Congratulations for your article on the resilient people of Ballymun (T2, 17 May) and for listening to their voices so openly. In addition, your analysis of the deep social issues that make their lives intolerable was insightful and damning. It is hard to believe that these issues are less than 50 years old, and that social policy is exclusively and completely responsible for this state of affairs. Even more reprehensible, these difficult problems were evident 25 years ago, in the 1980s, and in spite of the other social changes, Ballymun remains at the mercy of the economic climate over which it has no control.
I think it is timely to remember that the flats in Ballymun arose out of the economic boom following the Lemass years, as a response to the appalling living conditions in Dublin. The policy of better housing, a very welcome policy, was embedded in a wider agenda of segregating working-class people from middle-class people, an apartheid that is breathtaking in its ambition. With this segregation came the dislocation from everything that is needed for normal daily living: shops, churches, schools, transport and so on.
I grew up in Francis Street in the 1960s. About half the houses in the street were divided into flats, with absolutely inexcusable conditions, very reminiscent of Angela's Ashes in Limerick, 20 years earlier, and relatively unchanged from the 1908 accounts. These conditions consisted of large families in one or two rooms; an outside toilet serving the entire house; no bathrooms, of course; an outside tap for cooking, washing and drinking; no lights on the stairs or landings; in short, intolerable conditions. But what there was in terms of community was absolutely essential in keeping people going. People supported each other in fundamental ways, from active help with children, money or clothes, to tacit support for day-to-day living.
In addition, the range of services was huge. In Francis Street alone, people had the choice of shopping in the Iveagh Market, as well as four or five grocery shops, draperies, pubs, bakeries, butchers, street stalls. There were a few factories as well as a cinema, St Nicholas of Myra church, and two parks within walking distance, St Patrick's Park and the Phoenix Park. There was a junk shop for all kinds of second-hand furniture and toys, the famous Muchshotts chemists. There were rudimentary facilities for homeless men nearby, and credit of sorts in the shops. There were two schools in the street, and more close by, and there were buses running in Thomas Street and the Coombe. Most of all, this was a mixed community with people from all walks of life living close to one another.
At that time, many people were moved to Ballymun away from the street. This led to an immediate fall-off in the shops, which closed one by one. Simultaneously, in Ballymun, people tried to build their community spirit in the face of extreme hardship. These immediate needs, if they were addressed by the state, would have headed off many of the other problems, and they would have introduced the other elements that are needed in a socially diverse environment. The gradual erosion of cohesion led to the void that absolutely provided fertile ground for misuse of alcohol and drugs, with the attendant rise in violence and other crimes against the people in the community.
The deep social problems that the people in Ballymun have to endure were created by an oblivious, callous state policy bent on segregating different citizens. It is vital that they are not perpetuated by continued blindness to the causes and effects of this disastrous apartheid.
Kilcock Road, Laraghbryan,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.