you get as a tourist is emotion and if the reality doesn't match up with your anticipation, your feeling is disapproval. The drugs, the dirt, the beggars. How do they [the government] expect tourism? Twenty million last year down to 16 million this year." Visitors to Dublin city centre, he said, could be forgiven for thinking it is a "city of junkies".

"It's a shambles. All the agencies are doing their own thing. The

Department of Transport has abandoned any sense of responsibility. The Department of Environment is a loony department. Health seems to want to bring addicts in from all round the city.

"Roughly two-thirds of all treatment centres are in Dublin. The Department of Justice want to open a centre for prisoners on early release in Wolfe Tone Street. They are dumping nearly all of this on the people of Dublin 1."

Catherine Winston of the Wolfe Tone Residents' Association said people living in the council and private apartments were appalled to learn earlier this year that the Department of Justice was relocating its probation service for released prisoners from Smithfield to a 16,000-square foot, ground floor office in a building in their street. The building is owned by developer Liam Carroll.

The residents took a successful court case to challenge the Department of Justice office which said it did not need planning permission for change of use from what were to have been retail units to a probation office.

The High Court ruled in favour of the residents. The offices which have been furnished are now hidden behind shuttering since the case in June. No planning application has been lodged even though the department is paying rent understood to be around a quarter of a million euro.

Ms Winston, who runs a laundry in nearby Bolton Street, said: "People were concerned because it would cater for all prisoners, including sex offenders. Half the drug treatment centres in Dublin are already in Dublin 1. The Department completely ignored our views. They were going to bring ex-prisoners from all parts of the city into our street. They wouldn't put it in Ailesbury Road.

"It's already bad with the addicts coming from the centres. They give them their phi [phiseptone, an alternative to methadone] and send them off. They should be kept in the centres to inject with doctors and nurses to keep an eye on them on their high. Some times when they are coming by we have to lock the door. Some of them will try and rob anything they can get their hands on."

She was critical of former Taoiseach and Dublin Central TD Bertie Ahern, saying: "He's retired as Taoiseach but is he retired as TD for here as well? Nothing's being done for the residents here."

The heritage group, Dublin City Trust, recently joined in the criticism of what it sees as the neglect of the city centre with broken pavements, "cluttered" street signage and tacky shop fronts.

The Trust, directly opposite which is a methadone clinic in Castle Street, cites many examples of neglect and failure to enforce planning, particularly in shop fronts and advertising signs in its report on the historic core of the city.

It also quotes Dublin City Council's own "vision" for the city centre as stated in its development plan. The Dublin City Council "vision" states: "Dublin, through the shared vision of its citizens and civic leaders, will be a beautiful, compact city with a distinct character, a vibrant culture and a diverse, smart, green, innovation-based economy.

"It will be a socially inclusive city of urban neighbourhoods, all connected by an exemplary public transport, cycling and walking system and interwoven with a quality bio-diverse greenspace network. In short, the vision is for a capital city where people will seek to live, work and experience as a matter of choice."

Siting a centre for offenders yards from one of the city's busiest shopping centres is, says Tom Coffey, the clearest evidence of the "complete lack of joined-up thinking" from Government on Dublin city centre.

Sunday Independent

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