A bright spot amidst the inner city blues

One man’s attempt to achieve academic success amidst the drugs and violence

Mural on Jones’ Road © Seán Heffernan

It’s fair to say the North Inner City has had its fair share of exposure over the last 18 months.
 The area which many locals feel has been long forgotten about by both Government and media, with the myriad of problems it faced being ignored, as the community struggled to keep things on the road, and in particular stop kids getting into drugs and/or violence.

18 year old Conor Byrne has lived in the North Inner City all his life, moving between the North Strand, Ballybough and East Wall, he now lives just a stones’ throw from one of the locations were a man was shot dead in a gangland murder, Homeless drug addict Martin o’ Rourke was shot dead on Sheriff Street Lower in a case of mistaken identity, which is just down the road.

Conor at the Five Lamps © Seán Heffernan

The people of the area joined together to raise the money so O’ Rourke could be given a proper funeral, just one facet of the close community ties in the North Inner City.
 But in the midst of the violence and drugs, Conor is one of a number of young people who have been given the chance to make a better life from themselves, with more and more now reaching third level.

I started by asking Conor about growing up in the area; 
 “I first went to Saint Vincent’s School on North William Street, then I went to o’Connell School on North Richmond Street; from there I went to Secondary in Larkin Community College, just off Seán McDermott Street.
 I love playing football and over the years I’ve played with more teams than I can remember.
I’m studying journalism in Rathmines College, as I hope to become a soccer writer in the future”

Gary Broderick works for the Saol Project, which tries to help women to come off drugs.
 “The drugs problem around here is as bad as it ever was.
In the 80’s it was mostly just heroin people were taking, now there is all sorts of drugs, with the biggest ones being weed and cocaine”.

A group of kids from the Belvedere Youth Club, of which Conor is a member, recently took a trip to Brussels.
 I asked him about that; “We have been involved in a Gaisce scheme for around three years now.
 We do things like learn personal development skills, how to become a better person, that sort of thing.
 It is through this that we got to visit the European Parliament”

In the shadow of Croke Park © Seán Heffernan

In 2013, there were 679 drug related deaths in the North Inner City, 88 of those were heroin overdoses.
 No doubt sadly the figures for the years since would be broadly in line with these, yet it has gone largely unnoticed by government and the media.
 There have been things like “Operation Spire”, which has led lead to over €140,000 worth of drugs being seized, and over 600 people arrested, since it began in 2014.
 But the reality is it has barely scratched the surface of the problem overall.
 Community leaders have long been screaming from the rooftops about the need to invest in initiatives to prevent kids going on drugs, or getting involved in criminality.
 There are a lot of one parent families in the area, and while it has improved somewhat from the level it was in the past, there is still a worrying numbers of early school leavers too.
 The government has promised €10M for regeneration project in the area, but seeing as it’s not the first time something like this has been promised - with previous promises being broken - the locals have adopted a “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude to it all.

Mural on Jones’ Road © Sean Heffernan

In 2008, the crash came and funding was slashed considerably for community projects, forcing many of them in the North East Inner City to close. 
 When I ask Conor as to what he thinks about the Government and its attitude to communities like his, he had had this to say;
 “It is terrible what has been going on, I mean I’m trying to better myself, and go to college, but all I get is €135 a month; Sure €80 of that alone goes on my LEAP card, and I’m then expected to get all the things I need for college, feed myself etc on the rest?
 It’s hard for people to have to live with seeing the aftermath of a murder or armed Gardai about the place in our area.
 There’s a lot more that needs to be done that’s for sure”.

Conor watching the Bohemian FC v St. Patrick’s Athletic match. © Seán Heffernan

Conor sighs when I broach the subject of his beloved Manchester United.
 “We’ve been playing terrible lately, I don’t know what’s going on, hopefully results will start to improve”
 Here’s hoping that when Ireland win the World Cup, Conor Byrne will be in the stadium busy filing his report for the Irish Times.