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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 18 October, 2019
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Planned supervised injection centre may not open in 2019, new Merchants Quay CEO says

A total of 99 objections were lodged against Merchant Quay Ireland’s plans for the centre.

Injection booths are seen at the Cactus safe injection site in Montreal, Canada
Injection booths are seen at the Cactus safe injection site in Montreal, Canada
Image: Paul Chiasson via PA Images

THE PLANNED SUPERVISED injection centre for Dublin city centre, initially slated to open in September of this year, may not now be in a position to open its doors by the end of 2019, the new CEO of Merchants Quay Ireland has said.

It was announced last week that plans for Ireland’s first supervised injecting centre now face a further delay after Dublin City Council made a request for additional information before it could agree to grant permission for the development. 

In October, Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), which already offers a range of services for people who are homeless and struggling with addiction issues at its centre on Dublin’s south quays, lodged its plans for the centre after winning a tender from the HSE to operate the facility. 

The centre would see seven booths operating safe injection services in a bid to reduce drug overdoses, reduce the spread of disease and connect addicts with treatment services. 

It is set to cater for around 65 addicts a day.

The application involves the redevelopment of MQI’s Riverbank building at 13/14 Merchant’s Quay in Dublin 8 that includes the provision of seven planned injecting rooms in the basement of the building.

However, 99 objections were lodged against the plan, with a number of Temple Bar pubs, and the U2-owned Clarence Hotel voicing opposition. 

Many of the objections focused on concerns around drug dealing and anti-social behaviour that may arise from the creation of the injecting facility. 

‘I don’t have a date’ 

Dublin City Council now wants Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) to address the potential for an “over-concentration of such services” in the area which could “potentially undermine the sustainability of the neighbourhood”. 

It also wants MQI to provide details such as how many additional clients it expects to attend the site of the injection centre, the anticipated length of time a visitor will spend, justification for the “extensive” opening hours of the facility and a “detailed and targeted policing plan”.

When asked by TheJournal.ie when she expects the centre to now open, Merchants Quay Ireland CEO Paula Byrne, who was appointed to the position in September, said she “doesn’t have a date”.

With the request for further information now made to MQI by Dublin City Council, it will have to address each of the requested factors before the application can proceed any further. 

“My expectation is that it could be appealed to An Bord Pleanála. Then, there’s building work to be done,” Byrne said. 

I have to say, I wouldn’t say I’m over-optimistic that it’ll be next year. I would hope because I think it’s a much-needed service, but I don’t have a date. 

“I couldn’t say that it’s going to open in October 2019.” 

IMG_5747 The MQI day centre as seen from across the River Liffey. Source: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

Commenting on the request from the council, Byrne said that “people have concerns because it’s a new service, we don’t have one in Ireland”. 

“There is a fear of the unknown but you have to acknowledge the concerns that people have in the community and the businesses,” Byrne said. 

The introduction of a pilot supervised injecting centre was one of the commitments in the 2016 Programme for Government, and it was initially anticipated that the facility would open by the end of 2017.

New laws needed to be passed to make the operation of such centres possible in Ireland – that happened in May 2017. Since then, MQI won the tender from the HSE to operate the facility in August. 

Merchants Quay said in its application that it hoped to have the centre up and running by September of this year, but that deadline was, of course, not met. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie earlier this week, Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said there has been a “lack of urgency” from the Department of Health with regards to the opening of the centre. 

During his time as Drugs Minister, Ó Ríordáin advocated for the introduction of injection centres. 

He said that “a lot of work could have been done to alleviate the fears of people who have put in objections”. 

“I just think an awful lot more work could have been done with people who are objecting … to make them realise that this will actually enhance the area. It will reduce the amount of drug litter that’s around the place, overdoses, antisocial behaviour,” he said. 

Ó Ríordáin said that Merchants Quay and Byrne are “being realistic” in terms of their opinions on the opening date for the centre. 

Noting Byrne’s comments above, he said: “I can understand why they might think that. I think they’re having a realistic appraisal as to what the likelihood is of this thing being open.” 

However, he added that “it’s disappointing that that’s where they feel the situation is”.

HSE objection

As noted above, MQI won the tender from the HSE to operate the facility.

Despite this, the city council has received a submission from a local HSE office on Merchants Quay, in which it outlines its own concerns over the plan.

In the objection from HSE division Health Business Services, Yvonne Kelly wrote that the proposal “raises safety concerns for residents and workers and creates a danger to children from used needles and drug paraphernalia”.

“In such a historic part of Dublin frequented by tourists, the risk re assault, mugging and witnessing anti-social behaviour could have a detrimental impact on the economy,” she added.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie regarding the objection, the HSE said: “HSE management and staff have, and will continue, to work with the management of the clinic to address health and safety concerns.”

In October, Drugs Minister Catherine Byrne said that “the Department of Health and the HSE have been proactive in supporting Merchants Quay Ireland to develop this facility and have met with a number of stakeholders”. 

“I understand that Merchants Quay Ireland lodged an application for planning permission to establish a supervised injecting facility within Dublin City Council on 8 October 2018. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the outcome of the planning process,” Byrne said. 

MQI’s Paula Byrne said that she was “somewhat disappointed” to see the objection come in from a local HSE office. 

“It was a surprise, we wouldn’t have expected it. I suppose there are people who work in the HSE in the locality, so I suppose they are entitled to their own opinion,” Byrne said. 

“It was a tender led by the HSE, so we were somewhat disappointed.” 

An inner city primary school, St Audoen’s NS located 300 metres from the Riverbank building along with a large number of parents of children attending the school have also lodged strenuous objections against the plan.

Responding to these objections, Byrne said she understands the school’s concerns. 

However, she hopes the centre will improve the local environment. 

“It’s a health-led initiative and I do think that clients will use the service and, therefore, you would hope that the environment would improve, particularly children coming to school, they shouldn’t have to see the sights that they see,” Byrne said. 

I’m hoping that the service will be a safe place and a clean environment and a health-led initiative for the clients, but equally that there will be some benefit for the community in terms of taking some of it off the streets. 

When asked about the planned location of the service, Byrne said she “can see the logic in having it in the city centre”.

“I think anybody who walks down and around any of the city streets, north or southside, can see the level of drug abuse on the streets,” she said. 

However, for now, as noted above, MQI will have to address all of the factors requested by Dublin City Council before the application can proceed any further.

With reporting by Sean Murray and Gordon Deegan. 

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