Injecting, drug dealing, bloodied wipes, ‘the kids see everything’
Principal of Dublin national school says authorities are ignoring impact on pupils
Eilish Meagher of St Audoen’s National School on Cook Street, in Dublin’s inner city, keeps a thick logbook of daily incidents on the street facing her school.
“I started documenting it because people would say to me, 'That’s unbelievable. It can’t be happening.’ But it is," she says.
“This is a nice, quiet street, but it’s turned into a drugs market place. The kids see everything. There’s injecting; public order problems; drug dealing; discarded syringes, bloodied wipes. All this can happen in front of our school and as our students come and go.”
All of St Audoen’s classrooms look out on to Dublin’s historic city walls.
The area also happens to be one of the city’s busiest for drug dealing and injecting – in full view of the school’s 200 primary schoolchildren.
Meagher keeps the logbook in her office and reads at random from the first page that falls open.
“January 11th, 2019. Morning: three people dealing and injecting by the city wall...Five people injecting by the city gate – caretaker moves the group on. Afternoon: man injecting in the groin across from the school. Man injecting a woman in the arm. Parents irate.”
The problem, she maintains, is due to an oversaturation of drug and homeless services in the area.
She estimates there are more than a dozen such services within a 2km radius, the closest of which is Merchants Quay Ireland, which runs a homelessness and drug service about 150m away.
This year it is due to open the country’s first medically supervised injecting facility, catering for up to 60 addicts a day. According to the HSE, the facility will not increase drug use in the area.
“The evidence from other countries shows that supervised injection facilities do not increase drug use, drug dealing or crime in the areas in which they are located,” it says.
“This is largely because they are located in areas where injecting is already occurring in public spaces.”
Merchants Quay Ireland says the medically supervised injecting facility is a harm reduction initiative which will reduce public injecting, drug-related litter and overdose deaths,
“The facility will address many of the concerns raised by St Audoen’s NS. By taking drug litter and public injecting off the streets, the facility will make the area around the school a safer place for children, for parents and for teachers going to work,” said Derek Parker, project co-ordinator for the facility.
Gardaí are developing a policing plan for the area as required by Dublin City Council and will also sit on the independent monitoring committee for the facility.
Meagher accepts the new facility will provide a clean environment to inject, but fears it will attract an even bigger drug trade and lead to more antisocial behaviour.
“Where will they buy their drugs from? There are already gangs selling drugs 24/7 - it's a market place. It’s a honey-pot effect here. People talk about the ‘war on drugs’ like it’s an episode of Love/Hate...It might make good reading, but this is real life.
“There are people buying, selling drugs. There are people fighting and shouting. They pass out. We are forced to ask them to move on, away from the school."
She says she recognises the work of Merchants Quay Ireland and feels compassion towards anyone struggling with addition problems. .
"But this service it too large scale and is negatively impacting on children in the community. The principles of harm reduction must also take into consideration the impact on a community. I strongly believe that every community has a responsibility to respond to addiction without continually over-saturating certain areas."
There is an irony, she says, that some politicians are getting exercised about ‘no-fry zones’ and making sure takeaways are kept away from schools.
"Yet we can’t get politicians to take any notice of what’s going on here,” she says
The Government recently launched its national education plan in the school building, attended by a number of Ministers and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
However, she says her attempts for meaningful action or dialogue on the problem with those in authority have so far come to nothing.
“We spend so much time writing to politicians, looking for help, reaching out to those with the authority to help. All we get is buck-passing. I don’t think this would happen anywhere else.
“If this was an affluent area like Dublin 4, it wouldn’t be tolerated. Our children are equally as intelligent and deserve the same opportunities as all other children in the country, and to be in a safe environment and a community that they can celebrate."
Meagher is determined to campaign against the new facility and wants smaller-scale, more community-based services.
Much of her week, she says, is spent asking addicts to move on before injecting themselves in front of the school, or firmly requesting gangs of people selling drugs to disperse from the area.
She would prefer to focus her energy on leading children’s teaching and learning and helping them fulfil their potential.
“We do what we have to do for our children – it doesn’t mean we lack empathy. These are addicts, they are human beings, they are someone’s child or parent – we never ever lose sight of that in the school.
“We don’t allow negative language like ‘junkie’ or ‘rat’... But we’re aware that most of the people who congregate here aren’t from the area.
“St Audoen’s is a fabulous place, full of compassion, brilliant learning opportunities and high expectations. Yet we struggle daily because of Government policy, our location and the country’s view of what is acceptable depending on your postcode. allowing the over-saturation of services on working class areas is further marginalising them.”