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streets of dublin

The needles on the cobbles are nothing new - but the human excrement is shocking

A grim tour of the backstreets of the capital…

IT’S TEN O’CLOCK in the morning in a damp laneway on Dublin’s northside.

Around the corner, on Liffey Street, shops and cafés are doing a brisk trade in breakfast rolls and Americanos.

But here, on Lotts Lane, a small group is listening to a drug worker and campaigner explain the grim connection between the needles littering the gutter, the human excrement nearby, and used condoms thrown on the cobbles.

“Mephedrone is a drug that people would be injecting,” the campaigner – Ana Liffey Drug Project’s Tony Duffin – explains.

“Mephedrone is a stimulant and a hallucinogen.

It would be associated with heightened sexual activity and risk-taking behaviours. They’re sexual beings as well so… The risk-taking in terms of drug use and sexual activity means that there’s risk – so condoms are important.”

Duffin is leading drugs minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and a small group of reporters and photographers on a walk around the lanes and alleyways of the city centre – around Abbey Street, through O’Connell Street, and over to the Department of Health, near the Screen Cinema.

What’s on view – once you pause, and consider the scenes – is shocking.


To be clear – no-one is remotely surprised at the needles littering the pavement. We’ve been shown those sights before (see above).

What’s new today is the amount of human excrement…

“There’s more here,” Duffin warns at several points – as we walk the backways around some of the city’s busiest streets.

We’ll spare you the detail here – but as you might imagine, the lifestyle of a habitual drug user isn’t the healthiest. As Ana Liffey outreach worker Paul Duff explains, the opiates have an array of unpleasant side effects – which can lead to sudden stomach cramps.

‘Taken aback’

Ó Ríordáin, at one point, crouches down, surrounded by the filth – guiding a photographer from the Herald on objects to focus on.

This is in a laneway at the back of Wynns Hotel, just a few dozen yards from the front-door of the Abbey Theatre.

“I’m more taken aback by what I saw today than what I saw last time,” Ó Ríordáin says.

Just simply the prevalence of human excrement on the streets shows the level of indignity that is connected to this whole issue.”

20151201_100005 / Daragh Brophy / Daragh Brophy / Daragh Brophy

The point of today’s excursion? To raise awareness of the campaign for a medically-supervised injection centre – now in its advanced stages.

You’ll have heard about the plan here before – its proponents argue such a facility would cut down overdose deaths dramatically, stem the spread of diseases like HIV and reduce levels of crime and anti-social behaviour.

The drugs would be brought to the centre by the user, where they would be provided with a safe space and clean needles. Medical staff would be on hand, should a user overdose.

Says Ó Ríordáin:

“What we’re trying to do is to bring public attention to the reality of life in Dublin for some very vulnerable people.

“I think what has happened in the past is that people have wanted to dehumanise a certain cohort of people – citizens of Dublin – and call them names, and ask the guards to move them on.

But this is the life they’re leading. They’re leading a life that leads them down an alleyway, has them injecting toxic substances into themselves behind a dumpster and defecating on the side of a street.”

Injection centres are by no means the sole solution, he insists.

“What we have to do is to tackle this by, on one level, creating a society that doesn’t leave people to live this kind of desperate life – but if they are, to provide somewhere with a lot more compassion for them to take a step on the road to recovery.

It’s no way to live – and there’s people dying.”


Further along – just outside the carpark of the Department of Health – there are yet more needles, scattered next to a black bag of soiled and dirty clothes.

The junior minister continues his pitch for an injection centre at the railings of Hawkins House. There’s a general election on the way, of course: Labour aren’t exactly at the peak of their popularity, and Ó Ríordáin – like any TD – could soon be out of a job.

He’s satisfied enough has been done, however, to get the injection centre over the line. It needs new legislation – but sign-off from cabinet is expected in the next few weeks.

The measure will be included in planned Misuse of Drugs legislation, due to go before the Oireachtas next year. And while it may not be seen through by the current coalition, once it’s in the system, Ó Ríordáin “can’t see any party taking it on themselves” to reject the injection centre plan.

That said – once the new laws are in place, it will still be up to 18 months before any injection centre can open its doors.

As the minister cautions:

This is not something you open without a huge amount of research. You want to make sure you get it right. You speak to the guards, you talk to business people and other agencies.

A tough year 

The apparent progress comes after a turbulent year on the streets of the city – both for those who may be sleeping rough and abusing drugs, and the workers and volunteers trying to help them.

People who work in the sector have reported an upsurge in violent incidents among rough sleepers in the city in the summer months. 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.

Opponents of the injection centre plan – amongst them, independent councillor Mannix Flynn – contend that it won’t solve the drug problem.

Flynn has argued:

Its primary purpose is not rehabilitative – you’re not offering people rehabilitation. What you’re simply offering people is a place to intravenously use heroin.

Its backers, however, insist the centre presents the city with a clear-cut choice on how those in the margins of society should be treated.

Duffin’s tweet here represents their most direct line of argument:

Read: One year on from Jonathan Corrie’s death, we’re still relying on short-term solutions

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

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