Local Faces: Sunniva Finlay
Sunniva Finlay is the CEO of Ballyfermot STAR (Support, Treatment, Aftercare, Rehabilitation), a service that provides non-judgemental support and guidance to drug users, their families and the community to make the journey to recovery.
Growing up in Rathfarnham, Sunniva moved to Crumlin when she was sixteen and became involved with drugs projects at the height of the drugs crisis in Dublin in the mid 1990’s, at a time when many working-class areas were plagued with increased heroin and opiate usage, which was exacerbated by poverty and unemployment.
“I have been in Crumlin for over 40 years, and I was involved in the early stages of development of drugs projects in 1994 and 1995 when the drugs crisis was getting completely out of control in Crumlin, Ballyfermot, Clondalkin and the North inner City,” Sunniva tells The Echo.
“It was the working-class communities that were seeing the first of the absolute major crisis of heroin and opiate addiction and the fall out of that, with little to no services at that stage. There was very little services in communities and there were people dying and families distraught.”
Identifying an urgent need for local services and support for drug users and their families, Sunniva went on to become one of the founding members of Addiction Response Crumlin (ARC), where she was involved in community activities in Crumlin.
“I really saw the heroin epidemic full-on. It was the time when all the anti-drug marches were taking place, which I and others at ARC were against because the people that everyone was marching against at that time was the people who were addicted to heroin, where the big characters that had no problem with addiction were supplying these people, and they weren’t being marched upon,” Sunniva explains.
Sunniva went on to work for Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, supporting local drug support organisations that were forming at the time to support struggling communities who were facing a drugs crisis such as Tallaght, Ballyfermot, Crumlin and Finglas before moving to Ballyfermot STAR in 2003.
“I am very committed to the community of Ballyfermot, which is a fantastic working class, tight-knit community in terms of levels of support and really have hugely supported Ballyfermot STAR over the years,” says Sunniva.
“I have been working here 19 years and I love the job. Each year I am challenged and there is something new. There is lots of work for me to do and to bring the best service to people when they are in that situation.”
An important factor to highlight, according to Sunniva, is that everyone’s road to recovery will differ depending on their personal needs and goals, but one thing that is guaranteed for anyone that walks through the doors of Ballyfermot STAR is the level of respect that they will receive.
“Sometimes people are so traumatised with their past, drug debt and their behaviour and come into us in a crisis. Firstly, people are welcomed in, and they are seen as a human being, not as that word – an addict,” says Sunniva.
“I hate the word ‘addict’- it is a categorisation and a label. People have labelled themselves anyway and society could have labelled them, but they actually start to see that they are a human being the same as any other who are just in a dark place in this moment in time, and they can come through that dark place.
“I am always amazed when somebody walks through this door or rings up and says that they have a problem, and that problem is bigger than them – I mean, the bravery of that, it is phenomenal.
“The bravery of being able to ask for help when you are very vulnerable, and you are probably at your lowest point in your life.
“To actually ask for help is so much respected by me and by everyone in the team here, both for family members and those who come in.”
Sunniva and the team at Ballyfermot STAR recognise that drug use can affect entire families and loved ones and will offer support for those people who may also be traumatised by addiction.
“Sometimes when somebody is very actively using, it’s usually the families that really suffer – the drug debts and the chaos that it creates, the focus just on that person and not on themselves or ordinary family life, so they really need support and to talk to someone outside the family because they are so caught up emotionally in the issue,” she explains.
“When someone comes in here, obviously the focus is completely on them if they have a drug or alcohol problem and we support them and look at their needs, but very quickly their needs are around redeveloping their relationship with their families – they are the most important people to them.”
Recently launching their strategic plan for 2022-2026, Ballyfermot STAR continue to be an integral and necessary part of the Ballyfermot that is highly respected and appreciated by everyone in the area.
“We are very passionate here and I am very passionate about the work and have a huge respect for people who go on that journey, and we walk with them on that journey, and that is the most important thing.
“We give them life skills so that they can stand on their own two feet and that they can move away from the organisation and not need us anymore – that is the ultimate objective.”