Merchants Quay Ireland – respite from the ravages of life

Merchants Quay is a unique place in the centre of the city for people to go for a cup of tea, a chat or more.

The Liberty is on a visit to Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) to understand the work of the centre. We are taken to the canteen and offered tea and coffee while waiting to be shown round the facility.

Our guide Emma Murphy, who is a fundraiser for the organisation, explains: “We are approximately 60 per cent government funded and the rest is fundraising, and most of the services we provide are at the Riverbank centre. The idea is to have as many services as possible under the same roof and the ethos is compassion and building trust to allow people to open up.”

As Murphy explains, “MQI is a shelter and respite area for the marginalised in society, who use alcohol and drugs to ease their pain.”

It goes way back, as she recalls. “In the 1950s and ’60s, the church was a place where the poor took shelter.  Tea rooms were opened at the back of the friary.  Alcohol at the time was the main substance of abuse. But now it is drugs. The MQ Project was created in the 1980s in response to the AIDS crisis.”

The Riverbank centre is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast and from 9:30 a.m. there is a shower service.

A staff member explains, “there is no accommodation on site. However, we can help set up appointments, offer one to one counselling support, and help people to fill out forms and develop a care plan for them.”  

There is also a freephone service to help people access emergency accommodation. The centre closes from 1 to 2 p.m. Daily dinner times are 2–5 p.m. and 5-6:30 p.m.

MQI also has rehabilitation centres in High Park, Drumcondra and St Francis farm in Carlow, where clients can avail of months of rehabilitation while learning how to cook and grow fruit and vegetables.

People from the local area are catered for by this service in local cafes, restaurants etc. Working on the farm, turning soil and being close to nature has proven very therapeutic for clients, and some have found work in related areas as a result.  

At the Riverbank centre, we’re visiting the kitchen area. There is plenty of action there.  Dave, one of the chefs, tells us he caters for anything up to 200 people a day between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

From there we go upstairs and pass a line of people who are waiting for the dental service or the Needle Exchange.  

The exchange was set up in the 1980s, in response to the HIV epidemic; it was a bold move. The needles were ordered from the UK, and were picked up from the GPO.

Amy Buckley, project manager of the Health Promotion Unit, explains how it works. “Clients come in, tell us what they’re using, and where they are staying. Whereas there are no drugs supplied, they have access to a helper who can provide them with new needles, syringes, pipes, cookers, and foil.”

From September there will be a new medically supervised facility open to users in the basement of the building where both nurses and doctors will be on site.  

Buckley explains: “It is a place where people can inject their own drugs safely in a medically supervised environment. There are a number of other countries like Australia, Denmark and France offering this service, and it is to allow people a safe place to come in off the streets and to avoid overdosing. It is all about harm reduction.”

In the MQI, they advocate a health led approach. Their mission is, “to offer people dealing with homelessness and addiction a high-quality service in a non-judgemental and compassionate way.” 

Their approach is similar to what was suggested by the Citizens Assembly group on drug use, which advocated in October 2023 for a “health-led policy response to people who are in possession of drugs for personal use.”

It would be preferable for MQI to have a facility where people can stay. However, not far from MQI, in Ushers Island, there is a new 100-bed health and addiction development that should be completed by mid-2024 for the Dublin Simon Community. MQI says it is badly needed.

As donations and fundraising are a key part to the successful operations of the centre, people are encouraged to go on the MQI website to see what areas they might like to get involved in.

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