Thursday, August 24, 2006


One of the shock! horror! pictures from this morning's Irish IndependentThe only really surprising thing about this morning’s Shock! Horror! Open Air Drug Dealing in Dublin! headline in the Irish Independent is that someone decided it was news. The fact that the city is rife with drug addicts who live very public lives is one of the first things that strikes you about the city – anyone who lives in, or regularly visits, the city who is unaware of this can only be living in the most pristine of ivory towers, or else has achieved a level of denial that is Olympian in its extent.

The Independent story quotes Labour Party TD Joe Costello as saying that the boardwalk was once a novelty for people to walk along when they visited Dublin. They would have wanted to be quick, those visitors – that boardwalk along the Liffey became a junkie playground as soon as the carpenters had driven the last nail home. What else could it be? Junkies get first dibs on all public space in the city, and why wouldn’t they? It’s not like they have anywhere else to go. They’re not likely to go down to the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club for a Pimm’s and a Robinson’s Barley Water, are they? So they hang out in the open air, living the life, while Joe or Jane Citizen takes one look and decides not to eat his or her Panini down by the Liffeyside, even though the sun is beating down from the Heavens. Not today, thank you.

There is a peculiar situation of double-think going on in Dublin public life as regards the junkie scourge which is troubling, not least as the problem can only get worse. It’s not like they’ll just go away, you know. But the bodies public and politic do not engage in debate about who these people are, what is our relationship to them, their relationship to us, and how are we all to interact for the greater good? Instead, you hear offhand references in private conversation to “scumbags,” a charming phrase, while the body public reads pious articles in the Irish Times about inequality and the like. The way we then deal with this inequality is to publicly fund a poverty industry, drawn from the middle classes to make the middle classes feel better about themselves, who write papers that compete with Irish Times editorials for piety and give the worker bees of the poverty industry a certain Rabelaisian appeal when they are at dinner parties in Foxrock, Blackrock and environs. The rest of the dinner party are people who never saw a petition they didn’t sign protesting about the War in Iraq or That Monster Bush, but run away screaming if they’re asked to deal with problems closer to home, other than buying new house alarms and better quality steak to feed the guard dogs.

The worst part is that running away screaming often looks like the only sensible option to a problem that seems utterly hopeless. Labour Party TD Joe Costello flapped his lips further in the Independent to call for “a dedicated garda squad to patrol and deter such activity” (Independent). Patrol and deter such activity? Is that the same as sweeping such activity under the mat?

A spokesman for Dublin City Council says it has a community officer to patrol the areas and report such activity [drug dealing, drug taking, I presume] to the gardaí. An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t know who this community officer is, but he’d better be a harder case than Roy Keane himself if he’s going tangling with that bunch on his lonesome.

If the body public wanted to do anything, other than sound liberal and socially concerned while discussing the issue in the lobby of the IFI after watching the latest offering from Bulgarian cinema, they could realise that the way to solve the heroin problem in Dublin involves either a carrot or a stick, or a subtly judged combination of both. The carrot involves investment of millions and millions of Euro to clear up the Dublin ghettoes, to make the best of it for the adults and to involve the State in massive involvement in the lives of the young people in these drug infested areas to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes of previous generations.

There are two problems with this. The first is the competence of the public service to administer such a massive project. For instance, there is a backlog of 430,000 people, just under half a million, people in the state driving around on provisional licenses according to this morning’s Irish Times. Think about how simple a thing it is to administer a driving test, think about what a balls we’re making of it, and then think about what would be involved in reforming the ghettoes. Then tear hair out in great fistfuls. Repeat.

The second problem, of course, is money. If you put a child in care because Ma and Pa are blissed out, loaded, you need about three social workers to look after that one child. Three eight hour shifts a day, seven days a week. Elementary mathematics tells us that the spend on manpower alone will be considerable, meaning the only way to raise enough funds for the entire job is to hammer the taxpayer for dosh, and lots of it. If the typical Irish politician is too chicken to stand up to vested interests in Dublin Airport and the like, how much do you think he fancies going door to door to tell people they’re going to pay another 20% tax for the next twenty years so the state can babysit some junkies and “scumbags”? Not much, is An Spailpín Fánach’s guess.

Anybody fancy the stick, if the carrot is too expensive? Crucifixions in the housing estates, a policy of decimation for school classes that don’t achieve a B2 average, stocks, public floggings, hangings, and the like? Good fun to talk about looking out the window of the Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne at some poor dumb bastard begging on Stephen’s Green, but rather embarrassing when Helmut and Hilda come over from Frankfurt on that house exchange.

So what to do? Why, one hurumphs into one’s Independent, shakes the paper, mutters “something out to be done for these poor people” or “lock ‘em up and throw away the key!” according to political persuasion, and then moves on to the sports page, to see just what Roy Keane is up to at Sunderland. What else do you think will happen?

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