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The Anti Social Problem – The Locals View

The Anti Social Problem – The Locals View

In this article, Tony Kennedy asks a number of small businesses, residents and community activists their views of anti social behaviour in the James/Thomas Street area

In recent months the area from Basin Street down to Oliver Bond has become blighted by anti-social behaviour and drugs. Further compounding this this problem is the lack of a Garda presence in the area. The Fountain Resource Newswire spoke to various stakeholders in the area about the growing problem. We talked about the nature of the problem, some of the underlying causes of those problems, and what they think should be done to address the problem. Due to a fear of reprisal, the Fountain Resource Newswire took the decision to confer anonymity on the people we spoke to.

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“Jane”- The Resident

The first person that we spoke to was “Jane” who lives in the Basin Street area. She told us that every single morning on her way to work she finds debris from serious drug use, from discarded syringes to the shells of asthma inhalers and small bottles (used for smoking crack cocaine). Jane knows children in the area that use local services, she says the kids have said that every morning the front of schools and local services have dangerous drug related material in front of the buildings, which has to be removed by staff. Jane believes that young children should never have to see such a sight.

Jane also spoke with dismay about the response to this problem. She has contacted both An Garda Siochana and Focus Ireland (who are supposed to patrol the area and get problem populations off the street). However they have been unable to even slow down the problem. Jane said she feels like there is absolutely no strategy in combating this problem, and that most of the time she cannot get the Garda to respond to her calls in a timely manner. Indeed, she said that the Garda presence in the area is nonexistent. She told us that her neighbour once collected dozens of syringes to hand over to the Garda for proper disposal only to be told by the Garda that he would have to dispose of them himself.

It is important to note that Jane is not some nimbyist. She absolutely understands that many of the culprits are wretched addicts too consumed with keeping the snake of withdrawal at bay to take any real responsibility for their actions. She also accepts totally the need for more addiction and mental health services. However, she cannot accept the problem as it manifests outside her front door, as it threatens the children in her care. “Of course these people should get the help they need, but there should be a Garda response when these people make life hard for ordinary residents”.

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“Mike”- The Barman

It seems running any sort of business in the area has become quite difficult, this is especially so for those in the hospitality sector. Mike, the landlord of a pub in the James St. area told this paper just some of things he has faced.
“There used to be a phone box outside this  pub and it was everything from a public toilet to a place wear addicts would do deals. I tried to get it taken out, I was told by the Gardai to contact Eir. However Eir told me because the phone could be used by a homeless person to get a hostel they couldn’t remove it”

Eventually Mike did get the box removed after a lot of hassle, but that isn’t the only problem he has faced. There are two “wet” (residents are allowed drink on the premises) hostels in the area; Sundial House and Orchid House. Mike says that the people who frequent these hostels cause major disruption for him.

For example, Mike’s pub has outside seating in order to get some tourist footfall. Yet there has been many times when paying customers have been intimidated away by the presence of the hostel’s residents who congregate nearby. The problem is compounded by the fact that while nearly all of the hostels residents are alcoholics, many also have serious mental health problems. And according to Mike, the hostels seem to have no procedures in place to police the residents. “It seems as though they just let them drink to their hearts content then throw them out when they become too much trouble.

Mike’s pub has also been broken into, luckily nothing of value was on the premises at the time, though they broke a large window to get in. “Mike” is also dismayed by the lack of Garda response. The would be burglars were never caught. Mike seems to think there is a problem with Garda priorities; “I think they are now only concerned with the big cases and have little interest in the ordinary crime”.

I asked Mike what he would like to see happen. He believes that that those afflicted by addiction, be it drink or drugs should be taken away from the city to an area where the impact of their actions would be less oppressive. He also wants to see more Garda visibility.

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“Steve” The Small Business Owner

Steve owns a small shop on James Street. He told this reporter that the anti-social behaviour he faces is more like attrition rather than a new phenomenon. “Every morning when I come to open up, I find empty cans and bottles strewn all over the place. The smell of urine is shocking and even dogshit is left right outside the door”. He told of a time were he was forced to throw a pot of cold water over a belligerent drunk man who refused to move away from under the shop window. He takes no pride in this, indeed he is dismayed by the fact he had to do something so drastic.

Steve says the problems that he faces are more related to alcohol than drugs. He too feels like the hostels are badly run, which leads to large groups of heavily intoxicated people(along with all the problems heavily intoxicated people cause) in the vicinity of his shop. He believes that the off licences have to shoulder some of the blame. “There does be people leaving the off-licence with full trolleys of cans,  people who work in these hostels are doing deliveries for the residents” said Steve adding “they (off-licences) have to know what is going on, they must see the damage around them”.

He was told by Dublin City Council that the hostel had to be there as it was policy to have it as close to a hospital as possible. And while this may seem to be a good idea in theory, in practice it means ambulances are picking up drunks, bringing them up to the hospital, then dropping them back off outside of an off-licence, and thus the cycle continues.

