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Gardai claim 'Operation Stilts' is making streets safer

Drug dealers, addicts and beggars are being proactively dealt with in the north inner city, writes Jim Cusack

A stretch of north inner Dublin roughly following the Luas tramline from Heuston railway station to Connolly station at the other end of town has been unofficially nick-named "junkie corridor" by city gardai.

A senior Garda source said last week that there were an estimated 61 locations in the city centre where drug addicts are catered for, with services ranging from needle exchange (four locations) to Aids centres, methadone clinics, medical centres specialising in drug addict health issues, emergency social services, accommodation services and even psychiatric and counselling services.

The industry of catering to Dublin's heroin addicts has, by apparent government planning default, managed to locate itself in the tourist and retail heart of the capital.

The Luas red line from Tallaght in the west of the city is itself one of the main routes into the city centre for addicts, who make life unpleasant -- and often worse -- for people coming to work and shop in the city.

Commuters tell stories of strung-out junkies making life almost unbearable, flocking into the city centre each morning, attracted by the main methadone clinics at Merchant's Quay on the southside of the River, the City Clinic in Amiens Street and the National Drug Treatment in Pearse Street -- the largest of the methadone suppliers in the State.

At these clinics the addicts collect their daily dose of methadone, which they take back on to the streets with them to consume orally or trade for other drugs at times when heroin is in short supply.

Gardai say that, at present, there is a good supply of illicit heroin in the city and that the level of panic among addicts which happens during heroin "droughts" has lessened. There was a three-month "drought" last autumn following the assassination of the head of one of the major heroin gangs in the north of the city last September. However, the vacuum left by his murder was filled -- as it always is -- and the drug is in good supply. A "bag" of heroin sells for between €12 and €15.

In response to newspaper stories about the high levels of larceny and of drug-related crime in the city centre, gardai in the north and south central divisions of Dublin Metropolitan Region are devoting extraordinary resources to the "moving on" of addicts and of "stop and search" detentions under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

According to figures supplied to the Sunday Independent, gardai have dramatically increased their stop and search tactics against suspected thieves, drug dealers and aggressive beggars who were driving tourists and shoppers out of Dublin city centre just north of the Liffey.

Gardai carried out 3,217 drug searches on persons in the north city centre in the first two months of the year -- which, they say, represents an 80 per cent increase so far on last year. If this rate of detentions is carried on this year, 15,000 to 20,000 suspected addicts will be stopped and searched. On the southside of the river slightly lower levels of "stop and search" and "moving on" is done by gardai.

Sources say that while there has been little publicity about the operations targeting the dealers and thieves in the area around O'Connell Street, the Garda action has had a significant and visible impact.

The closure of "head shops" and the implementation of anti-begging laws has also largely done away with the aggressive begging that was blighting the city centre.

Gardai are now constantly moving the addicts instead of allowing them to congregate, as they had been, on the Liffey boardwalk and in the streets and alleys around the addiction clinics where addicts stop to inject.

Asked about the Garda response to the drug problem in the city centre, a spokesman said gardai from several city divisions had been conducting a proactive crime reduction strategy, "Operation Stilts", which was dealing with the impact of anti-social behaviour in the north inner city.

"Since its introduction, Operation Stilts has significantly contributed to making the city centre a safer place to live, work and visit," said the spokesman.

"The Garda objective is to utilise high visibility intensive patrols in specific areas, with particular emphasis on O'Connell Street and its environs. A zero tolerance approach is taken to prevent and disrupt the activities of persons involved in the commission of anti-social behaviour, drug use and drug dealing.

"Another aspect of the operation is the targeted intervention against known prolific offenders, many of whom do not reside in the inner city."

He said the gardai, under the direction of Chief Superintendent Pat Leahy in Store Street Garda Station, were adopting a "collaborative approach" with the commercial representative bodies.

"It is the view of the gardai and local stakeholders that the operation is having a significant positive impact on public safety in the north inner city," he added.

Dublin City Business Association last year issued a report on tourism in the capital pointing out that the streets around the north inner city -- where multi-ethnic food and new entertainment venues have been springing up -- were becoming frightening for visitors, and called for the relocation of the drug treatment centres. Dublin remains one of the few European cities to locate most of its methadone and treatment centres for heroin addicts in the main tourist and shopping area of the city.

Despite the addicts and the associated larceny and occasional violence, Dublin 1 is actually experiencing a unique form of revival. The collapse of the property developer pipe dreams for the city centre has opened the way for a boom in multi-ethnic food and shopping outlets in Dublin 1 due to the cheap, short shop leases now available.

The city's young and somewhat bohemian population is increasingly drawn into the Dublin 1 music and other cultural venues. Young people who attend these venues say that as the addicts leave the city centre around teatime, the area becomes much more bearable -- except at weekend nights, when drunks replace drug addicts as the main source of aggravation in the city centre.

Sunday Independent