Tragedy in Dublin: Remembering Phil Lynott

by Alastair Moore



On the 4th May 1984, Tony Clayton-Lea interviewed Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott for Hotpress magazine. From a man, known for being very private, the interviewer manages to gain a candid insight into how he viewed the world around him. They waste no time getting into the thick of it. ‘What aspect of Irish society do you like the least?‘ asks Clayton-Lea. Phil dispenses brutally honest opinions on his faith, the Catholic church, politics and the hangups of Irish society before they touch on the topic of drugs.

Tony Clayton-Lea: Do you gain any solace from the use of drugs or alcohol?

Phil Lynott: No, I just use it as a drug, to get silly and see the world from a different perspective. I think drugs are there to be used.

If you’re goin’ to ask me about drugs in general, as opposed to ‘drug’ drugs… that’s the reason why I mentioned sugar and alcohol; to show that there are a lot of drugs about that you aren’t even aware of. I found out that tomato ketchup has 23% sugar in it. I’ve got this big thing against sugar at the moment, ‘cos I’m the father of kids… all those Easter eggs…

‘Drug’ drugs are really bad for you. They can cause you an awful lot of misery. Initially, you get some great kicks, and it does give you different perspectives, and you can find all the reasons in the world for taking them, but there’s juts as many reasons for not taking them. In fact, more.

The reasons for not taking them obviously include addiction, they can change your personality without you knowin’, so you lose control of your mind and body, and therefore you lose your dignity. And the stigma attached to taking drugs socially is bad news.

A lot of people look to Keith Richards, and hold him in reverence, like a hero, but I know if Keith had his life again – he said to me – he wouldn’t do them again.

Sid Vicious is also held in reverence. He was just a guy fucked up on dope. It sounds like you’re preachin’ or condescendin’, like (adopts admonitory accent) ‘Don’t take drugs, I’ve been there’. So I’m not even goin’ to try. Just don’t.

If anybody really wants to find out about drugs, they should go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

This Monday was the 30th anniversary of Lynott’s death.

On the 4th of January 1986, just 2 years after Clayton-Lea gained a glimpse into the life of ‘Dublin’s first rockstar’, Lynott died of complications associated with substance abuse. He had been admitted to hospital on Christmas Day.

When quizzed about the wider drugs issue in his hometown, Phil had less to say, but the few words he did say conveyed a sense of helplessness in the face of an overpowering problem that no one seemed able to solve.

What do you think of the present heroin situation in Dublin?

It’s bad, it really is.

Can you see any solution to it?

Again, that’s an instant question, and I think the answer is important. I’d like to know more about the situation before I could give you a positive reply. At the moment, I can’t see a solution to it.

In the 30 years that have passed since Phil lost his life, aged 36, many more generations of young Irish men and women have lost their lives to drugs and the chaotic world of addiction. We spoke to those deeply involved in the current drugs situation in Ireland to find out more.


How has the situation changed?

Tony Duffin is the Director of Ana Liffey Drug Project.  We wanted to find out how the situation has (or hasn’t) changed since 1984, so Tony was kind enough to dig out some old Ana Liffey reports which contained some fascinating context for Lynott’s interview.

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The report outlines the reasons behind the creation of the drug project along with the sort of issues and clients they work with.

(REPORT) Being a new agency, we spent much of the year exploring our resources and devising the best method of utilizing them for the benefit of drug users.The Project came into being because of a spiralling increase in drug-related problems in Dublin and in the country generally and our aims over the year has been to develop a method of working with drug users which takes into account, both the present numbers of people seeking help and the shortage of appropriate facilities.

We asked Duffin a few questions about then and now. We wanted to to know if drug-related problems were increasing or ‘spiralling’ in the way the report mentions and whether or not there are enough ‘appropriate facilities’ available.

Tony Duffin: “Yes – since the 1980’s the problem has grown both in a geographical sense and in terms of the types of drugs being used. The problem has become more complex over time. You can see in the report (shown below) that poly-drug use existed in the early 1980’s but that too has expanded with the addition of psychoactive substances and prescription drugs to the mix.”

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(REPORT) As a new agency working with Dublin’s young and mobile population, the Project has come in contact with a broad range of problems, but central to all of these has been the use of drugs. The types of drugs used by people who attend the Project have ranged from narcotics, through Hashish to Valium and Ativan. All, however, approached crises of various types at various points. For the Project to be there at such times became a priority.

Having been over three decades since this report was written we were curious as to whether the aims outlined in it still fit with Ana Liffey’s current aims. Duffin thinks so, noting the ability of the organisation to develop based on users needs.

“It’s about innovation – we have a culture of innovation at Ana Liffey. We provide services that work – we also adapt as we go and respond to needs as they present themselves.”

When asked if the clients they see are similar to those the Project saw in the 1980’s he pauses for a moment. He then tells us the similarities and the sad news.

“Yes. Drug users – those with chronic addictions – are still our clients. We see people that are suffering from similar health conditions and social problems. What has changed though is that the volume of clients we work with has grown.”

The number of people seeking treatment from drug services has grown, the combinations of drugs being used have multiplied and Ana Liffey has had to adapt how it treats its clients. One way they have adapted is by going online.

“With the support of our funders, we have also reached out to a wider group of people by developing our online services – reaching out through our online platforms to provide information and advice to people in a way that simply did not exist when the organisation started out in 1982.”

Wrapping up our interview we asked Duffin the same questions Tony Clayton-Lea had asked Phil Lynott back in 1985.

VolteFace: What do you think of the present heroin situation in Dublin?

Tony Duffin: Ireland still has a major problem with heroin and this is well documented.

Can you see any solution to it?

There is no finite solution, no silver bullet but, we can improve the situation. We can always do better. One way is to ensure that gaps in service delivery are bridged. For example, Ana Liffey has been lobbying for Medically Supervised Injection Centres in Dublin and other areas they are needed in Ireland. The aim of this is to reduce the incidents of public injecting.

We’ve also been looking to establish crisis stabilisation/detox centres similar to services that are provided in Glasgow and London. The reason this is needed is that many of the people we work with struggle to fit the criteria for existing residential detoxes; and they would benefit from having immediate access to a residential stabilisation/detox type service.

Another group working with the drugs problem in Dublin is CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign, who are a network of Irish community activists and organisations. They started out in the 1990’s but released a short and informative video in 2014 outlining some of the changes in the drugs crisis since the 1980’s which you can watch here. CityWide’s director Anna Quigley sums up the developments in Ireland’s drug problem since the 1980’s when she says:

“Its constant since the 80’s that we have availability of drugs – but the range of drugs – thats the a big change now. Theres a lot wide range of drugs available – legal drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol, mixed together – and that is a chaotic mix.”

Growth in the chaos, and complexity, of the Irish drug problem is what appears to have changed since Phil Lynott’s death.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) figures for Ireland show some worrying figures from the last few years, in relation to both heroin treatment and drug related deaths.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) figures for 'Demand for Heroin Treatment (2013)'

Figures for ‘Demand for Heroin Treatment in Ireland (2013)’

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) figures for 'Overdose Deaths 2006-2012 in Ireland'

Figures for ‘Overdose Deaths 2006-2012 in Ireland’

Organisations like Ana Liffey Drug Project and CityWide are still working to control the heroin (and poly-drug) problem in Dublin and around the country. As the problem grows and gets more complex there is even more of a need for the services and support they provide. You can find out more about the work they do below.

Ana Liffey Drug Project

Citywide Drug Crisis Campaign


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