Diary 27 June 1985 - Homelessness, Grand Canal, Joyriding response, ILAC library

SINCE SEPTEMBER OF last year, eight regular visitors to the Marist night shelter in Athlone have died. All were between the ages of thirty and forty years old. These "Men of the Road" as they are called, died alone and unwanted, their bodies often found days later in hay barns, derelict buildings, and in one recent case, an old caravan.

These men have two probblems both interlinked; they are alcoholics and are homeeless. Brother Frank McGovern who established the shelter over seven years ago, reckons that there are about sixty people on the Sligo, Castle bar, Roscrea, Mullingar circuit.

"There are about ten to fifteen distinct circuits throughout the country. There are people on the roads in Cork, for instance, who would never come near us. We have regulars here, who would hit Athlone for Wednesday night, because Thursday is dole day in the town." Some of the men who stay overnight are so used to the rough lifestyle that they sleep under their beds rather than on them.

Feeling there was much more he could do for these homeless alcoholics, Brother Frank established a sheltered home to tackle the pro blem on a long term basis. After much encouragement, he perrsuaded seven of the nightly visitors at the shelter, to give up the road, go dry and stay as full time guests.

To date six of the original seven are still living in the house. They went regularly to the mental hospitals in Ballinasloe and Mullingar to be dried out.

George is one of these.

He has been dry for seven months. From Scotland, he once worked as a decorator. He spent the last fifteen years on the road, initially in Wales and England. His first night sleeping rough was at the Embankment in Lonndon. He was drunk and vagueely remembers all the other sleeping bodies around him.

Nine years ago he made his way over here. He spent his time looking for the price of a drink, moving from place to place, not overstaying his wellcome in anyone place.

"I started to get funcctional blackouts. About a year ago I was drinking in a hotel in Limerick city. I had seven or eight glasses of whisskey taken. After coming out of the hotel, I remember crossing the bridge heading for another hotel. That's all 1 remem ber. Five hours later 1 was in Ennis, drenched with sweat. I don't know how I got there. That frightened me ..."

In Athlone a few weeks later he had another blackkout. However, this time he hadn't drunk a lot. He reaalised that something was seriously wrong, but didn't know where to go for help. By accident he heard ~f the Marist sheltered home and has been there since.

A friend of his nicknamed Hoppy McDonagh, a regular visitor to the night shelter, died last Christmas. He was only thirty-two years old. He was found dead in a derelict caravan. George knows that he could end up that way.

Another friend of his, Tony, suddenly left the shelter a couple of weeks ago. He slept in the bed next to him, and they were going through therapy sessions together. Tony's disappearance has uppset the rest of the group as rumours as to his whereeabouts circulate among them.

Peter has been on the road for six years. Dressed in a light brown suit he looks more like an insurance rep than a homeless alcoholic. He was on the Dublin circuit.

At one stage he drank two to three bottles of whiskey a day. He was never short of a drink. His many friends kept him in supply. When this source dried up he got innvolved in many moneymaking schemes.

He set up what are known as company strokes. He would order televisions and hi-fi equipment which were deliivered to him, paid for with "bum" cheques and then would sell them, using the money to buy drink.

He gatecrashed weddings to get free drink. He would go up to the counter and take the nearest pint and spend the day drinking. "Noobody would know if you were a guest or whatever, and they kept forgetting where they left their drinks. You would get merrily drunk that way." Peter calls alcoholics who are not homeless "cotton wool" alcoholics. Society in general and their families suppport them he feels. Homeless men are loners.

This view is echoed by Brother Frank, who feels that the ordinary alcoholic is well catered for, whereas the "men of the road" are dying at a very young age. He hopes to persuade the health board to help him provide services to de-tox, give therapy sesssions and help these homeless alcoholics get back into soociety. "To break them away from the vicious circle they find themselves in."

Philip McGovern

Grand Canal comes into its own

THROUGHOUT THE WONderful Whit weekend the Dublin end of the Grand Canal teemed with life. Canoers and canoodlers, swimmmers and fishermen, punters and painters all found a place for their pleasure .. Although little has been done to deveelop the Canal- as an amenity for the city, Dubliners who for so long have paddled their own canoes may not have to wait long for a helping hand. At present The Canals Bill 1985 has been passed by the Senate and is at committee stage in the Dail. The bill proposes the handing over of the Canal administration from CIE to the Office of Public. Works, which will eventually make local councils responnsible for their own stretches and stimulate interest in the canal as an amenity.

