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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
streets of dublin

Just yards from the lattés and those craft beer bars ... dozens upon dozens of needles

Every alleyway in the city is being used for injecting…

20150528_155810 Daragh Brophy N Lotts - behind Eden Quay Daragh Brophy

IT’S ONE OF those cloudy-but-sunny Dublin afternoons.

At a corner gastro-pub, €25 steak-on-a-stone is being offered for lunch. Around its tables, a scattering of tourists and office workers are sipping coffees and sampling pints of craft beer…

Just metres away, though – there’s a much grimmer scene being played out.

Grim, but equally as commonplace. is on walkabout through the back-streets and alleyways of Dublin city centre with staff from the Ana Liffey Drug Project.

We’re around five minutes into our walk-and-talk when we see a slight figure dodge into the gutter – just behind a wheelie-bin.

His intent is obvious – and not particularly surprising… If you’re minded to look closely enough, you’ll spot needles and drug paraphernalia all over the cobbles.

20150528_162720 Daragh Brophy Discarded benzodiazepine packaging Daragh Brophy

Compared to the busy shopping streets surrounding it, this wide alleyway – running between Middle Abbey street and Eden Quay – doesn’t have a particularly high level of footfall. But it’s still very public.

As we talk, slightly further up, a garda car drives by on patrol – but the officers don’t see the drug-user… That wheelie bin has done its job.

Another Ana Liffey staff member is called out from their centre, just around the corner, to check on him.

As Paul Duff – the team leader with their new ‘Assertive Case Management Team’ observes – walking up with a journalist in tow won’t be doing the guy any favours.

20150528_162234 N Lotts on a weekday afternoon.

‘Every alleyway’

Every alleyway in the city is used for public injecting at some point in the week, director of the Ana Liffey centre, Tony Duffin, reckons.

However, it’s clear that some are more frequently used then others.

Across O’Connell Street, on the way to Liberty Hall, another laneway is littered with needles, citric acid packaging (which is added to heroin) and other drug waste.

It’s surrounded by tall buildings – and there are plenty of nooks and wheelie bins around to provide cover.

20150528_160615 Daragh Brophy Daragh Brophy

The ‘assertive’ team

Duffin and his organisation have been in the news a fair bit lately.

As you may have read on this website and elsewhere, they’re campaigning for the introduction of a medically-supervised injection centre for the capital, as a new way of tackling the decades-old problem of dangerous street-drug use.

That would require a law change – but so far, the newly-appointed drugs minister, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has been supportive.

Of course, that’s only one way the issue could be tackled – and this afternoon we’re out with Duffin and Duff to talk about their ‘assertive’ team, which has been up and running since last September.

“It’s very innovative. You wouldn’t find this happening in the UK as far as I’m aware,” Duffin says of the project.

It certainly doesn’t happen anywhere else in Ireland.

The Assertive Case Management Team works directly with the gardaí to find long-term solutions for people using drugs and sleeping rough on Dublin’s streets.

The HSE and Dublin City Council are also part of the project, along with ‘Housing First’ – which is backed by Fr Peter McVerry’s organisation and Focus Ireland.

Information is shared by the charities and agencies involved, Duffin explains. They work with around 40 clients – and case meetings are held every week to try and get people the help they need.

It’s an attempt by the agencies involved here to work in a joined-up way.

“What happens is – we’re walking the streets together, the Ana Liffey outreach worker and the guard, and we’re introducing ourselves as exactly that: ‘this is what we’re here to do – do you need assistance?’.

“Then, basically, you build up a relationship.

You sign people up in terms of shared information, and then the teams start working on whatever’s outstanding.

Video / YouTube

Operation Spire 

The project follows on from a number of garda-led efforts to crack-down on drug use and drug crime in the city centre area, particularly along the Liffey boardwalk and on O’Connell Street.

Hundreds of searches and dozens of seizures were made last year as part of Operation Spire, for instance - in just a single four-day period.

“Policing alone is not the solution to all of this,” Duffin maintains.

“The reason we started out last September was because people were coming to the attention of the guards through their criminal behaviour, their anti-social behaviour

The guards also know there are people here who are very vulnerable, so they wanted to work in this targeted approach to look for the longer-term solutions.

Adds Duff: “On a day-to-day level… Say for instance that chap down the laneway who was injecting, obviously we’d have to stand back and see…

But when we talked to him, maybe we’d discuss safer injecting. Maybe even the possibility of looking at a care plan to look at his needs.

Greening of the City Photocall Ireland O'Connell Street, the GPO and the Spire. Photocall Ireland

Of the 40 clients the team works with, most have drug problems, some are street drinkers – and all are either homeless or in long-term hostel accommodation. Many have mental health issues to deal with too.

The cases are always “very complex,” Duff says. Along with his street patrols “a lot of my day is spent accompanying people to other services”.

We work towards resolving some of those needs, and we support them in relation to legal obstacles.

On the streets

People who work in the sector have reported an upsurge in violent incidents among rough sleepers in the city in recent months. Many of the attacks, because of their nature, go unreported to the gardaí.

Staff at food centres and other services have also been subjected to violence – including the Merchants Quay day service, which was was forced to close its doors for several days at the start of last month, as a result of a number of attacks.

There’s also been an increase in HIV cases among street drug-users this year – with 13 new cases in the capital prompting a HSE investigation.

There’s a possible link between the upsurge in HIV diagnoses and Mephedrone - the former headshop drug now widely-available in the streets, doctors and drug workers believe.

Also known as ‘snow blow’ – many heroin users are injecting the powdered drug. As more injections take place, the risk of HIV and other blood-borne diseases increases.

Head Shops To Close Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland Dublin's headshops close - in 2010. Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

“It’s more available than what it was when the shops shut down,” one drug-user, who’s being helped by the Ana Liffey team, explains.

When the shops shut down it was only available off of very specific people. Now it’s more of an open drug.

“I inject it – which is something I thought I’d never see myself doing,” he continues.

“My daily routine consists of a bag of gear in the morning, maybe two or three bags of snow blow through the afternoon through to the evening, and then at the end of the night a bag of gear to come down.”

It’s actually more injecting than you’d think…. One bag of snow blow – I split into two bags.

20150528_162813 Daragh Brophy Dublin's Italian Quarter Daragh Brophy

Around another corner, there’s yet more evidence of the problem.

This is the worst site yet – just yards from the buzzing Italian Quarter area, near Jervis Street.

At this time of the day, the restaurants, cafés and small shops of the Quarter are just getting busy.

At other times, though – early in the morning, for instance – it would be much quieter.

Beside a metal fence, around 10 metres from the nearest café, the ground is once again littered with needles, citrus wrappers, soiled tissues and other now-familiar-looking waste.


The litter – like the problem itself – is a bit like a grim version of one of those 1990s ‘Magic Eye’ photos.

Next time you’re in town – take a look for yourself. As many Dubliners already know – you don’t have to look very far.

Read: What can Ireland learn from a country that decriminalised drugs? 

Read: Injection centres could soon arrive in Dublin – would you agree with that?

Read: ‘Every alley way in Dublin is used for public injecting at some point’

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