During the summer, a popular set of posts baring “#Cork” made their rounds on social media.
The photos posted with the hashtag used shots of Cork City streets as backgrounds and
needles as a focus point. The needles in question were allegedly discarded by drug users and
popped up on major streets among wrappers and the usual city dirt.
But there have always been drugs in Cork, right? What has caused people to push this a step
forward, ring into talk radios about their concerns, and take a more wary approach to the city? It
is now very common to see reports of people in the city using public spaces as their sitting
rooms to inject, smoke and behave in a way that can no longer be brushed aside.
It is now common to hear of people witnessing these acts of drug use in broad daylight. And as
a person who has lived down the road from Ireland’s second city all my life, I can vouch that the
air in the city has become more claustrophobic.
On an errand in the city with my boyfriend, everything seemed as normal when the bus dropped
us off. As per usual, there was a man sleeping on the benches outside Deals and floods of
people taking up the footpaths. In less than a minute, we were walking behind a group of three
lads openly sharing a joint and beaming. It did not take long for the distinct smell of weed to drift
up my nose.
When we stopped to get ice cream and rest at Paul Street, the cleared air changed from weed
to the stale cigarette smell that haunts the city. Sitting with a white plastic table between us and
ice cream dribbling down my fingers, I couldn’t help keeping an eye over the shoulder of my
boyfriend as every couple of seconds shouts would erupt.
My boyfriend seemed unfazed by the noises. His years living life as a Parisian made it normal
background noise to him.
Walking back up Paul Street, a short, large man with a ruddy, balding head was standing in the
middle of the street, yelling at people and attempting to grab them into hugs. I instinctively
moved closer to my significant other as we passed, head down and eyes anywhere but him. My
mind immediately flashed back to the lesson I had been taught as a young girl when it came to
strange characters: ‘Don’t draw them on, yeah.’ I imagine my mother was not the only one
dishing out that wisdom.
My boyfriend suddenly stopped, shielding me. A guy on a skateboard almost went soaring from
his skateboard into us. All thanks to the character now shrieking and laughing as the skater just
about kept his balance.
I am not saying the streets of Cork have ever been a safe haven but time has slowly changed it
from a place where you needed to watch your bag, to the present: watch your person, try not to
get stabbed by a rogue needle, or assaulted by a stranger.
However, this is not helped in anyway by the Catholic Ireland attitude that still exists in Ireland.
One look at social media shows the Irish people’s attitude to addiction still has a long way to go.
A large portion of social media highlighting the issue preach the solution is to throw all drug
users in jail or poke fun of the situation.
For example, one Facebook user had this to say, ‘Here’s a novel idea… jail them for breaking
the law and let them go cold Turkey under supervision inside.’Another said, ‘Let’s make another line for drunk drivers then! Let’s support everyone.’
This common theme can be easily seen in Ireland’s relaxed attitude to drink. The old routine of
having a pint a day is nothing to be alarmed about for most. After all the liver is just a second
appendix, right? The pub is, even after all these decades, still seen as the place to be and
alcohol is still the second mortgage most of us take on without realising it.
The stigma surrounding drugs has its parallel to drink. The overall attitude seems to be that
people do not want to hear it. The easiest ‘solution’ is to abandon millions in jail cells and not
waste a penny more on them.
The same can be said about the most recent debate: the toilets closing on Grand Parade. There
should be serious doubts surrounding whether anyone used them in the first place, considering
the filth could probably outdo McDonald’s bathrooms. But the debate is one about people’s
place in society and who deserves to use the cities facilities.
The toilets shut earlier this summer due to the increase of needles and other drug paraphernalia
littering almost every square inch of the cubical.
One remark on a post dedicated to the issue wrote, ‘I don’t have sympathy for users.’
Others have called for the government and Gardaí to act. Despite the Garda station being down
the road the lack of Gardas walking or cycling around the city is apparent. The only presence of
neon green I have seen all summer is in front of the station and occasionally taking a stroll in
smaller areas such as the South Mall and Opera Lane. However, major drug busts have been
reported recently, such as Gardaí searching a man at Kent Station and arresting him after
finding €107,000 worth of cocaine and heroin at the scene.
So, what does UCC have to do with this?
University College Cork is an open campus, a ten-minute walk from the city centre if you are
quick. There has never been any shortage of foot traffic. From tourists eagerly snapping photos
of students on their way to lectures, to people taking their dogs for a walk and to the stranger
guests on campus.
During winter last year I witnessed an example of how exposed UCC is. While queuing at a hot
chocolate stand with a friend, an elderly woman appeared, looking confused. She pushed
through the queue. Everyone did the technique my mother always advised me to do: ignore the
situation. The woman yelled, no one responded. She then proceeded to steal chocolate for sale
on the stand and when off.
Although we do have security guards strolling around campus on hand to help, the reported
increase in the consumption of heroin and crack cocaine is some food for thought. Especially
when it comes to the nightlife, a common staple of a college student’s life. The Students Union
and Freshers’ week has given many opportunities to educate students on safety when it comes
to drugs. The recent hospitalisations of young people due to bad batches of drugs at festivals,
such as Electric Picnic, paired with the new colours Cork is showing during daylight hours can
make us wonder: is society changing faster than Ireland and the system it imposes?