Home to many walks of life
Hailed as a magnificent amenity for locals and tourists when it opened almost a decade ago, the Liffey boardwalk is regularly blighted by drug dealing and anti-social behaviour. Carl O’Brienspent a day meeting some of the people that use it
IT’S A cold October morning with just a hint of warmth from the sun. A large group of people are huddled on the Liffey boardwalk, with the tall, dark-glass buildings of the IFSC visible in the background. Mostly, they’re heroin addicts, waiting for the methadone clinic around the corner to open. Others are openly dealing drugs out of plastic bags, keeping an eye out for Garda foot patrols.
Hailed as a well-planned and popular addition to the city when it opened almost a decade ago, some say the boardwalk is now being overtaken by drugs, drink and anti-social behaviour. Drug users and homeless people, however, say day-services are being cut back and they have nowhere else to go.
Sabrina has plastic rosettes in different colours attached to her white leather purse, showing the length of time she’s been off drugs: “Clean and serene for 30 days,” says one. She’s neatly dressed in blue jeans, black boots and a leather jacket
“It’s hard to stay clean around here. People are offering you everything: tablets, crack, heroin, methadone, dopamine, Zimovane. All this new crack is coming out now. People who are on it would sell their granny to get more. You see them, their faces are all sunken in.
“I used to be on heroin and crack, but not anymore. I never thought I could live in reality, I always thought I’d need drugs. But I’m going to the methadone clinic around the corner. I go to three Narcotics Anonymous meetings every day. I have sponsors who help a lot. I might pick up some Valium here, just to help me sleep. The cops come up to you, it’s all, ‘junkie this and junkie that. . . you’re only a scumbag’, even though you mightn’t be on it.
“Not many good things have happened to me. The last trip I took was as a kid to Sunshine House. Maybe it was to give the mothers a break, but we thought it was great, even though the place was probably a bit of a kip, in reality. That all seems a long time ago.”
He works in the IFSC and is on his lunch break. He’s wearing a white sweater, slacks and is eating a sandwich
“I come here a few times a week. The problems? It’s full of junkies. That’s why I’m down this end of the boardwalk, away from the Customs House. It’s always like this. Nothing gets done. Store Street [Garda station] move them on to the southside, and then Pearse Street [Garda station] move them back to the northside. I’m not sure what you can do, because if you arrest them, they’re back out the next day.
“Maybe we should do what they do in Zurich and have a ‘needle park’, or confine it to one part of the city, like in Amsterdam. It’s getting worse. Middle Abbey St, Christchurch, the boardwalk. Who’s going to challenge them?”
He’s been using heroin for years, but recently switched to methadone. He also deals drugs on the boardwalk. As he’s talking, he gets a call on his mobile to say two “rookies” are on the way. A few minutes later, two gardaí stop and take his name because he is a “known dealer”
“It’s like The Wirehere. They put all this effort in trying to nail things on the addicts or small-time dealers. They’ve a plain-clothes copper with false teeth and long hair – but he wears a big, dirty gold chain, so he’s a dead giveaway.
“It’s hard to get methadone. They don’t give out enough, so people want more. The methadone is a help, but it wrecks your teeth. See? I’ve hardly anything left. That’s from the old, brown methadone. They’ve changed it since. I’m going to head to Belfast soon to see what I can do about my teeth.”
He’s retired and on his daily walk from East Wall. He’s taking a break and eating a banana, a short distance away from where drugs are being bought and sold. He’s dressed neatly in a shirt, tie and cap
“I come here during the week. This used to be a lovely place, beautiful, very well kept. But I suppose there’s a recession on. And the junkies; police aren’t as vigilant as they used to be. There was a big fight here yesterday. All the drug dealing, it turns people off coming here. You get more nervous about being here.
“I try to dress well, it’s something I got from my father. ‘Always be clean shaven on the outside, no matter how you feel on the inside,’ he said.”
She’s wearing a blue raincoat and has a small Betty Boop handbag. She takes out a hand-written poem she wrote on drug addiction.
“Here’s a few lines from my poem. My heart is racing, racing, and I can see the blood pump in my veins / Looking down at my now healthy veins, I think, ‘sure I could do it. Just once again . . .’ / This black disease laughs at you as it see you come undone / Confident in itself that it has the battle won.
“I was in childrens’ homes until I was 13. I remember the first time I had heroin. This bloke was smoking it, invited me to have some, so I did. I thought it was hash. I stayed with him. . . when I was hooked, then he dressed me up, put me on on the game and says: ‘Do what the guys ask you to do and charge a good price.’