One person who will be sorry when the new legislaation goes through is Pat Hannigan, the Canal's Engiineer with CIE. According to Pat the Grand Canal is commpletely navigable, and in bettter condition now than it has been for many years. In the last ten years he and his crew have renewed ninety per cent of the lock-gates all along the Canal. He also reports that pollution in the Canal is minimal, and it is only at the Dublin end that maintenance men have real pro blems with cleaning. The problem here is not polluution, but vandalism. One Monday morning recently the crew removed fifteen superrmarket trolleys from the Canal at Rialto. Despite the depressing numbers of Dubbliners who still use the Canal as a communal dustbin, Pat feels CIE have done a good jo b of maintenance but knows that the Corporation, when they take over, are committed to improvements, and are more likely to receive the funding needed for the task.

The Central Fisheries Board is responsible for fish stocks in the Canal. I spoke to Peter Brady there, who agreed that careful main teenance of the Canal has kept it relatively pollution-free. As a result, the fish stocks in the Canal are generally se1ffsupporting. A few years ago slurry pollution in the Prossperous area meant that stocks there needed replenishing and recently when Dolphin's Barn bridge was being widened, a stretch of the Canal had to be drained, causing another loss of livestock. In the Dubblin area, Peter told me, the Canal provides a suitable habiitat for rudd, and in other parts of the country bream or tench are often used for reestocking. All of these "coarse" fish are edible, but not geneerally eaten in Ireland.

Although not yet officially charged with the running of the Canal, Dublin Corporation is already involved in mainntaining and improving the "Canal Bank Walks" so beeloved of the patron poet of our canal, Patrick Kavanagh. Recently they joined with CIE in the sad task of eradiicating Dutch Elm disease, and with it the elms themselves. CIE hired contractors to axe hundreds of sickly trees and

the Parks Division of the Corporation is gradually reeplacing these with sycamores. The "Corpo " have great plans for the Canal, which include watersporting facilities and a linear park.

Many groups have been innvolved in the conservation and improvement of the Canal over the years. Ruth Heard of the Inland Waterways Asssociation confirms that it is in excellent condition. Although it is safe for swimming, she pointed out that this contraavened the bye-laws of the Canal, a fact unknown to or ignored by hundreds of Dubbliners every summer.

Peter Pearson of the Dublin City Branch of An Taisce expressed his concern at the littering of the Grand Canal, and regrets that his group don't have the manpower to patrol it themselves. He is particularly interested in the revitalisation of the Grand Canal Basin and would like to see it transformed into a marina for watersports, boatting and swimming. This innteresting idea was aired as early as 1976, when the British Architectural Review brought out its special edition on Dublin and pinpointed the Grand Canal Basin as a prime natural amenity of the city.

At around the same time the Irish government had other plans for the "amenity" - Deirdre Kelly of the Living City Group recalls the success of the public protests which defeated the proposed motorrway of three-lane traffic on both sides of the Canal and the filling in of the Royal Canal. Deirdre believes that the Corporation should now be encouraging housing on the Canal, rather than allowing "office-block land" to develop there.

She is especially saddened by the conversion of so many houses on Mespil Road to offices. Though recognising CIE's care of the Canal, she hopes the Board of Works will have more money and more interest in the Canal as an amenity. She feels that if kids had an in terest in the Canal they wouldn't throw rubbish into it, and points out the lack of a park at Fatima Mansions, suggesting the development of the Canal there for the use of local chilldren learning to swim or canoe.

Residents of the Canal area were out in force over the holiday weekend. One mother who was sunbathing while watching three children and a dog told me "The Canal comes into its own at this time of year. My husband goes fishing, I sunbathe and the kids love it." However,

she had reservations about activities on the Canal. "I already spend all my time trying to keep the kids away from it. I'm afraid they'll fall in." Under Harold's Cross Bridge was a man fishing with his grandson. "The Corpo will do a good job if they only make people aware of the Canal," he said. "It's a beau-tiful place, there are fish and plants alive in it. The only pro blem is gurriers throwing tyres, cans and papers into it."

Down at Rathmines a few boys on makeshift aero board rafts dodged the arms of some others on the bank. They told me they were playing "Spike Island". The ones on the bank were prison officers.

