Special policing need for injection centre, says charity organiser Tony Geoghegan

Special policing need for injection centre, says charity organiser Tony Geoghegan
Tony Geoghegan, CEO of Merchants Quay Ireland

A “dedicated” policing service must be part of a compensation package to communities and businesses affected by the State’s first injecting centre for heroin users, according to the head of the charity awarded the contract to run the service.

Tony Geoghegan, CEO of Merchants Quay Ireland, said the Garda’s policing plan for the centre “will have to contain” clear guidance as to how gardaí on the ground deal with users who are carrying what are illegal drugs to the facility to inject.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner as he approaches his retirement after nearly 30 years at the drugs and homelessness charity, Mr Geoghegan also said:

  • The State should “buy” a hotel for emergency accommodation, given the amount it has spent on paying hotels for rooms, together with a concerted public housing building programme;
  • That while families are rightly prioritised for emergency accommodation, single people, including those with complex needs, are “filtered down to the bottom” and consigned to the streets;
  • Drug users who go through detoxification and rehabilitation should be guaranteed housing;
  • The State’s methadone programme for heroin users should be reviewed and resources invested in people to move off the drug, saying around half of the 10,000 people on it have been taking it for over 10 years.
  • Merchants Quay is gearing up for what could be a lengthy battle to get the country’s first medically supervised injecting centre operational, after being awarded the contract to run a pilot by the Department of Health last February.

    Mr Geoghegan said he “fully anticipates” that it will end up with An Bord Pleanála, and possibly the courts. Business groups have already said they will object to the facility, which is to be located in the basement of the charity’s Riverbank Centre.

    He showed the Irish Examiner the basement where all the various functions will be: Reception, assessment, waiting area, toilets, private rooms, injecting booths (seven), chill out room, doctor, clinical nurse, nurses and project workers.

    It is estimated it will deal with around 60 people a day. Mr Geoghegan said a major benefit is that it will have “all the other services wrapped around it”.

    He said he understood the “objections and concerns” of local community and business groups and “recognised” it will impact on them, but said that this was the reality given drug and homeless services are concentrated in the city centre.

    “There should be a quid-pro-quo for the city centre, not give monetary compensation, but there should be compensation, as we are asking the city centre to contain a lot of societal problems for the rest of the city,” he said.

    “There should be enhanced policing, enhanced public services, enhanced street cleaning and lighting. I think there should be dedicated policing for the city centre, as in concentrated policing. I’m talking regular feet on the street.”

    He said the State must also “provide exits out of homelessness and drugs use”.

    He said his sense was gardaí were supportive of the centre: “Their attitude is ‘yes, these people would be better off in treatment’. Basically, it comes down to resources for the guards, they say that ‘we just don’t have the personnel’.”

    But he said he has been assured by senior officers that there will be a policing plan and resources to implement the service because it was a Government initiative.

    He said it was crucial the plan made it clear to gardaí on the beat how to handle registered users of the centre who are going there in possession of their drug.

    That’s what the policing plan will have to contain,” Mr Geoghegan said. “Those issues have to be clarified.

    He said the injecting centre will benefit users and the community: “For the individual user there will be a safe, controlled area, with access to supports. For the local community, it’s very distressing to come onto people injecting on the street. I see it as a win-win.”

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