“I almost died a year ago from septicemia. The doctors said my heart stopped beating on the operating table. They had to use a defibrillator to get me back. I’m waiting to get some methadone. I’m a year off heroin. I’m also going to get some Valium to help me sleep at night. Otherwise, I keep getting this nightmare, pushing this guy off me.”
He’s been living in Dublin for the past three years, working in IT close to the IFSC. He previously lived in Barcelona. He’s on his lunch break and is eating a roll from the local shop
“It’s nice to come here, especially on a sunny day like today. I see the people dealing in drugs, they’re easy to spot. I don’t feel unsafe, they keep to themselves. It’s more visible than at home. Here, it all seems to be in the heart of the city. You see some things in Barcelona, but the drugs are not as noticeable as here. I have no real problem with them. Of course, you’d feel a bit safer if it wasn’t here.”
He’s sitting on his own, sipping a cup of tea. A year ago, Vincent was an electrician for an oil company in Norway. Since he came home, he hasn’t worked. He’s using heroin now and comes to the boardwalk once or twice a week
“I’m here to buy heroin. I’m not here everyday. I’m just looking at who’s ripping off who today. You can easily lose your money. I can afford to be patient.
“I collected my dole this morning between 9am and 10am. I was telling myself that I wouldn’t come here last night. But the minute I got some money into my hand, there was no stopping me. I suppose, mentally, I’m addicted. I’ve no wife, no kids. I’m renting a house. I spend around €40 a week, plus a tenner on travel.
“I don’t consider what I’m doing a crime. I’m not physically addicted – I worked in New Zealand for a year, when there wasn’t heroin around, and it wasn’t a big deal for me. It just seems like whenever I come home, I’m back on it.
“I first tried it in the 1980s in London. I smoke it, I don’t inject. You kind of lie around in a stupor at home, you don’t think about your social problems. I pity the people who have to take it, who rob to pay for it.”
COFFEE STALL EMPLOYEE
He has been working here for several years but declines to give his name. Business is slow, with just two people seated
“It’s busy in the summer, with tourists and local people as well. Now, it’s quiet. The drug problem here is a big one. We were robbed two days ago, two men with masks came along. There have been other robberies as well. You don’t expect that kind of thing to happen in broad daylight, just around the corner from O’Connell St. This is one of the most attractive places for tourists – but if it was better policed, it would encourage even more people to come.”
He has lived in the UK for most of his life but arrived back to Ireland a year ago on foot of an anti-social behaviour order. He has been homeless for many years and is drinking a can of beer
“I gamble too much. This betting slip here? I spent €40 on it. It was all I had. I come here because it’s a nice place, it’s somewhere to sit. Where else can you go? Last night, the night-bus came along and I slept in a place in Blackrock. It’s not a matter of just getting on a bus; you get treated almost like a criminal, ‘what age are you, where are you from...’.”
His eyes are withdrawn and he’s hanging around with two friends from a hostel, drinking cans of cider. He spent most of his life in the care system and has been on the streets since he was 15 years of age
“There’s nothing to do. We’re out on the street at 9am, so I just got a score bag of heroin, a couple of trays of Valium and we’re sitting out in the sun. The guards don’t bother us. We keep to ourselves, put all our stuff in the bin. I used to be into robbing. We’d be out of our heads, taking people’s wallets, mobile phones, but it’s not worth the hassle.
“I used to be into sports, went to school, all that. But I fell out with my foster family. I got into all this on the street. You feel stuck in a rut, you want to get out, but it’s impossible.”
It’s just after 10am and Catríona is waiting on the boardwalk until the methadone clinic opens later on in the morning. She has dark, braided hair and is wearing a grey and black hoodie
“I come here most days. The methadone clinic on Pearse Street opens at 11.30am. They only give me half of what I’m used to, because I got in a fight there, so I come here to get more methadone or some heroin to stop me being sick. They’re supposed to be keeping me off it, but they only give me half of what I need, so I end up here. You can buy around 40ml of methadone for around €30. If I don’t have enough money, I’ve some good friends who’ll look after me.
“I’ve been homeless for the past 15 years. My 12-year-old is in foster care with an aunt. Dublin Corporation won’t give me a flat unless I have my daughter with me. And the social services won’t give my daughter back unless I have a flat. So, how are you supposed to get on with your life?
“Have I been in trouble? Yeah. I’ve 106 previous convictions. I’m only out of prison – a four-year sentence – for robbing a chemist’s. You can’t get into treatment.”
A Lithuanian fisherman, Ivars is sitting with a friend in the sun, feeding the seagulls with bread and mackerel. He’s not working today
“Our boat is not out today, so we’re just sitting here. I don’t come here often. Yes, I can see the drugs are a big problem here. In my own country we have our problems: no jobs, drunks. But the drugs problem here? It is 10 times bigger than what we have at home.”