Drug centres must be located in city centre, says junior Minister

Catherine Byrne says she would fight to retain needle exchange in south inner city

Since 2011, there has been a 35 per cent rise in demand for Merchant’s Quay Ireland’s needle-exchange service. File photograph: Getty Images

Since 2011, there has been a 35 per cent rise in demand for Merchant’s Quay Ireland’s needle-exchange service. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Major drug treatment centres need to be located in the centre of Dublin even if it makes the problem more obvious to tourists, Minister of State for the National Drug Strategy has said.

Catherine Byrne, a Fine Gael TD for Dublin South Central said she would fight to retain the Merchants Quay Ireland needle exchange and drug treatment centre, the largest in the country, in the south inner city.

Despite complaints from local residents and businesses and the longstanding charge that too many addicts were brought into the city centre because treatment options were located there, the facility is “going nowhere” as far as she was concerned.

Speaking at the launch of the project’s annual report, she recalled an incident in the 1980s at her home on Bulfin Road, Inchicore, Dublin, which she said demonstrated how bad the drugs problem had by then become.

“We had the first chemist locally dispensing methadone; we had about 500 people coming weekly into the area.

‘Injecting himself’

“I was bringing the kids to school one morning, going out the door, and unfortunately there was a poor lad sitting in the gateway of the garden and he was injecting himself.

“It was frightening for the children and I was absolutely flabbergasted - I didn’t realise this serious addiction was so close to home. He was a local lad, I knew him.”

She said she asked him to leave and that he was gone by the time he had returned home from the school run, but he died a number of years later, she believes from drug use.

Ms Byrne said her personal experiences had convinced her that safe injecting rooms, like those in cities such as Sydney and Copenhagen, were needed in Ireland. She hoped the legislation providing for it would be enacted “by the end of the winter”.

“Next year some time we will have the first project opened... before the summer. We haven’t got a location at the moment.”

She said she believes services currently in place for drug users in Dublin city centre needed to be retained there despite complaints that clients are injecting in the streets and engage in public disorder and open drug dealing.

“Addiction is very much part of poverty and begging, and people beg to feed their addition. So [drug users] go where there is most people - and they end up in the city.”

Safe injecting room

She said she had witnessed the same issue on a recent visit to Cork, where stakeholders wanted the first safe injecting room located and have identified a building to house it.

“I know people have fears around them [injecting rooms] and we need to study how they are done well. I believe it can work well and that it can save lives.

“And I don’t believe it will become the hub that some people think it will. We don’t want to have a situation of people dying in the streets or in laneways.”

Merchant’s Quay Ireland says it saw a 66 per cent increase in demand for its mental health services last year. There was a 15 per cent rise in need for its drop-in service and a 19 per cent increase in demand for its nursing service, since 2014.

Since 2011, there has been a 35 per cent rise in demand for its needle-exchange service.

Some 7,500 people accessed its homelessness services last year, while 68,239 meals were served by its day service in 2015 - an 8 per cent increase on 2014.

In all, the organisation served 98, 865 meals to poor and homeless people in 2015.