Steve also complains about the lack of a Garda presence. He talked of a harrowing story of a young Korean exchange student who was robbed of her mobile phone, and because it was attached to a keyring around her finger, the muggers severely cut her finger. She made her way to Steve’s shop look for help. Steve phoned the Garda, only to be asked if “he could bring her down the station himself as they had nobody available to collect her”. Luckily a squad car happened to be driving by and Steve flagged it down for the girl. Steve thinks it’s unlikely the muggers will ever be caught.

Finally,  I asked Steve have you tried to get in contact with local politicians to highlight these problems. Steve has but to no avail. “None of them did anything. And it’s crazy, Sinn Féin held a protest outside an adult shop over a picture of a woman in the window. The adult shop hasn’t caused any trouble whatsoever, so I don’t know why they put their effort into that, but wont do anything about this.”

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“Eddie” The Community Worker

Of all the people I spoke to, Eddie seemed to have the most comprehensive understanding of the problem. Working in the Thomas St area for years, he has seen the slow collapse of the community.

“We are now into our third generation of addicted families. Kids are growing up in households where nobody has ever worked and alcohol and drugs are abused every day. They have no sense of what it is like to get up and earn something, no role models. Years ago, there were at least a few community leaders who tried to guide kids, but as the area got worse those people left. So what you were left with was predatory drug dealers and a huge supply of consumers and lower level dealers. And the violence is getting worse. People have been stabbed and shot. I even seen a guy get hit with a machete”.

Eddie tries hard to help the young people in the area, but when they come from chaotic home environments, there is only so much that can be done.

I also asked Eddie about the police response to these problems. Eddie argues:

The problem is that there is no day to day community policing. The Guards don’t try and get to know the neighbours like they used to. Now the only time you see Garda in the area is when they come in balaclavas, brandishing machine guns and kicking down doors. And I understand that sometimes Guards have to do that. But when its only heavy handed policing, without the community aspect, it alienates the people and ensures that that barrier between the community and the guards stays up.”

It has become quite obvious that the problem of anti-social behaviour in the area is not a new phenomenon. Granted, there are contemporaneous novelties that exist now that haven’t in the past. The rise of crack cocaine, and the utter collapse of the traditional family has happened quite recently. But for a long time inner city communities have become their own peninsulas of crime, addiction and antisocial behavior. And the land bridges that kept the peninsulas connect to mainstream Ireland have eroded further and further until some have become cultural islands, in effect totally disconnected.

The problem therefore is twofold. Firstly there is the immediate reality of  day to day antisocial behaviour that must be dealt with. And while it becomes clear that Gardai are too under-resourced to tackle this problem, it is not a totally lost cause. One way of tackling these problems would be the use of private security companies to patrol the areas where the Garda can’t. Local business’ and residents associations could come together and raise the finance required to pay for such services. It could also become a requirement for any drug and alcohol addiction service providers to utilize a security company in order to obtain a licence to operate.

Quite frankly, the residents are clearly wasting their time appealing to local politicians. Even if a politician can drag themselves away from ever pressing issue of signs in a sex shop window, they are in effect useless beyond tweeting about how “disgraceful” a situation is, in order to get votes.

The second part of the problem is far more difficult to address. The generational moral atrophy cannot be fixed with “law and order” Band-Aids. It is fixed by giving people in our communities a purpose, a reason to attack the day, to not take drugs or alcohol to the point of oblivion, to look after themselves and their families and the next generation. Such is the multivariate nature of the problem, it would be an injustice simply offer solutions in a newspaper article. Instead, let this be the takeaway message; look for the community warriors on the front line. Look at the people who run community centres, community gardens, the mothers who bring all their kids friends out to the beach on a summer day, the people who turn up to every meeting. These people are fully aware of the challenges the community face (even if they cannot articulate them) and yet, they still fight. These fighters must be supported before there is no community left to fight for.

2 Responses

  1. Chris Thomas says:

    Why not have Guinnesses and the new Distillary in James’s street fund the policing that was suggested. They have the money and really they need the area to be safe to keep attracting the tourists, because if and when tourists start getting mugged these businesses lose. They should also be investing in the youth in the area, going into the schools and giving the kids an idea about careers to be had locally if they stay in school and stay off drugs. They must invest in the area they operate in. The area will continue to decline if some kind of pride is not shown through displays of art, community cleanliness, and a sense of safety being instilled. Better lighting on Echlin St. and in around the back of guinnesses would be a start.

  2. Tony Kennedy says:

    I am inclined to agree with you, Chris. Though I think it is vitally important that any form of private security be partly funded by residents. Not because of costs, but to ensure that they know they work for the community as a whole, not just business’.

    You are 100% correct about the need for investment in the community. It is the only way it can be salvaged. There needs to be a lot of honest conversation over the next few months to highlight the core problems and how to address them.

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