Many of those who live and work in Dublin’s north-east inner city understandably resent the apparently never-ending recitations in the national media of the district’s social problems. Violent street crime, drug dealing, gangland feuds and dereliction all feature regularly. The recent riots have added a further grim layer to the mix.
An article in this newspaper has drawn attention to yet another troubling issue, the disproportionate role the area is asked to play in housing the city’s homeless. The report indicates that an extraordinary number of homeless people have been placed in emergency accommodation by the housing authorities within one tiny area – barely more than two city blocks – on Gardiner Street in Dublin 1. Buildings on the street account for a remarkable 1,170 of the 13,179 people currently recorded as homeless in the country.
The location, adjacent to Connolly train station, Busáras and the ferry terminal, traditionally served the transient with its guesthouses, B&Bs and youth hostels, many of which have been converted into accommodation for the homeless and for refugees. Families and children are among those living long-term in unsuitable, cramped conditions, alongside those with serious addiction problems, beside the traffic-choked street.
It is unsurprising that, faced with an unprecedented housing and migrant crisis, the State has reached out to use the capital’s reservoir of budget accommodation. But the net effect is that, yet again, the north inner city ends up taking a disproportionate share of Irish society’s most marginalised people and its most intractable social problems. This follows the equally disproportionate establishment of most of the city’s addiction services in the historic core. That in turn was a belated reaction to the sluggish response to the disastrous heroin epidemic that swept through the inner city two generations ago.
The truth is that ever since independence successive administrations – and by extension the people who elected them – have treated the population of Dublin’s inner city with suspicion and disrespect. From the tenements of the early 20th century onward, people who generally live in the comfortable suburbs have made decisions that affect the lives of those who live in the centre. Too often those decisions have been misconceived. Sometimes they have been disastrous. The result is that, in stark contrast with most other European capitals, large parts of the area around O’Connell Street, purportedly the city’s “main thoroughfare”, are disfigured by urban blight and anti-social behaviour. Remarkably, the same areas are also home to many thriving, creative businesses and people in what census data shows is one of the country’s most diverse communities. They deserve better. So do the homeless people in the B&Bs on Gardiner Street.