- 29 Jan 19
“The MSIF needs to be here where the problem is rather than two miles AWAY” says Derek Parker, project coordinator of the pilot medically supervised injecting facility that's scheduled to open in Dublin
Catherine Byrne launched into 2019 by insisting that the Government is ready to take on objectors to the pilot medically supervised injecting facility (MSIF) that’s scheduled to open in Dublin.
It was a much needed and long overdue intervention from the Junior Drugs Minister who’d been largely mute on the subject since Merchants Quay Ireland’s winning of the tender to run the service in their existing Dublin 8 premises, in February 2018.
“It was passed by cabinet here in September 2015 and by the Oireachtas in May 2017,” Byrne’s ministerial predecessor, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, told Hot Press before Christmas. “I get the sense from dealing with the Department of Health that unless you’re willing to ring a particular official wondering where the movement is on this four or five times, things don’t get done in a speedy fashion.”
The inference being that Minister Byrne hasn’t been sufficiently on her civil servants’ case.
“People are dying because of these delays,” concluded Ó Ríordáin whose frustrations are shared by all the people working within the sector that Hot Press has spoken to.
The 34-month lag in opening the Dublin MSIF is in stark contrast to Melbourne where the Victorian State Government went from decision to implementation in just eight months.
“We’re disappointed, that there have been 99 observations submitted by local residents, businesses and other interested parties,” says project coordinator Derek Parker as he guides us round the disused basement that Merchants Quay has earmarked for the MSIF. “It’s a difficult one to shift with people. Like most inner cities, Dublin has a chronic issue with injecting and the anti-social aspect that goes with it. Looking at the observations from businesses, a significant number were saying that they’re fed up with people injecting in their toilets and in the alleyways next to their premises. The disconnect for me is that they’d give out about that, but then on the other hand say, ‘This isn’t something that’s going to address this’. One of the goals of the MSIF is to reduce the anti-social aspect of public injecting and give people in that situation, most of whom are homeless, somewhere safe, hygienic and supportive to go.”
Architect’s drawings on the walls aside, there are no visible signs of the complex of rooms being primed to offer the capital’s estimated 375 public injectors that safe alternative to shooting up down alleyways.
“When we were appointed as the preferred provider in 2018, we immediately got our project team together,” Parker reflects. “The building work won’t start until the planning process, which we fully respect, is completed. As a result of the public observations, Dublin City Council asked us for additional information, which we plan to submit way before the May 30 deadline. The Gardai have been formulating a policing plan based on international evidence and advice. We look forward to engaging with them on that.”
Parker is adamant that the MSIF has to be in the heart of the inner city.
“The vast majority of people injecting publicly are doing so in Dublin 8 and across the river in Dublin 3, which is why the MSIF needs to be here where the problem is rather than two miles away,” he stresses. “This is a health-lead response to an addiction problem, which exists within the community. Our clients are somebody’s mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend or neighbour. They’re local residents too. For me, a lot of the understandable anxiety – those businesses complaining about people injecting in their toilets and parents concerned that their kids are seeing public injecting on their way to and from school – actually make a case for the MSIF. Without going into specifics, we had somebody come in with a very fixed, negative opinion of the MSIF and leave saying, ‘This might actually address some of the issues I’ve raised’.”
The plan is that the Merchants Quay MSIF will be open seven days a week with 6am-10am, 2.30pm-5.30pm and 7pm-9.30pm the weekday hours. On Saturday and Sunday, clients will be able to access the service from 6am-10am and 3pm-9pm. There will be room for up to 30 people to be assessed before entering the main part of the building, with three full-time nurses, a GP, 11-13 non-medical project workers and two security contractors ensuring that things run smoothly.
Clients can also access Merchants Quay’s pre-existing services like wound care, dentistry and blood testing or just get a free cuppa and a biscuit.
“It’s entirely up to clients whether they inject and leave straight away, spend half-an-hour in the aftercare area and then leave, or ask to be referred upstairs. They’re far more likely to access other services if they’re housed in the same building.”
Merchants Quay’s information booklet includes photos of Sydney’s United Medically Supervised Centre, which is similar in layout to what they have planned.
“The concerns in Dublin are pretty much the same as they were when the Sydney centre was being proposed in the ‘90s,” the ex-New South Wales Police Commander, Pat Paroz, told us. “People were worried about the ‘honeypot effect’ of attracting other people with addiction issues to the area, but nine different studies in eleven years prove that it hasn’t happened. These are independent studies done by five or six groups with no vested interest. Antisocial behaviour, more crime, shoppers being frightened away, property prices being adversely effected – none of what was feared has happened.”
Derek Parker believes that people like Paroz have an important contribution to make to the Irish debate.
“Really it’s evidence we’re interested in, and people like Pat have seen first-hand the positive effects MSIFs have had on their communities. We’re actively engaging with people internationally so that they can share their experiences.”
While Santa was a no-show, there was another VIP visitor to Merchants Quay shortly before Christmas.
“Leo Varadkar came in and got the same tour as you,” Parker concludes. “He was very engaged throughout and, as a doctor himself, was aware of the issues that people with addiction are facing. Having him see first-hand where we are with our plans was a massive positive.”
Catherine Byrne coming out with her court comments so soon after Leo’s visit to Merchants Quay is unlikely to be a coincidence. Whatever the political machinations might be, 2019 is the year to get this done.