Rejected injection centre means addiction services neglected

In late July, the news broke that the first proposed Medically Supervised Injection Facility in the country was rejected by Dublin City Council. The centre was planned for the basement level of the Merchants Quay Ireland Riverbank Building at 13-14 Merchants Quay. 

The application for the Medically Supervised Injection Facility (MSIF) was lodged on October 8th, 2018 and it was to operate using a one-way system, with users of the service entering through a gate and a closed off walkway. From there, they would go down the stairs into a reception area, where they would register and show the type and quantity of drug they have.

The plans for the facility show six cubicles for users to inject, with a seventh larger one to allow for a one-on-one consultation with a nurse, along with the additional on-site medical assistance. After using a cubicle, there is a “relaxation room” where users can speak with social workers and access other services.

The Liberty visited the construction site of the planned injection centre. Photo by Eibhin Kavanagh.

However, Dublin City Council officially rejected the proposed development on July 25th, 2019. It was said that the MSIF would be “contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development in the area,” as of the Dublin City Council Development Plan 2016-2022, according to the Planning Application Report. The report said, “It is considered the proposed development would undermine the existing local economy… and would hinder the future regeneration of the area.”

The main areas of concern were tourism and the location of the building – a mere five minute walk from St. Audoen’s National School. Dublin City Council felt that the development would have an “injurious impact on the local residential community and its residential amenities.” The MSIF is part of the National Drugs Policy, and when the application was submitted last October, it was never imagined that a planning issue would be cause of its rejection. 

Head of Drugs, Health and Homelessness Services at Merchants Quay Ireland, Marie Lynch, said that the organisation felt “very disappointed” with the decision. She described the principle behind the service as “acknowledging that addiction is a health issue and to support people safely.”

She felt there were a number of benefits to the service, and that those in need of the service “are looking for it yesterday”. Firstly, it’s been proven that MSIF provided a safe place for those with addictions. Secondly, it would reduce blood-borne viruses and deaths. Lastly, it would reduce public injecting and street litter of used needles. Most importantly, the MSIF would be a contact point for recovery. 

Lynch said, “It’s giving people dignity and respect. Its providing a humane approach to those people who don’t have a roof over their heads, who live with an addiction. They can have a safe and dignified place to inject and consume the drugs.”

Many councillors in the area, such as Michael Watters, Tina MacVeigh and Michael Pidgeon, were disappointed with the decision to reject the facility. However, Watters and MacVeigh felt that it would be more beneficial in a different area. MacVeigh said, “I totally 100% agree that we do need this kind of centre as part of the overall harm reduction and support service, whether they should be located in areas that are not close to or adjacent to schools or residential communities.” 

Pidgeon felt that if the centre is relocated to another address, it would take another few years for a MSIF to be opened to the public and in the meantime, there would just be “more and more dead bodies.” He felt that it was essential to not separate the service users from others that live in the area. He said, “They’re Dubliners. They’re people just the same as anyone else and they’re entitled to safe care, the same as anyone else in the area.” 

Pidgeon felt that the MSIF would provide a better solution than the current situation on Merchants Quay. The centre would take the drugs off the streets, reducing the amount of public injecting and needle litter. He felt that this would benefit the tourism industry, rather than harm it. “Thats whats going to leave a lasting, really negative effect on tourists, that they see someone shooting up in the road or they see needles dumped around the area,” he said.

Watters suggested that perhaps the best solution would be the use of mobile injection units. Such facilities are available in Canada, and Watters claims that they are cheaper. The idea is that the unit would travel to wherever people are taking drugs, rather than being in one fixed location. He said, “A lot of times people get their drugs, they take them straight away wherever they are, rather than bringing it to the centre.”

However, Lynch felt that it’s not a case of one or the other – both are needed. The current legislation would not allow for a mobile facility, but if in the initial planning stages had considered it, it would have provided a service for those who can’t access public transport or who have issues with mobility. Notwithstanding, a mobile unit alone would undermine the principle. 

Following the rejection of the MSIF during the summer, Merchants Quay Ireland appealed it with An Bord Pleanála, who will make a decision by January 2nd 2020. In the meantime, people with serious addictions must continue to inject publically, until their health needs are acknowledged.  

2 Responses to Rejected injection centre means addiction services neglected

  1. Pat Coyne

    October 27, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    I recommend those pondering how the proposed injecting centre will impact our neighbourhoods to read the planning files: – 4121/18

    Merchant’s Quay Ireland’s decision to open an injection centre against the clearly expressed objections of the people living and working in the surrounding communities has lowered the esteem of that organisation with the people living in the immediate area.

    Regardless of what is needed to support the thousands of addicts living in Dublin city, the council’s refusal to allow the proposed centre at on such an unsuitable site is wise.

    The intimidating anti-social behaviour of their clients outside their premises is having a devastatingly negative impact on the amenity and the daily lives and of the people working and living nearby.

    Almost a hundred local people went to the time, trouble and expense to ensure their concerns were made known to the public and the city’s planners. The planners agreed with the residents and workers. They refused planning permission on both solid planning policy grounds and common sense.

    MQI has now appealed that decision to An Bord Pleanála caused the locals more stress and the extra expense of lodging observations costing them €50 each with the board.

    None of the councillors interviewed by the author bothered to submit a written observation detailing their views to our city’s planners.

    Only one Dublin City Councillor participated in the planning process. Councillor Cieran Perry who wrote a well-researched submission in which he makes a very compelling case against the centre being allowed open.

    Again, I would advise those concerned to read the planning files. Pay attention to the contributions of the child psychiatrists detailing the effects on the mental health of the children at the nearby school.

    Law-abiding citizens going about their daily lives and guests to our city should be the primary concern for lawmakers and politicians. Yes, we need to sort the crime and drug problems in our town. Still, it must not come at such a cost to honest inner-city Dubliners who have made Dublin the great capital city it is.

  2. admin

    November 12, 2019 at 11:09 am

    It’s interesting how much has occurred in this short space of time. Thanks for your input!

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