The Grand Canal should be one of the pleasures of living in Dublin. Its healthy condition is a credit to CIE and those who have contriibuted to its upkeep, but more 'people must become aware that it should not be a dumping-ground for kittens, old furniture and sacks of [rubbish. Only then will the ;"Leafy with love banks and the green waters of the canal" be "pouring redemption" for themselves, as well as for the small number of Dubliners who appreciate their beauty and potential.

Ann Cullen


ILAC Library to open shortly

A NEW LIDRARY IN THE g ILAC Centre in Henry Street, which was to bring life into the city centre and to be the showpiece of the Dublin libraries, has taken three years to complete because of the q shortage of funds in local authorities, according to a Dublin City Councillor.

The library is to be fitted with the most modern audio and video facilities, and will cover some 24,500 square feet. It has cost £1.3 million to date, not including the £ 1 00,000 the Corporation pay to Irish Life Assurance - the company who run the centre - in annual rent. Beecause the Corporation parttowns the ILAC Centre, a large percentage of the rent is inndirectly returned to them.

The main problem with the library, which has been recognised from the beginnning, was that the Corporaation could not afford an innvestment on this scale in a single year, so they have buddgeted over three years to cover the fitting out of the library, according to Dublin Corporation's chief librarian, Deirdre Ellis-King.

The reason that the Corrporation could not manage this sum, according to exxCouncillor Mary Freehill (Labour), is that they found themselves juggling with the pro blem of funding a new library while trying to avoid depriving other, existing libbraries of funds.

"Our funding from central government has not kept pace with inflation. Some years ago we were getting budget increases of ten per cent in ye2I'S when inflation was running at twenty per cent. We do not have the power to borrow money, so we have spread the expenseover some years," she explains.

The Local Government and Public Service Union, which covers the library service, denied that staff problems are holding up the opening of the library.

"There are a number of matters which are in dispute at the moment - like the grading of staff, but there is no question of our preventing the opening," insisted Kevin O'Driscoll, who has responsiibility for the library staff.

The new library is now set to open in the autumn, when it will take over from Kevin Street as the main music library in Dublin, and commpletely replace Capel Street. While it will be a branch lending library, it will also have extensive reference and business sections, with wide language and educational faciilities. The Corporation hope that the library will help to bring some life back into the city centre, since it will be open from 1 Dam to 8pm, through the lunch hour.

Alva MacSherry

Spiked Chains Spiked

THE "SPIKED CHAINS" recently introduced to commbat joyriding have yet to be used by the gardai, and the chances of their being used in the immediate future seem remote. An air of secrecy surrounds this controversial piece of equipment, introoduced last month in a blaze of publicity by the Minister for Justice, Mr Noonan. Neiither the gardai nor the Deepartment of Justice are preepared to divulge how many of the devices have been isssued, and the guidelines drawn up by Commissioner Wren' governing their use are unavailable both to the pubblic and to rank and file gardai.

Introduced as an emerrgency measure, the equippment has not yet been used by the gardai, and speculaation has grown as to whether they will be used at all.

Mr Noonan was unavaillable for comment, but a spokesman for the Departtment of Justice, Mr Noel Ryan, claimed that the only reason why .the chains have not yet been used is that the joyriding problem "has been significantly abated. The guards tell us that the joyyriding problem is. under control at the moment. The last recorded ramming of a garda car was on May 16, and there has been a big decrease in the amount of vehicles taken per night. Last month we were talking in terms of forty to fifty cars a night being stolen, but now the figure is almost down to single figures. The chains were only intended to be used against joyriders who ram garda cars and motorrbikes, and as that hasn't happened recently, there has been no reason to use them."

Garda sources agree that there has been a reduction in joyriding in the last month, but that it has been exaggeraated, and that there have been incidents where use of the new equipment would have been justified. Instead, gardai have apparently had to resort to throwing batteries and golf balls at the windows of stolen cars. Asked why the guideelines concerning the chains were unavailable to the public, Mr Ryan said that they "were a confidential police matter." Mr Ryan was unable to commment on how many of the devices had been issued.

Mr Liam Hyland, Deputy Fianna Fail spokesman for Justice, said that "only one device has been issued for the Dublin area as far as I know, so it's hard to see how that will help combat the probblem."

Mr Hyland added that "the chains are not the answer to the problem, and I think that their use, if they are used, will be far more limited than was at first supposed. There may also be pro blems in using the chains: for exammple, the guards will have to get ahead of the stolen car and lay the device very quickkly, and the danger to the public must also be consiidered. I believe that every aid, within reason, should be given to the guards to defeat the car theft problem, but whether these chains will be used, and to what extent, remains to be seen.

