Billy Gallagher

Page One

In 1999 the Gallagher clothing industry died for the last time.  It was possible to get a job if “you knew someone who knew someone”.  I managed to get a job looking after prisoners after release from prison.  The employment was in an agency that carried out this brief on behalf of the Probation Service.  The brief was that Probation would present clients “job ready” and we would place them in jobs.  Never once in my experience (971 clients) did a “job ready” client appear.  There was always a training, addiction, homelessness, family, literacy or whatever problem long before the possibility of work.

Having had the boys’ club experience in the 1960s these clients and this job were easy for me.  Never did I find a client I didn’t like, only once was I assaulted and only once was I afraid of the client (he murdered his mother on release).  I dealt with murderers and robbers, violent criminals and drunkards.  Drug addicts were predominant, using, supplying, selling, storing.  A large number of clients were on methadone maintenance (heroin substitute), most clients (60%+) had hepatitis contracted either by sharing needles or sexually.  All clients smoked dope/hash/marijuana. 

I formed the opinion early on that the fight against drugs was a hopeless one (there was little difference between the world consumption of illegal drugs, tobacco or alcohol except that all of the €200 billion in drugs was illegal).  This screwed up the police force, the jails, the criminal justice system, the health service etc.  Seemingly this was controlled by UN charter so no country could do a solo run and if they do (Holland) the country becomes the tourist destination of all the drug users in the world.  Since there is an insatiable demand the battle was like holding back the sea with a spoon. 

It seemed to me that if drugs were taken safely in “medical environments” the instances of quality of merchandise could be controlled and the dangers of contamination avoided.  This referred in particular to dirty needles, shooting up in isolated and unhygienic places with dissemination of knowledge and safety.  Alcohol use costs society but it does at least contribute somewhat and is legal. I thought the only serious drug was hash in its various forms being used by young people (i.e. under 18s) which seemed to create psychosis and lethargy that often led to suicide.

The criminal community was exclusively working class.  I often asked my children, nephews, nieces etc. (aged then 18 to 35) if they knew anyone in prison or if they knew anyone who knew anyone in prison.  Never did I get an affirmative.

I formed the opinion (when some Blackrock students were involved in manslaughter after a dance in Annabels) that the criminal justice system is set up by the middle classes to protect themselves from the working classes.

June 2009 I retired willingly but anxious to keep working somehow.  I saw this as a health issue.  As there is no possibility of a new career, with the focus now on certification and documentation rather than life experience, the only possibility was volunteering.

This opened a whole new world and I took the view that it should be done in different places rather than immersion in one skill.  “Volunteering Ireland” had a significant website offering volunteering opportunities.  Topical in 2009/10 were foreign gigs of perhaps 6 to 24 months in underdeveloped countries.  I preferred local gigs such as working in the “Soup Kitchen” where a lot of the clients I had known would attend.  This was run by the Capuchins in Church Street and served 250 lunches a day in 2009.  By 2011 this had risen to 500+ lunches a day and 200 breakfasts.  They also gave out 900 food parcels once a week (typically milk, bread, butter, tea, sugar, beans, sausages).  A large number of foreign nationals accessed the facility by 2011, out of work now, often whole families.  There was a medical facility on the premises and a counsellor a few days a week.

I found “Fighting Words”, a facility set up by Roddy Doyle and Seán Love to encourage creative writing to anyone who attended.  Very often that was school children in their classes (the whole class would come with their teacher for the day).

There was volunteering with older people, particularly befriending Alzheimer sufferers (Altadore Nursing Home in Glenageary) and I trained up to deliver the “Sonas” programme there.  A new initiative by the Health Authority that insisted every patient in an old people’s residence had to have some stimulation in their programme. Sonas in 2011 was becoming an important stimulus programme for severe Alzheimer’s patients.  All nursing homes must now show activity and stimulation programmes for all clients and delivery must be fully documented.  This was brought about because of some very poor practice highlighted and several facilities being closed down.

I had the view that it would be beneficial to me to have an activity every day, even if only for a few hours.  This would keep the energy and brain cells working.

Health to me means mental health, all the rest can deteriorate but if you keep this aspect moving the quality of life is relatively assured.