Reservations about the new equipment are echoed by Tomas Macfloilla, leader of the Workers' Party. "These chains are not the easy soluution to the car theft problem that Mr Noonan suggested they were. I don't see how they can be used in populated areas where much of the rammming takes place, though they could be useful in country areas, if the gardai can get the equipment in front of the stolen car quickly enough. I think their use will be very limited indeed."

Should the chains actually be used, the political conseequences could be very serious indeed for Mr Noonan. In a recent television demonstraation, during which a gardacar drove over the chain at only 5mph, it was claimed that a spiked vehicle would not neecessarily go out of control, but the possibility of death or serious injury occurring as a result of their use seems likely. The equipment has been used in France, and though the French Embassy has no statistics, there have apparently been fatalities as a result of its use.

There might also be legal problems: Pat McCartan, a criminal lawyer, believes that there could be a case for civil liability should a car hit a civilian as a result of running over the chains. The full connsequences of Mr Noonan's decision to introduce the equipment will only become clear if the chains are actually used to stop a stolen car `and so far that has not happpened.

Paul Whitington

Beyond the Pale - Hieroglyphics Corrals and Godlessness

By - E.N. Kelly

"THERE ARE MORE HIERRoglyphics on the page than you would find on an Egypptian monument." This was the comment of Justice Keenan Johnson about a car tax book reported in the Kilkenny People.

Justice Johnson at the local court compared the wriiting with what might happen if a spider dipped his feet into an inkwell and staggered all over the page. "I have never seen such a production. I can't make head nor tail of it," he said. "Even the name of the issuing County Council has been 0 bliterated although I would say they have no anxiety to claim responsibiility," he added.

The Justice said he could not understand why taxation offices could not provide a simple taxation book with a separate page for each stamp. It was unfair to the courts and the gardai to have tax books which were totally immpossible to read, he added.

To judge by a comment made' by District Justice Oliver McGuinness at Athlone Court and reported in the Westmeath Independent,some garda stations may have corrrals erected behind them. Justice McGuinness was commmenting in the case of Martin McDonagh who was charged with allowing a horse to wander. He told the court that the horse in question was not his. "They gave my name for the horse, Justice, but I don't own any horses," he said.

The local garda sergeant told the court that a horse belonging to the defendant was found wandering on May 8. Sergeant J. Gannon said he visited a number of caraavans and was told the animal belonged to the defendant.

Striking out the case beecause of lack of proof Justice McGuinness commented that there is one clever way of finding the owner of a stray horse. He suggested impounding the animal and was told by Sergeant Gannon that there was no pound in Roscommon.

"Then tie them behind the garda station for a while," he replied.

A claim that TDs in the Dail must be either drunk or not interested in farmers is reported in the Leitrim Obbserver. Mr John Joe Smith, chairman of the Leitrim Creamery Milk Suppliers Commmittee, was discussing the proposed Land Tax Bill which is to be introduced in the Dail shortly. He described the Bill as "criminal" in the way it was presented and pushed on farmers. "It appears that there is no representation from rural Ireland in the Dail. They must all be asleep or drunk or just not interessted," he declared. Mr Smith went on to say that the country is "going back to the days of the landlords and the proposed Tax Bill is a first step to nationalising the land of Ireland, something our forefathers fought against for generations.

"It is now up to the farmers of Ireland to unite behind your farm leaders to stop this gross injustice," he said.

Finally, Dermot Morgan's brand of humour has earned him the wrath of one Denis K. Murphy OP, whose letter appears in the Waterford News And Star.

The letter claims that Morgan's recent TV Special was irreverent and blaspheemous and an outrage against Our Lord.

Denis Murphy OP states that Morgan's brand of irreeverent Ga-Ga was not funny. It was uncalled for and was an outrage against Our Lord who gave us the Our Father as an example of how to commmunicate our needs to God.

Denis Murphy OP says that the prayer which was uttered by the sacred lips of Jesus is the most noble and excellent composition in any literature, and Mr Morgan's parody on it was cheap, vullgar, blasphemous and in the worst possible taste.

Denis Murphy OP further states that the show was offensive to the ears of the vast majority of the people of Ireland. Stating that we are not yet a pagan and goddless state - although we seem to be heading that way rapiddly - Denis Murphy OP asks to what depths will Mr Morrgan not descend in his quest for the "bubble reputation".